Last year I built a 4’ x 8’ raised garden bed in the backyard. Other than watching countless YouTube videos of people discussing their secret soil formulas and watering schedules, I talked to my good friend and mentor Danny for advice.
Danny grew up on a farm and always had a flourishing garden. His backyard is one of the most peaceful places on earth. He helped me sift through all of the information and remember that growing plants really is simple—water, soil, and sunlight. At the end of our conversation he added one more thing.
“I’m glad you’re building a garden bed. Gardening is good for pastors,” Danny said, smiling.
I’ve found this wisdom to be true. Gardening isn’t just good for pastors, gardening is good for people. There are so many lessons to be learned from the soil. The more industrial the culture, the less we notice the rich value of plants. Yet, when you look at the teachings of Jesus, they are full of illustrations drawn from agriculture.
Here are 3 lessons that gardening teaches us about spiritual growth:
1. It might start small, but it doesn’t stay small.
One of the most amazing things about plants is how small they begin. Everything that a mighty Sequoia tree will become is bound up in a seed that fits in the palm of your hand.
We live in a world that is constantly measuring and comparing. We live by the motto “bigger is better.” This mindset actually discourages us from doing small things. We can’t donate hundreds of dollars, so we don’t give $10. We don’t have thousands of followers, so we don’t speak up. We don’t have time to go on a mission trip, so we don’t serve. If you’ve found yourself discouraged from taking small steps for Jesus, remember the mustard seed.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matt. 13:31-32)
Little is much in the hands of a big God. Trust God with small acts of obedience and watch your impact grow.
2. What you plant is what you get.
Last summer we planted mint because we heard it helps keep bugs away. I guess bugs don’t like minty freshness. This seemed like a good idea at the time…until the mint started to take over the whole garden bed. Apparently mint not only keeps bugs away, it also spreads like a weed. To this day we’re still finding little mint shoots sprouting up in random places.
“Whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Gal. 6:7-8)
If you want good things to come out of your life, you need to put good things in. We can’t expect to reach spiritual maturity without spending time doing spiritual disciplines. We won’t develop deep church community if we don’t spend time with other Christians. Good fruit doesn’t just magically appear. It has to be planted and cultivated.
The same goes for bad fruit. Many people aren’t happy with where their life is taking them. If this is you, the challenge is clear: stop sowing sinful things and allow God to plant the Holy Spirit in you. Believe the gospel and put your faith in Jesus. We have to stop expecting apples while we are planting oranges.
We can’t expect to reach spiritual maturity without spending time doing spiritual disciplines.
3. There is no such thing as instant growth.
The 21st century has spoiled us by the ease, convenience, and speed of every aspect of our lives. There is one thing that you can never rush: growth. Don’t try running a marathon if you’ve never run a mile. This is especially true of spiritual growth. We’ve got to stick with certain rhythms and practices for a whole season before we really begin to see our lives trending more towards Jesus.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:9)
Notice Paul says “in due season.” This means we might be planting seeds and watering for months before we really see a payoff. Patience is maybe the most important thing that gardening teaches you. It is much more convenient to go to the grocery store and pick out fruits and vegetables. But there is nothing quite like eating the fruits of your own labor.
Don’t give up. Keep at it. Put a Rule of Life in place if you don’t have one. If you’re not sure what a Rule of Life is, check out a teaching series I did on it this spring.
(For more from Joshua, check out joshuabranham.com.)