When I come to a verse in the Bible that I have heard many times before, that I can nod along and agree with, but haven’t really thought about what it really looks like lived out, I start thinking about it by running it through a simple three column study.
The first column is titled “neglect.” What does this look like if neglected?
The second column is “occasional, or casual.” What does this look like if occasionally, casually done?
The last column is “deliberate.” What does this look like if deliberately done?
Lately I’ve been thinking about the very first part of the verse in 2 Peter 1:5: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence…” NET
But I was struggling to think about what excellent faith looks like when neglected, occasional, or deliberately done. As I was struggling through this, I looked out to my bare garden plot and started thinking about what a garden looks like when done with excellence. If I garden with excellence, what does that look like? I know what it looks like to neglect my garden, and I also know what it looks like to be a casual gardener, and the results from each are solidly in my mind. So I got to work writing down notes:
After I spent time there, I started thinking about what my goals were when in the neglect and casual columns, and what the outcome would be in the deliberate column. In one way, the starting goal was the same: I wanted to grow food. But the difference is in the parentheses, the part we don’t say out loud.
In the neglect column, my goal was to grow plants to make food (but only if it didn’t take too much time or get too hard. Simple and easy because I don’t have a lot of time, and I definitely don’t want it to cramp my style.)
In occasional or casual, I also want to grow plants to make food (and am super excited! I have seen all the benefit of gardening and understand it’ll be work, of course it will, but YAY! I’m excited! It’ll be fun!)
In deliberate, again, I want to grow plants to make food (and I know it will take time and a lot of effort. But, it’s worth it because I will also learn how to grow it better, and also how to harvest at the peak of ripeness, how to preserve it, how to protect it healthfully, and how to propagate it to be more and more self-sustaining and have an abundance to give plants and produce away to others.)
Garden to faith
In the garden, I know it all depends on the soil. I can’t create my soil, but I can definitely pay attention to it and amend it. Likewise, I’m stuck with the circumstances, and history that I have, but I don’t have to lament that, focus on that, and give up. I can amend this soil of my heart with truth and forgiveness, and so much more.
I know the pests that live in this area, and the main one is slugs. Other areas of the world don’t have slugs but deal with pests that I’ve never even seen. I know the sins I struggle with. I know that I need to be aware of things that tempt me to sin, and flee from them. Kill them. Don’t mess with them. They will mow down faith seemingly overnight.
I know that I must deal with weeds quickly when they’re young. There are things that are not sin, but are not helpful in my life. And if not dealt with, they can grow and damage my faith and even become sin. I know I’m prone to bitterness and unforgiveness, which grows a deep and very strong taproot if I let my frustrations, anger, or hurts grow. It can take many, many seasons, a lot of sweat and toil, and painful digging to try to get that taproot out and almost always even after all my effort the stupid root just breaks off and keeps growing. It’s an impossible job to dig it out of my own heart without God. But, I can see that little plant sprouting up, and pop it out carefully if I deal with it at germination.
The same for the popping and spreading weeds. The root is not deep, it starts out even kind of pretty, and even the flower is pretty, but the slightest breeze will spray those seeds all over the garden and pretty soon that little weed gets out of control and sprouts up everywhere! My “popping weeds” right now are scrolling online–news, YouTube, email. (I got rid of all social media a couple years ago, but even that is just replaced by something else!) These aren’t sinful, they can even be inspiring, helpful, and encouraging. But don’t be deceived, without intentional care and thought, it will spread to affect you anywhere and everywhere and have unintended fallout on everyone.
I know about companion planting and how some plants are helpful to plant by others. In fact, some companion plantings improve the flavor of the fruit, the health of the plant, and keep pests away from each other. I know that left to myself, I tend to love isolation and being alone. While I can grow this way, I will grow better, healthier, and be more useful when I’m in the company of others. Iron sharpens iron is true and I need to be doing life and being REAL and vulnerable with other believers. And I also need to be interacting and having face to face conversations with neighbors and unbelievers I’m around. These times are usually humbling and show me where I need to learn more and pray more. BOTH of these require being intentional (I can’t just “hi-bye” in church, just like I can’t just lay my seed packet on the ground next to other seed packets. I need to grow, develop roots, and be real with others, even when it’s hard. Which usually means forgiveness and allowing love to cover a multitude of sins.)
I know I need to prepare ahead of time to protect what I’ve grown because there are all sorts of outside storms and problems and seasons. I know I shouldn’t plant basil mid-winter and expect it to thrive. I know if there is frost on the forecast, I need to cover frost-sensitive plants, so I have row cover already purchased and stored where I know I can find it quickly. I know if it’s going to be a scorching summer, I need to mulch around the plants to keep the soil from drying out and I also know I need to deeply water, not just sprinkle the surface. Likewise, I know I live in a sin-riddled world and there will be seasons of grief, dry seasons, and times when I’m tempted to think “It’s fine,” and not water deep enough. I need to build my faith in the good seasons to prepare for the hard seasons that I’m promised will come. I need to KNOW God personally and intimately, which will protect and provide for me in the hard seasons.
Gardening is a daily task. There are times in the summer when we leave for a few days or a week, and when we get back there is always so much to do that it takes days to catch up and can be exhausting. But in those times that we are home, if I spend time daily walking in the garden and caring for it by pruning, staking, pest control, and mulching, it all starts to become easy and enjoyable. Daily, intentional reading and thinking about God, contemplating what He has done, examining myself to see if there are sins or pests starting to come in, confessing, repenting, forgiving, and growing make obeying God easier and more enjoyable.
Planting flowers in the garden not only makes it beautiful and attractive, but it makes it a place that I’m excited to welcome people into and that I enjoy strolling together in and pointing out things I’m growing and learning. But planting flowers also attracts pollinators and beneficial insects that help the garden be even more productive. If all my faith is just gritting my teeth, and doing the things, and just grinding it out, not only will it not be beautiful and hopeful to others, but I will be also missing out on beautiful side-effects of blessings that come along with it, like others seeing my hope and peace and asking why.
This is not a treatise on gardening. This is helpful for me to get down to the nitty gritty of thinking through an easily passed over sentence and bringing it down to concrete things I can understand and learn from. I hope in sharing this, it will be a plant given to you to grow and share with others. (Also, I think that I will forever, as long as I’m able, have some sort of garden because it provides thousands of helpful analogies to meditate on!)
There is so much more I could say here. So much I still need to think about, but I’ll leave it here for now. But I do want to end with one more thought… most of the time we all are living in the occasional/casual column. What we do from there is crucial. We are never stagnant in the Christian faith. We will never just stay in that center column. We are always moving toward God or away from Him. When we realize we are living in this middle column we can just shrug and keep sliding into neglect–OR–we can understand that we’re there and start thinking about what we need to do to be deliberate. How do we seek God? How do we seek truth? How do we pursue fellowship and closeness to God? (And don’t allow yourself to shrug and say “I don’t know.” Take the time to think about it! Do another three column meditation on it.)
And one more thing: We cannot do this on our own. Our faith is not something we can checklist out. We need to pray ‘Lord, increase my faith!’ We need to look to Him for mercy and strength and forgiveness. But, I’m gonna go for now. I’ve got some gardening (and more thinking) to do!