When we lived in Minnesota, we had a huge garden—I’m talking 40 feet of asparagus, 20 pepper plants in pots, rhubarb, raspberries, strawberries, a few pathetic blueberry bushes, garlic and cilantro and basil (not to mention parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme), trellising cucumbers, peas, beans, way too many tomatoes, enough potatoes to bring Ireland out of a famine, and onions the size of softballs. Our unspoken family motto is “go big or go home.”
Humans were created for work, and gardening was man’s first work. No wonder when we work the soil, we feel connected to the earth and quite literally grounded; hours can be spent enjoyably outdoors, playing in the dirt. Jesus used gardening and agricultural lessons for his followers all the time; it was a world they knew and could relate to and learn from. I know gardening is not for everyone, but no matter where you are on that spectrum, from master gardener to vegetable hater, there are quite a few things we can learn about our hearts and apply in our lives as Christians growing in the faith.
1. Preparation and proper care are key. Any kindergartener can tell you plants need sunlight and water to grow, knowledge gleaned from a simple experiment involving bean seeds in a Dixie cup. Left in the teacher’s dark supply closet with no water source, the seedling will wither and die. What the average five-year-old might not know, however, is that preparation of the soil is just as important—too many rocks, too many weeds, not enough nutrients, too high of pH, too low of pH, too sandy of soil, too clayey of soil (yep, that’s a word), and the plants won’t grow and flourish. Our hearts are the soil. Are our hearts open and willing to receive the seeds of God’s Word? Or are they rocky and rebellious and hardened? If the seeds do spring up, are we immersing them in the sunlight of the Word and watering them with prayer and daily Bible study? Are we strengthening them with Christian fellowship and worship opportunities? Are we getting rid of weeds and thorns or letting them choke out our faith and take over our hearts?
The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:11)
2. Protection is paramount. Potato bugs. Asparagus beetles. Gophers. Bunny rabbits. Pretty birds and majestic deer. Enemies of our garden are everywhere. And they sometimes look adorable and innocent. But our seedlings need protection. Boundaries and fences are important. So too in our Christian lives—there are many enemies to our faith, and sometimes they look cute and fluffy on the outside. But the Lord reminds us that we need to guard our hearts from people who might trample our soil, separate us from our source of goodness, and steal our fruit.
I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. (Romans 16:17)
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)
3. Pruning is purposeful. Sometimes a gardener cuts off some blossoms, even full branches and offshoots of a plant, with a super-sharp pair of Felco pruning shears. He does this to create new and better growth in years to come by allowing more of the nutrients to head down and feed a healthy root system. We too are pruned by our Master Gardener. This is not a fun process; in fact, it is usually quite painful, involving loss and suffering and grief. But our Lord knows we need to be deeply rooted in him, and he will help us through the process with his green thumb and gentle hands.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:1,2)
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6,7)
4. Produce is pleasing. After pouring time and effort and money and sweat into an endeavor, it is such a joy to watch fruit appear on the vine or the bush or the stalk. This is the part we’ve been waiting for! Fruit! Vegetables! Plentiful harvest! Bearing fruit is a sign of a healthy plant; this is a plant whose soil has been well-prepared, a plant that has been well-watered, a plant that maybe even had Mozart or Beethoven played to it, a plant that has been protected from pests, a plant that has been pruned at the right times and in the right places. A plant connected to the Vine, cared for by the Master Gardener. A true follower of Jesus bears abundant fruit; when we are connected and intentional about our relationship with God, we produce the fruit that God cultivates within us. Faith alone saves, but faith is never alone.
If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7,8)