I love plants, especially houseplants that don’t involve 95-degree sunny days, red clay, or mosquitoes. But I have a problem. Some people have “green thumbs” and can grow anything, but my thumbs are wrapped in angry yellow “CAUTION” tape. In my dad’s garden, I’m allowed to pick anything that’s visibly ripe, but otherwise, for its own safety I leave the garden alone.
Since I’ve moved to Indiana, I’ve been replacing some of the houseplants I had to leave behind – but I’ve been smart enough this time to buy only the ones I know I can’t kill too easily – pothos, Janet Craigs, dwarf palms. After a little humbling analysis, I’ve discovered what makes me the serial plant-killer I am… and they’re exactly the same problems I’ve had to address in my Christian life.
1 – Lack of preparation. I’ve tried a lot of shortcuts in growing things – forgetting to loosen up the soil, putting a plant in a too-shady window (so I wouldn’t have to go outside to tend it), and so forth. Guess how successful that’s been. I’ve done it in my Christian walk, too:
- Demanding answers to prayer even while I’ve still got unconfessed sin I’m regarding in my heart (Psalm 66:18).
- Waiting til Saturday night to plan my Sunday school lesson.
- Failing to pray over an issue or a project, and wondering why it won’t “turn out”.
I’ve got to plan enough time to be prepared spiritually for what God has in store for me. The Christian life isn’t all theoretical and philosophical. It requires the painfully practical discipline of setting my alarm clock.
2 – Pulling up the good stuff. My earliest garden memory involves pulling weeds in the church flowerbed – only to be told I’d pulled daffodils that hadn’t bloomed yet. Who knew? We’ve all heard it: “There’s just too much going on right now; we’ve just got a lot of problems to work through, so we’re taking a break from this ministry.” When your garden doesn’t work out for you, it’s not time to pull up the plants, it’s time to pull up your sleeves. As a rookie who couldn’t tell a weed from a daffodil, the best thing I could have done was ask. If you’re overwhelmed and ready to quit the whole thing, seek counsel first from your pastor or another godly “expert”; they can help you learn to identify what is worth keeping and what has to go, if you’re going to thrive. That said, don’t make the mistake of…
3 – Entrusting its care to other people or to chance. One spring at college, I kept some bright, gorgeous petunias outside our dorm. I thought we belonged on a cover of “Southern Living”. I went home for a few weeks at the beginning of summer… but when I came back, they had completely withered in the scorching heat. My roommate hadn’t thought to water them, the rain couldn’t reach them, and the Kentucky sun didn’t get the memo that I was off duty for watering. Since I didn’t bother to arrange for their protection, my plants died. Likewise, my pastor, my mentors, my parents, all want to help me and “grow” me, but ultimately it’s down to ME. I can’t expect my pastor to be my primary source of nourishment, or assume that what my parents taught me is sufficient to sustain me through the rest of my Christian life. You have to take responsibility for your own growth – and for the things you plant in your own life. A great Bible study, a powerful sermon, a promising “iron sharpeneth iron” kind of friendship are all potent, hardy seeds, but they have got to be cultivated and not left to my unreliable memory.
4 – Poor maintenance. While I’m fantastic at creating logical, intuitive systems for getting stuff done, I often never actually keep up with the system. I’d schedule watering and weeding, but at 7pm when it was time to go tend the garden, I’d be in the house with a book. And I can’t tell you how many beautifully tabbed, color-coordinated prayer journals used to get lost under the bed over the years, or how many times I scheduled tasks like Scripture memorization and missed it. I would say, “Well, I have a self-discipline problem, and I need to work on that and make myself do it.” I’d nod my head humbly and promptly forget about it. That’s not a solution.
My dad had minimal time to spend in his garden, so he built an irrigation system and a weed barrier that would do the work with very little extra effort on his part. Why keep writing useless schedules that fall behind the fridge when you can build a framework to support your growth?
- Inundate yourself with Godly influences – music, preaching, as much as you can get into your ears – to keep weeds of worldliness at bay.
- Get an accountability partner. Some nosy, obnoxious friend needs to know your habits and goals, and can help encourage you and sound the alarm when you’ve let too much of this world in.
- Make your living quarters work for you. You won’t sit down to pray if the chair is piled with clothes and you can’t find your prayer list. You won’t listen to preaching CDs if you have to dig them out of the trunk. Tape your verse flashcards to your dashboard or bathroom mirror. My college bus captain used to scrawl references and keywords right onto his hands. Keep it in front of you.
5 – No drainage. What happens if you overwater a plant that doesn’t have any drainage? Or what happens to a cucumber that lies in wet soil? They turn yellow and they rot. They get weird and cold and squishy. Sometimes there’s mold involved. It smells weird. The Christian is meant to be a sponge, capable of absorbing His Word and then doing a job with it. If I am continually nourished with Scripture and preaching, and never do a work with what I’ve been given, I’m getting root rot. Get involved in ministry, go soulwinning, go find people who need godly encouragement. Be the light of Jesus Christ at work instead of just the weirdo who doesn’t cuss. We blow a lot of time and energy on “good things” like politics, social media, self-improvement, third-party sales, volunteerism – but if we had the courage to admit it, we’d see they haven’t got eternal value. If they’re not edifying or spreading the gospel, they don’t allow for “drainage”. It’s pride – and maybe fear – that keeps us from letting Him drain us after He’s filled us.
Jesus, fill now with Thy Spirit
Hearts that full surrender know,
That the streams of living water
From our inner man may flow.
Channels only, blessed Master,
But with all Thy wondrous pow’r
Flowing through us, Thou canst use us
Every day and every hour.
Let’s take stock of what’s growing – and what’s shriveling up – and start being fruitful in His eyes.