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

by Jeannette Haley

One of the most delightful things I have discovered lately was quite by accident. This lovely delight was the program “Secret Gardens” on HGTV. Those of you who know me personally know that I love such things as secret pathways, secret hideaways, secrets of the ancients (archaeology), and other such treasures all waiting to be discovered. Now, because we rarely ever take a break, let alone go on a real vacation (we wouldn’t know how to act even if we could) this program, for a short time, suddenly drew me into a paradise on earth.

I found myself drawn through ornamental iron wrought gates, into a world of such lush green foliage that it brought tears to my eyes. Towering trees, lavish lawns, fragrant flowers, bubbling brooks, beckoning pathways, fountains, ponds, and birdlife were so captivating that all I could think of was how utterly perfect and wonderful, beyond anything we could ever imagine, the Garden of Eden must have been.

We love beautiful gardens. However, we have learned the hard way that trying to produce and maintain a lush, green paradise in our backyard in this high desert valley is just about impossible. The clay soil is hard and unyielding, the summers hot and dry, the winters cold and harsh. It’s a battle to plant, protect and prune plants, so that they will not only manage to stay alive, but become what God made them to become. The other battle is against stickers, thistles, and a never-ending array of weeds that refuse to die, no matter what. It takes a great deal of time, backbreaking work and finances, all of which are in short supply where we are concerned. But, God loves gardens.

Take a short journey with me through four of the ancient gardens of God as revealed in His Word, two in the Old Testament, and two in the New, and how each relates to another garden—the garden of the heart, both our heart and God’s heart.

The first garden that God created we all know as the Garden of Eden. ”And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” Genesis 2:15. And into this garden, God came in the cool of the day, calling out to Adam for fellowship and communion. Right up front, we get a glimpse into the heart of our Creator God. The Garden of Eden itself represents the very best that God could give man on this earth, showing His love and provision for all of his physical needs. It was the perfect environment for man. Surrounding him was the magnificence of God’s creation as evidenced through the great trees, plants, flowers, rivers, abundant fruit, and creature life.

There was no lack of horticulture delights to discover, nor lack of entertainment from the animal and bird world, nor lack of incredibly delicious fruit to satisfy the taste buds. Neither was there lack of pure flowing water.

But, the most wonderful part of this perfect world into which God had placed man was the manifest presence of the Lord God Himself. Thus, we see that God’s heart longs to commune with our hearts in sweet communion and fellowship. The Garden of Eden wasn’t all about Adam and Eve’s physical surroundings, but about their relationship with God Himself. Before the fall, there was no shame, no sin, no guilt, and no separation from God. All they had to do was choose to partake of the tree of life, yet this one thing they neglected to do.

How many hearts since that long-ago time have suffered because of neglect? As a garden suffers and eventually withers and dies because of neglect, so too, our hearts wither and die because of neglect. The sad thing is neglect is a choice on our part. As with the first man and woman, we have the power of free will and choice. It’s up to us to choose, within the secret garden of our hearts, to love Him with all our heart, soul, might, and strength, and to live for Him, follow Him, obey Him, and worship Him above all else. If we fail to do this, then our heart’s secret garden, the place in which the Holy Spirit wants to dwell and commune with us, will be filled instead with the litter, rubbish and vanity of this world. The end result is a sad one, for just as the Lord banished Adam from the beautiful Garden of Eden, so too, we will by our own neglect, banish the Holy One from the place of our secret garden.

The next garden we read about is in the Song of Solomon. What an utterly lovely garden is described in this deeply anointed book wherein the Shepherd lover calls to His bride: “My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle [dove] is heard in our land; The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely. Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes. My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies” Song of Solomon 2:10-16. How God loves gardens, but especially the secret garden of our hearts!

In these verses, we again see the tender longing of our Shepherd Lover calling to His own… His heart of mercy and love is revealed in His urging to rise up and come away with Him. Calling her His dove who is in the “clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs,” brings to mind that Christ is our rock in whom we hide, and whom we, in the secret places of our hearts as we ascend one step at a time through sweet communion, and knowledge of Him, grow upward until we hold and behold Him only. Oh! If only Christians would realize that nothing is hidden within the secret garden of our hearts from the One who loves us so! Yet, what does the Lover of our soul find when He looks upon the secret garden of our heart as He calls us higher in Him? Does He find the tender vines in the secret garden of our heart ready to bear choice fruit for His glory? Or, does He discover that we have, through neglect or self-serving choices, allowed the little foxes of sin and compromise to spoil our vines?

In the New Testament, there was a most special garden. It was called the Garden of Gethsemane. It is here that Jesus took His disciples to pray. We read in Luke 22:40-46, “And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed. Saying, Father if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow, And said unto them, Why sleep ye? Rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.”

            Gethsemane means olive press. It was in this special garden of olive trees, in the dusk of night that the Son of Man came to agonize in prayer before His Father. Never had any man ever prayed more earnestly or with more agony than did the Son of God on this night, in this garden. It is in this place that we see, if we are given eyes to see, the heart of God bared to a world lying in the darkness and depravity of sin. Jesus, as man, agonized before God, asking if the cup of bearing the sins and shame of the world could pass from Him. He travailed in this garden as man, not as God. The test was if He would get through as man.

In this garden, the victory came in Jesus’ submission to the will of the Father as revealed by His humble obedience as He uttered the words, “Not my will, but thine be done.” His heart was poured out for you and for me. His example stands for all time and eternity. And, as the olives must be pressed in order to release their precious oil, so too the Son of Man was pressed by such a great burden and weight, that even his sweat was as great drops of blood.

Deep within the dark recesses of our heart’s secret garden there is a place of great “pressing.” If we truly belong to Jesus, He will, sooner or later, lead us to our own Garden of Gethsemane where we will have to press through the last abyss of our self life, or our right to self. It will be the time of the dark night of the soul, a time of desperation before God that will require every last ounce of strength we have in order to come to that final decision. Will we, with Jesus, throw ourselves upon God, whether we understand or not, and declare, “Not my will, but thine be done”? Or, will we cling to our own ways and will, thus forever sealing our fate within the inky darkness of the heart’s secret garden of Gethsamene?

At last, we come to the garden in which resided the tomb into which they laid the body of our Lord. And, thus we read in John 20:11-18: “But Mary stood without at the sepulcher weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulcher, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”

            Into this final and beautiful garden, came a sorrowing seeker. She was not seeking for the living, but for the dead. The beauty and life around her was unnoticed and meaningless, for the One who was fairer than any paradise garden that had ever existed had been cruelly crucified. When upon the cross of God Jesus’ heart had ceased beating, all hope had ceased within the garden of her heart. And, yet, upon that old rugged cross, God’s heart was exposed to the whole world.

The Garden Tomb could not hold the Author of Life. The realization of Jesus’ glorious resurrection brought resurrection power and life into the secret garden of her heart, and from within that secret garden came a wellspring of hope and joy within the good news that she was commissioned to share with His sorrowing disciples.

What about the secret garden of your heart? Do you delight in communing and fellowship there with the living Christ? Does your Shepherd Lover call you in this secret place, and do you rise to follow Him? Are you guarding the secret garden of your heart from the little foxes of sin, compromise, pride, selfishness, and rebellion? Have you allowed God’s olive press to have His way with you, and have you surrendered to His will? Have you received the risen Christ into the garden of your heart? After all, on that first day of the week so long ago, the resurrection power that raised Christ from the grave was offered to all mankind. It is upon receiving Jesus that the garden of our heart will be truly changed and revived by life from above, and resurrection power within. This power will identify us to the future hope of forever abiding with God in the Garden of Paradise that is in the midst of His magnificent power and glory!