(Editor’s Note: the following is a pastoral article that I wrote for the September, 2010 Lake Oconee Presbyterian Church Newsletter).
Every year, my wife and I (mostly my wife) attempt to plant and grow things in our little garden behind our house. We look forward to beans, tomatoes, and herbs to use in whatever culinary concoctions we dream up in our kitchen. This year, however, has been a challenge. Between summer heat, a child on the way, and complications in the pregnancy, our garden has done what any unattended garden would do. It has become overgrown with weeds, fallen into disarray, and is by no means bearing fruit.
Bishop J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) once believed that Christianity must be one of the most disagreeable occupations on earth—or in heaven. But one day in 1837 he happed into a church where, hearing the Scripture read out loud, he was transformed. Among his many writings, he wrote a paper entitled simply “Growth”, and this is how it began:
“The subject of [growth]… ought to be deeply interesting to every true Christian. It naturally raises the questions, Do we grow in grace? Do we get on in our religion? Do we make progress? To a mere formal Christian I cannot expect the inquiry to seem worth attention. The man who has nothing more than a kind of Sunday religion—whose Christianity is like his Sunday clothes, put on once a week, and then laid aside—such a man cannot, of course, be expected to care about “growth in grace.” He knows nothing about such matters. “They are foolishness to him” (1 Cor. 2:14). But to every one who is in downright earnest about his soul, and hungers and thirsts after spiritual life, the question ought to come home with searching power. Do we make progress in our religion? Do we grow?” (J. C. Ryle, Holiness, pp. 99)
What a profound question for us to consider! First, in which category do we find ourselves? Is our life compartmentalized in to discreet, non-overlapping categories… the spiritual and the “real”? Are we playing Sunday-Christian while exhibiting nothing of the normal and expected fruits of the Spirit the apostle Paul reminded us of in Galatians 5? Is our righteousness found in the good that we do, and the religious service we provide? Are we a true Christian, who is “downright and earnest about [their] soul?”
And for the earnest believer, perhaps my family garden gives some insight in to our journey in growth and holiness. Our growth in grace is something that takes Spirit-born exertion. We cannot just “let go and let God.” For our gardens to grow, plants must be pruned and watered, weeds must be pulled and rooted, and illness to the plants must be caught and corrected. And it is a lot easier to catch a catastrophe early on rather than correct it after it has wreaked havoc.
The same can be said for our hearts. The word of God gives a scalpel to prune and weed, the Spirit provides life-giving water to nourish and fertilize, and the people of God provide vision to our blind spots and can show us when we are heading towards disaster.
So, how is the garden of your heart? Does it grow? I hope you will join me in praying for our church, that the garden that the Spirit is cultivating would bear much fruit, and the fame and glory of Jesus would abound more and more as the Gospel takes root in our lives.