Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

by Jeannette Haley

Our recent move caused us to suddenly find ourselves blessed with a rather substantial area in which to plant a vegetable garden. Dedicated friends brought a variety of special seeds and drove all the way from the Salt Lake City area to put it in for us. Other local friends pitched in to help. It was quite a day!

The soil in this area is mostly clay. Since the garden was being seeded on the last day of the planting season, there was not ample time to properly prepare the soil. It was bone dry, hard as a rock and difficult to work with. The Bible refers to such soil as fallow ground. This type of dirt not only has to be broken up, but it needs the addition of other key elements such as sand, compost, fertilizer and peat moss. At the time we could only manage to acquire a small amount of compost. It would have to do.

In the spiritual realm, God compares our heart condition to four different types of soil. (See Matthew 13:3-23.) It didn’t take long for me to be totally convinced that our garden consisted of all three undesirable types of soil! If it was watered too much it turned to sticky mud—if watered too little it resembled cement. At this point I was reminded of how difficult it can be to plow up the fallow ground of people’s hard hearts in order to plant the pure seed of the Word of God. Jesus referred to such when He said, “Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched: and because they had no root, they withered away” Matthew 13:5-6.

Fearing that our little seeds might not have enough moisture to properly germinate, we over watered the entire works. As might be expected many of the seeds literally drowned out of existence. This is so typical of “over watering” newly planted seeds of truth in the Christian realm. We can easily become over-zealous whenever we do successfully loosen up the fallow ground of a person’s heart. Instead of planting a seed of truth and watering it only as the Holy Spirit leads, it isn’t uncommon to pour out a river of our “great spiritual knowledge” thus “drowning” out the good seed that was originally planted.

Eventually, much to our delight, little rows of green began to appear. Somehow, miraculously, a percentage of the seeds did manage to germinate and pop through the difficult earth. (These are referred to as “overcomers”.) However, at the same time, insidious weeds also began to push their way to the surface. Their appearance seemed to happen overnight! The weeds multiplied rapidly and overtook the baby vegetables to the point one could barely tell them apart. We knew it would be impossible to step in and pull weeds at this point without also uprooting the tiny vegetable plants. This situation reminded me of Jesus admonition in His parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-32) where He warned that to gather up the tares would also root up the wheat. They had to grow up together until the harvest. Then, at that time, they would be separated.

Keeping that in mind, and also being otherwise occupied, we did not immediately pull the encroaching weeds. In no time this “enemy” had completely taken over the entire garden spot. The sight of it was discouraging and overwhelming. I thought about how those weeds represent sin in our lives and how easy it is for such to take root and grow if we fail to diligently guard our hearts. (See Proverbs 4:23.) Just as weeds never give up trying to take over a garden, so too, Satan never gives up his agenda to take over the garden of our heart.

Most of us tend to gain wisdom from learning what not to do; likewise, it is the weeds that have supplied me with the most spiritual lessons. For example, weeds can be very good at camouflaging themselves. This type of weed grows very close to the plant, keeping pace with it, and blending in with it. This makes it extremely difficult to detect at first glance. Often these intruders manage to become very large. I liken this to the enemy’s tactic of “planting” false “brethren” within the church. (See Galatians 2:4-5.) Such may put on a good act by which many are deceived for a season, but in the end their evil motives and ungodly agendas are exposed. It is our responsibility to be alert and discerning of those who transform themselves into “ministers of righteousness”, who “corrupt minds” from the “simplicity that is in Christ” and preach “another Jesus”, “another spirit” and “another gospel”. (See 2 Corinthians 11.)

Another devious quality of weeds is their ability to choke out or suffocate the good plants. These remind me of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 13:22, “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word and he becometh unfruitful.” These are sobering words and we would do well to heed them by taking stock of our lives before the Lord. How easy it is for us to get caught up with the “care of this world”. Jesus is talking about the every day little duties that you and I perform in the course of normal living. Eventually these “necessary” things take over our time, energy and resources to the point that we are blinded to their overwhelming influence and priority in our lives. Burdened and overwhelmed with a multitude of things that have to be tended to, eventually the Word of God is utterly choked out of our lives. The result is spiritual malnutrition, ineffectiveness and death.

Thistles also grow in this part of the country. These prickly weeds seem to pop up anywhere they please such as in the middle of the lawn, around plants or along cement borders. Their roots are deep and nearly impossible to dig out. They remind me of sins that people don’t want to deal with. After all, they can inflict a painful wound if you rush in and grab them barehanded. It takes both persistence and skill to eradicate this type of problem.

Thistles bring to mind those embittered people who maintain pride and self-righteousness borne upon the carnal wings of their high standards. These people can be the most difficult to deal with. Obviously they need to recognize and repent of their pride and lack of genuine love, compassion and humility. Others give them a wide berth because they are touchy, judgmental and unteachable. Eventually, however, something must be done or they take over the entire landscape. Thistles have to be eradicated wisely. Likewise, God’s word tells us, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” Galatians 6:1.

Finally, there are the amazing morning glory vines that are able to sightlessly locate and climb up the nearest plant. As if guided by some sort of instinct, they reach out, grasping and wrapping themselves around the helpless victim. These stubborn weeds are survivors and fight to the bitter end. Morning glories remind me of “besetting sins” that threaten to gain a stranglehold of the Christian. Sins such as pornography, lust, perversion, complacency, bad habits and spiritual apathy may be compared to the effect that a morning glory has on a plant. Eventually, the desirable plant disappears as the weed completely takes over. Needless to say, this type of takeover in one’s spiritual life leads to utter destruction and ruin as the life of Christ is smothered and suffocated out of existence by carnal desires and appetites.

Our backyard battle doesn’t end with weeds! No indeed! There are enough earwigs and other garden pests to share with the rest of the world. Finding the right type of pest control has been an education in itself. These tyrants remind me of the countless numbers of the demonic host that are assigned to hinder the believer’s progress. Just as our tender plants become riddled with holes from the ravages of the “bug enemies”, so too, Christians must “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” 1 Peter 5:8-9.

In order for the plants to grow and be healthy, they must be properly fed. It has taken some time to learn what certain plants thrive on (and do not thrive on). Fertilizer is essential if a garden is to thrive and bear good “fruit”. As Christians, we know that our spiritual “fertilizer” is the Word of God so that we may grow and mature. Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, “…It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” It is by knowing our authority in Christ and the Word of God that we are able to defeat the lies of the enemy. When plants are strong and healthy, they are better able to withstand the attacks of ravaging pests.

It’s interesting to note how certain plants grow strong and imposing yet yield very little fruit. This reminds me of those in the Christian realm whom, usually with the aid of marketing professionals and/or big backers, become “rich” and “famous”. With so much fanfare and publicity surrounding these “big names” with their “great ministries” the impression is given that scores of people are being born again; however, close examination reveals that very few genuine conversions to Christ are actually made

An experienced gardener knows that the vegetables must be thinned once they become about two inches tall so that they can properly develop. We were so thrilled to see anything come up that, at first, it was hard to reach in between the tiny plants and pull them out. However, failure to do so causes overcrowding and stunts their growth. This reminds me of how God works in the life of His church. While mega churches may appear impressive, needy, hurting individuals are overlooked (or ignored). We refer to this sad situation as “falling through the cracks”. Whether we want to admit it or not, mega churches are run like any other large corporation. While the individual members of such a conglomerate are usually the ones who keep it going with their money and hard work, there is very little, if any, personal one-on-one investment in their lives. Generally speaking, a sheepfold consists of 100 sheep, which is enough for any dedicated shepherd to feed and properly watch over. Thinning the plants also reminds me of how God eventually removes growing Christians from their first teacher(s) so as to sever any dependency upon them rather than God Himself. John the Baptist put it this way (concerning Christ), “He must increase, but I must decrease” John 3:30.Those who truly follow Jesus find that the straight and narrow is often a very lonely place.

We have also discovered that different vegetables need different amounts of water and that they have different rates of growth. So it is with new Christians—each needs personal care and attention if they are to grow to maturity in Christ.

It takes daily diligence to care for this new garden, just as it takes daily diligence to maintain the spiritual life. The Apostle Paul wrote “I die daily”1 Corinthians 15:31. To the Galatians he wrote, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”(Chapter 2:20.)

Time and again while working in the garden, that old adage “Many hands make light work” went through my mind. How often we have prayed for laborers to come alongside GSM, to lift our weary arms and work with us in the Lord’s vast harvest field! Through the years we have marveled at how very few truly committed laborers there are! As Christians we need to faithfully work together to bring in the harvest before it is too late. Jesus said, “The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest” Luke 10:2. Some day we will all stand before Jesus. As His eyes search the inner recesses of our soul, we will be required to give an account of how we spent our time, energy and resources. Will you hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant?”

At last the day came when the first fruits of all our hard labor–two small tomatoes, two zucchinis along with a zipper bag full of tender lettuce thinning—was joyfully brought into the kitchen. My heart swelled with praise to the Lord for His grace and goodness. The scripture came to mind,“He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart” Psalm 104:14-15.

There is something about preparing soil, digging in the earth, planting a dead seed and then watching as it bursts forth from its dark grave bringing new life and, eventually, food to be enjoyed by man that brings into sharper focus the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. The miracle of numerous varieties of life-sustaining foods coming forth from the earth to nourish mankind is brought into sharper focus when one raises a garden than just a cursory trip through the grocery store. Somehow God’s tender loving care and bountiful provision produces a deep, abiding sense of awe, wonder and thankfulness.

As this short message draws to a close, the question is–what type of soil does the precious seed of the Word of God find in your heart today?