Life in the garden. Have you ever noticed that the Bible is bookended with gardens?
In Genesis 1, we find the creation of the world. God conquers the darkness and the void and births new life. He places in His beautiful garden trees, plants, animals, even people to enjoy this amazing space He has created. We know that sin enters the world and the very first punishment is expulsion from this sanctuary of beauty.
Then in the very last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22, we see this garden again. But it’s so much better this time because there is no longer even the possibility for any sin, strife, or suffering here. Even better than the peace and serenity promised on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. Better than Eden. This new heaven is bright with the very radiance of the glory of God.
And smack in the middle of this journey from one garden to the next is another garden. But this one isn’t bright and beautiful. It’s quite the opposite. We find the garden of Gethsemane is cold, dark, barren, lonely. A garden where the very Son of God can do nothing but weep and pray. While this too is a garden, it is not the paradise for which we long. This is the garden that we tend to find ourselves in the most. We are no longer in Eden, nor are we in the New Heavens. No, we are all somewhere in the middle of our own Gethsemane.
What’s in your garden at home? Some of you may be already enjoying the fruit of your labors with flowers or early vegetables. Or maybe you are more like me and have beds full of potential and nothing in them yet. Right now, all I have in my vegetable beds is dirt. Then inside my house, I have packets of seeds. I know that they will do me no good inside. I know what I need to do, but other pressing matters have taken precedence over the planting. Perhaps this is because I have not yet diagramed what will be planted where in my garden and fiddled with the plants arrangement until it is just so. Or perhaps because of my secret fear of yet another year of failed gardening. Regardless of the reason, my “garden” is just large beds of dirty potential at the moment. Like my heart, they are primed for growth if only I do the hard work of planting.
I will never forget the very first garden that my husband and I put together. After jumping from apartment to apartment for the first few years of our marriage, we were finally settled in a home. We had a few children and were ready for the next adventure of gardening. We spent time and money figuring out what we needed, purchasing the right dirt, making all the arrangements. We got it all prepared, went to the nursery, purchased the vegetables we wanted, carefully planted seedlings, and sat down to admire our work.
While I may not know you, I can say with certainty that all of you have been planting seeds. Perhaps not literally, but in your interactions with your family and even in your own heart, you have planted seeds. The seeds of what we believe. Jesus speaks to this when He tells of good and bad fruit in Luke 6:43. For many, these seeds are the truths of God’s Word, but perhaps more often than any of us would care to admit, they are weeds of nonsense that might make us feel better if it were true. We plant these ideas in our soul and then must wait to see what plants spring up.
We are familiar with this idea as we consider nuggets of truth we try to teach children. We plant seeds of kindness, hoping that this in turn produces kindness in them toward others. We plant seeds of hard work, hoping they produce a solid contribution to society. We plant seeds of honesty, hoping they produce truthfulness in their own words. We plant all kinds of seeds with children. It’s some of the very basic tenants of motherhood: instilling wisdom into small people so that they become wise big people.
What I would like to suggest to you today is that this idea of planting seeds doesn’t ever actually stop. But some of you are not planting seeds, you are planting weeds. You are believing utter lies and are wondering why you are feeling shallow. Weeds like “God wants me to be happy.” Weeds like “God wouldn’t give me more than I can handle.” Weeds like “God will understand if I just do my best.” Weeds like “God will just get me through this season.” These lies are quick to grow and spread. They take over the way we think and hamper the truth that God so desires to implant in us.
God’s truth is much slower to grow in us. Not for any fault on the part of these seeds, but oak trees do not spring up as fast as dandelions. The truth of God’s Word is that God will give you more than you can handle so that you learn to trust His sovereign control. The truth is that God desires to conform you more to His imagine in the midst of this season, no matter how unpleasant it is. The truth is that your best is never going to be good enough. You have no choice but to beg the mercy of Jesus Christ for your salvation and daily sustaining. These and so many other truths must be planted deep in our soul. We must start to take seriously that God is in control, even when our lives look like utter chaos. We must take to heart that God made you exactly how He wanted you to be, even when the mirror is not what you want it to be. We must take courage in His goodness, even when you are drowning in suffering. While these are hard truths, this is sadly the easiest part of tending the garden of our hearts.
I can remember the evening of that first garden attempt. My husband and I put the children to bed, came back outside to admire our work, and were utterly disappointed. All that work for this? We had done all that we could do, but were left to wait with nothing productive to show for it. There were not yet vegetables, in some cases there wasn’t even anything growing yet. We had planted seeds. Now we had to wait. For weeks, we watered dirt and picked weeds, but saw nothing useful from our efforts.
Many of you have the right seeds planted. You are regularly under the Word of God. You are aware of these Gospel truths. You are believing the truth of Scripture. But you are struggling to maintain the garden of your heart. The daily grind of life in a fallen world is taking its toll on you. Children, chores, work, cooking, paying the bills, and making your bed. Task after task after task that can feel pointless. You know you should read the Bible, but you just don’t feel like it. You know you should pray, but it doesn’t seem to be doing anything. You know God is good, but you just aren’t feeling it lately. The seeds of truth have been planted in your heart, but watering and weeding a patch of dirt feels meaningless.
It is in these moments that what we need most is faithful obedience, regardless of the apparent size of the task. In her book “You Who”, Rachel Jankovic relates these moments to planting flags in the garden of your heart. That is, a sort of garden marker to remind you of the truth that has been implanted that is not yet producing natural fruit. If it is not yet natural for you to say, trust God’s control in your life, what flag can you plant to remind yourself of His goodness? How can you walk in obedience when you just aren’t sure yet? Jankovic encourages us to make decisions and actions of faith based on the truth of God’s Word because it is right. This might be misunderstood as a “fake it until you make it” kind of faith, but I think the reality is much more about moving in acts of love even if you don’t understand what the exact results will be. We can obey the Lord in small and ordinary ways even before that deep assurance is present, not because we are faking, but because we are walking in faith even before we can see.
That first-year garden yielded very little. We had no idea what we were doing and had very expensive green peppers that year. Yet some of what we started has continued and has been immensely fruitful. Even now that we have moved out of that house, the current owners continue to gather strawberries that were first planted in that initial year of gardening and weeding patches of dirt.
So where is your garden? Are you currently full of weeds that need to be plucked and replaced with the fruit-bearing truth of God’s Word? Are you full of good seeds and need to plant some flags, reminding you to walk in obedience even without much fruit yet? Or perhaps your garden is growing beautifully and need to share the wealth. Fruit is meant to be shared. How are you sharing the fruit of the seeds of God’s faithfulness with others?
May the garden of our hearts be filled with the seeds of God’s truth, watered with faithful obedience, and fruitfully abundant to be shared.