Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Growing Gardens

...takes hard work, patience, faith, and a willingness to get dirty.

So does discipleship.

My wife, Katie, has planted a small garden in our backyard. It's taken a lot of sweating, swearing, and patience to begin to see some of the green shoots come out of the ground.

Gardening and discipleship seem to go hand in hand. Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 3:
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field.
Here are some parallels between gardening and discipleship that I've noticed:

Creating environments for growth. We've had to create a healthy environment for growth to happen in our garden, with just the right amounts of water, sun, healthy soil, and space for the roots to spread. With discipleship, we're to foster the right environment with the nutrients of Scripture, the space for hearing God's voice, a willing heart for the Gospel to take root, and a community of love-filled encouragement.

The growth itself doesn't really happen with us. I'm not actually forcing the leaves out of the stems or somehow forming the carrots with my own hands in the soil. Katie and I are just there to tend and guide the growth that is already happening on its own. It's as if we've been given the elements and ingredients of a garden, but God is making the growth happen. God makes things grow. This is incredibly freeing in discipleship; this is more about my obedience and faithfulness than my ability to transform someone's heart. I can't. God can.

Success is defined by fruit. We can plant all the seeds that we want, but if no plants actually take root and bring about fruit for us to enjoy, then our garden is essentially worthless. Discipleship success cannot be determined by the number of spiritual seeds planted, but by the spiritual fruit that God brings out in a person's heart. If one's ministry has a huge attendance that's filled with people who are apathetic, stagnant, faithless, and unwilling to grow or change, is that really success?

Patience and grace are essential. Katie had to replant the section of spinach because her first crop didn't grow anything. It would have been easy to give up, saying "I'm clearly not gifted to grow gardens." But she kept at it, replanted seeds, and patiently worked the soil into a healthier environment for growth to happen. We now have a large crop of spinach. In discipleship, we need to have patience and grace both with those we disciple and with ourselves.

Proximity and messiness. You get dirty in a garden. Watering, pulling weeds, spreading soil and fertilizer--it's a messy endeavor. Discipleship requires that we enter the mess of another person's life, sharing the hopeful message of the Gospel as we also share our lives. You can't do discipleship from a distance; preaching a sermon on Sunday or sending a text message can be a element of discipleship, but it can never be the end-all of it.

Maybe it was just the context of his time, but Jesus used a lot of agricultural metaphors for His kingdom. From parables about sowers, fields, mustard seeds, and weeds, to his repeated encounters in gardens, to the final image of heaven bearing a striking resemblance to the garden in Eden, gardens appear to be dear to God's heart. Perhaps we've lost something in a culture where farming and agriculture are tossed aside for the easy entertainment factors of iPads ands X-Boxes. Maybe part of our church's spiritual formation programs need to involve literal gardens, a place where we can work out our salvation and experience the presence of God.

What are some other gardening and discipleship parallels that you can see?

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