I am not a skilled gardener, but with each new growing season I invest a bit more time to educate myself about the process. I’ve begun to study which plants grow well in certain zones (which began with me actually figuring out what growing zone I live in). I’ve actually begun to read and heed the instructions on each packet of seed. I’ve attended online seminars to learn about the pests that are prevalent in my area and have been equipped with strategies to control them and stop their growth. I’ve learned about compost and other natural ingredients that feed and build up the soil. But most importantly, I have learned that the only way to have a successful garden that yields growth and a harvest is to actually spend time in the garden working and nourishing it.
For far too many years, I simply did the work of turning over the soil, planting seeds, and providing daily water. That was it. And while these actions may have been praise worthy during my first season of gardening, these infant attempts at growth would never produce a thriving, healthy, life-giving garden without a further investment of my time in its growth.
But for so many years that’s exactly what I did. I turned, seeded, and watered and hoped for a harvest. I knew that weeding would be beneficial. I was told that I needed to hunt down pests and their eggs and destroy them. Friends told me to compost, fertilize, and rotate my crops. I was told to allow space for growth and was warned about overcrowding. Skilled gardeners with flourishing gardens producing high yields patiently and lovingly guided me, but I virtually ignored most of what they said. And yet each and every year I wondered why my garden was lacking, why the harvest was insignificant, why the growth was negligible.
Now, a little older and a little wiser (hopefully), I realize why so many of my gardens didn’t grow: my pride. It’s not that I was too lazy to put the work into the garden. I’ve never shied away from dirt, sweat, and work, but I didn’t think that I needed to make the investment of time that others did. I would listen to friends talk about the countless hours they spent preparing the soil, growing seedlings, weeding, feeding, and managing pests, and I would simply think that I had a better way. I was surrounded by master gardeners who left behind so many morsels of wisdom for me to glean from, but instead, I chose to be wise in my own eyes.
I now see that in order to have a thriving, healthy, strong garden, I must invest time in the garden. I must actually physically be in the garden working with my own hands to examine each leaf for eggs that pests have left behind, to pull weeds out from the root, to prune and trim the unhealthy parts of the plants. To think that simply turning, planting, and watering my garden would be enough to produce strength and vitality was utter foolishness on my part. I now see that deliberate, intentional time spent tending to my garden is essential for growth. I’ve also begun to see that a strong, healthy garden this year, will contribute to a stronger and healthier garden next year. And that process continues year after year as I continue to get my hands dirty.
How often do we take this very same prideful, ignorant approach to our spiritual growth? We know that spiritual growth and a stronger relationship with the Lord comes as a result of time in the Word and prayer with our Heavenly Father, but far too often we simply think, “I’ve got this.” and are resigned to a minimal investment. If the investment in our own spiritual growth is minimal, we can expect only minimal results. Minimal investments of our time do not yield strength and vibrancy. They do not yield growth. Minimal investments only yield a heart that is vulnerable to temptation, sin, and is one that is easily swayed and enticed away from the things of the Lord. When our efforts to bring forth spiritual, godly growth include nothing more than attending a weekly church service, we should not be surprised by our weak, crumbling faith.
Take a moment and think of a person who is strong in their walk with the Lord. Whose faith is strong. Whose life radiates the goodness of God. How did they get there? Maybe you should ask them. I would venture to say that they would divulge that they spend time in God’s Word, not just reading it, but studying it. They learn from each passage. They pray over what they read asking the Lord to speak to them. They are students of the Lord, rolling up their sleeves and getting into the meat of the Word. They likely have a healthy prayer life and seek after the Lord. They are cognizant of the unhealthy parts of their lives and seek to root them out; they live repentant lives – not perfect, sinfree lives – but lives where they acknowledge their sin and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. They read; they fellowship. They surround themselves with others who are like minded not to shield themselves from others, but to sharpen each other and hold each other accountable. They likely make a significant investment of time and energy.
Lest I place our efforts and works above God, I want to make it clear that doing all of these things simply prepares our hearts for God to do the work of drawing us near in order to strengthen our faith and make us more Christlike. Let us not deceive ourselves that our actions make us more righteous. The change and the growth are of God. He is the Potter; we are merely the clay.
Friends I challenge you, in love, to evaluate your efforts. For far too many years, my investment was minimal, and my growth was a reflection of that.