I consider myself an amateur gardener who would love to be amazing at it. I really enjoy getting stuck in and will give it a good go, but it's an act of faith to see what will grow and a lot of the time I don't really know what I'm doing.
Being a follower of Jesus can feel a bit like that for me too. I'm willing and enthusiastic but waiting for change in my life doesn't always look the way I think it should. Sin can sprout up like weeds and it's hard to contend with. I can feel wilted rather than strong in my faith. Sometimes I think, 'Have I missed something vital for growth as a Christian?' Spending time in the garden and reflecting on my faith have helped me realise a few ways where gardening and growing in the Christian faith marry up.
1. Gain wisdom from seasoned gardeners
My father-in-law got me started with gardening by helping me to choose plants and ensuring I used the right tools for the job. He knew what he was talking about from experience and I soaked up his knowledge enthusiastically. His advice has served me well and I've seen my flowers grow beautifully. In a similar way, I think it's important to listen to wisdom from Christians who have walked through the highs and lows of faith and can impart their experience graciously. They can serve as encouragers and help equip individuals on their own faith journey.
2. Beware of hidden pests
One piece of advice that I didn't follow was to regularly check for slugs and snails as they would ruin the foliage. I checked half-heartedly and intermittently which unfortunately meant some of my marigolds died. That reminded me of what happens when sin is left unchecked. People may look like they have it all together, but the reality of what is going on in the heart is seen by God alone. Sin and death are not pretty things, but God doesn't leave us this way – he gives us life to its fullest (John 10:10) and has given us everlasting life through Jesus Christ (John 3:16).
3. Deadheading is necessary for growth
Another valuable piece of advice was to pull away the dead heads of the flowers to encourage new growth and strengthen the plant. If the dead heads of the plant are not removed, it will go to seed and stop producing flowers. While we're on this earth, things may creep into the heart that go unnoticed and do great harm. Jesus removes the dead heads, sometimes through painful pruning in trials and challenges, so that our character is refined and we blossom into holiness.
4. Watering is vital to life
We need water to live. That is true for the flowers in my garden and my life as a Christian. I water the flowers in the evening when it's cool and allow the water to run deep into the soil. It gives time for the moisture to be taken up into the plant before the heat of the day arrives. I find that I need to spend time with God every day to prepare me for the challenges of life that can hit me like the noonday heat. As I pursue God in prayer, reading his word and spending time with other believers who encourage, support and spur me on, I am being watered in my faith. It strengthens me, builds me up and results in growth.
5. Gardening is a labour of love
If I want a well-kept garden with delightful flowers, I need to look after it. I need to make time for it, even when I don't feel like watering the plants, digging up the weeds or investing time where I could be doing something else. To see growth in our lives and the lives of others requires sacrificial living and loving our neighbour as ourselves. Jesus laid down his life sacrificially for all of humanity and said 'Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends' (John 15:13). That's real, unfailing, unconditional love. My garden would be a botanical paradise if it experienced love like this.
6. It's exciting to see plants bearing fruit
When the first ripe strawberry appeared, I wasted no time in picking it, washing it and cutting it in half to share with my husband. We wasted no time in enjoying the fruit of our labour. It made me think of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is something beautiful and exciting in a Christian's life when the Holy Spirit works to transform us into the likeness of Jesus. If I get that excited by one ripe strawberry, how much more excitement there will be as I experience the fruit of the Spirit in my life and the lives of others?
There are plenty of lessons for the Christian life if we pay attention to what is around us. The Lord is sowing his truth daily and I pray that hearts will be prepared like good, fertile soil ready to receive Jesus and be rooted, watered and established in his love.