Buy a simple 4×6 frame.
Print the photos.
Slide them into the frame.
Put it where you can see it often.
NOTE: THESE ARE SIZED TO BE PRINTED AT 4×6 INCHES.
I’ve been experimenting with composing flower shots on a piece of paper. I wanted to do it outside so I had good light, but then there is the wind blowing things around, and bugs landing on your paper, and dust and pollen dropping out of nowhere, and shadows where you don’t want them… so much fun!
The main purpose of a garden is for enjoyment (flowers, beauty) and for sustenance (fruits and vegetables). A garden is where God originally put the man and woman with instructions to labour in it, and to protect it. In this garden there were all kinds of trees growing which were pleasant to the sight and good for food.
We know today that gardening is beneficial to a person’s health. Closeness to nature increases happiness, self-esteem, and creativity, it improves vitality and mood and lowers anxiety.
The Bible also implies that every individual is a garden, where the soil of the heart must be prepared and the seed nurtured so that it grows and produces fruit. We can either have a well-ordered garden producing good and nourishing fruit, or one that is overcome by weeds and disease and may not produce any fruit at all.
Take a few moments and consider the connections between a real garden and what we do in the garden of our lives.
If we want to grow a garden, it needs to be where the rays of the sun can reach it. Plants use the energy from sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugar. The sugar can be converted into chemicals required for plant growth, stored as starch until needed, and broken down to release energy.
If a plant is growing in darkness, it will use all of it’s resources growing as fast as possible to reach the sunlight, becoming yellow and weak and eventually dying. It cannot live if it stays in the darkness.
In our spiritual garden, it is clear that we have to come out of darkness, and expose ourselves to light. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)
Light is the revelation of God’s glory: of His grace and mercy, of His love and goodness. Jesus was the manifestation of God. He said about himself: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Begin your garden by moving out of the darkness – the shadow of sin and death – and let the light of God’s grace shine upon you.
“… for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'” (Ephesians 5:8-14 ESV)
A garden needs to be close to a source of water since rain cannot be depended on exclusively. Water is absorbed through the roots of a plant, especially the fine root hairs at the tips, and carries minerals from the soil to all parts of the plant. Water combines with sunlight and carbon dioxide to form the sugar a plant needs to grow. Water keeps a plant upright.
Polluted water is dangerous for a plant. It can damage the fine root hairs, make the soil acidic and cause a plant to absorb dangerous chemicals which may adversely affect it’s growth and even kill it.
If a plant does not get enough water, it will begin to wilt and photosynthesis without enough water causes a build up of damaging chemicals. Eventually it will die.
Water in the spiritual garden is equated with delight and meditation on the law of God, and trust and hope in God rather than man. (Psalm 1, Jeremiah 17:5-8) These things combine to provide the means for healthy and upright growth.
“Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:8)
When the ideas of man are delighted in and trusted in instead, this is equated with forsaking the fountain of living waters, for broken cisterns and empty wells. (Jeremiah 2:11-13, 2 Peter 2)
“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)
“Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14)
With our garden situated in the sun and near a source of clean water, the next step is to examine the soil. The state of the soil makes a big difference in the success of a garden. Some factors affecting the type of soil in an area are related to the climate, the parent rock, and the surrounding natural vegetation. The best kind of soil to have is a mixture of silt, sand and clay. However, not all soil is like this and often needs to be amended for plants to grow well.
Rocky soil lacks nutrients and since is it often hard-packed, water tends to run off it rather than sink in. It is difficult to till, but it CAN be improved by removing the larger stones and adding compost.
The parable of the sower that Jesus told, speaks about rocky soil. “And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.” (Matthew 13:4-6)
The prophets speak about how a stony heart is one that will not hear. “They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets.” (Zechariah 7:12)
The writer of the Hebrews tells us that it is the deceitfulness of sin and an unwillingness to hear that hardens the heart. “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God….”Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:12-15)
Rocky soil is a heart that is unable to believe and won’t listen. It is not able to take in the water of the word, and does not offer the nutrients needed to grow. It might seem hopeless, but we will see in a bit that there is possibility for improvement.
It is alright to have soil with some sand in it, but soil that is mostly sand is a problem. This type of soil cannot store water – water enters quickly, but also drains quickly. It contains very few nutrients as they are easily washed away, and it lacks microorganisms and is sometimes referred to as dead sand.
Plants growing in sand are usually stunted, with yellow leaves and poor fruit production.
Sandy soil can be improved, not by adding another soil type such as clay, but by adding compost.
The Bible often uses sand to refer to large numbers of people: Abraham was promised a seed “as the sand which is upon the seashore” (Genesis 22:17); the armies that came out to fight against Israel were “as the sand that is upon the seashore in multitude” (Joshua 11:4); the nations which would be gathered together in battle would be “as the sand of the sea” (Revelation 20:8).
Jesus speaks of sand in his parable of the two builders – one built on the rock which seem be the eternal things of God, the other built on the sand, which seem to be the thoughts and ideas of man (Matthew 7:26).
Sandy soil in the heart is not as resistant to the water of the word as the rocky soil, but it is also not particularly receptive. The sandy heart is too full of the things of man to be much interested in the things of God. However it is not without hope. It can also be improved with the addition of “compost”.
Clay is the smallest soil particle. If you have clay soil you might notice that it sticks to your shovel and boots, it gets muddy and takes a while to dry out and then cracks and becomes hard when it does. But clay soil also holds on to nutrients and gives roots a good a firm grip. It grows awesome oaks and maples.
Clay can be easily compacted however if it is worked while it is wet and because it is dense, more tender plants can have a difficult time spreading their roots. As it holds on to water, It can limit air to the roots when it is saturated, and since it does a good job of holding onto minerals, it can also hold on to minerals that are not good such as salt.
Clay soil also benefits from the addition of compost. Compost helps to separate the fine particles so they don’t bind together, increases proper drainage, and adds microorganisms.
In the Bible, clay is what we are made from: “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)
A heart of clay is perhaps a good place to start… It is a heart that can hold plenty of the water of the word and one that also holds on to the nutrients for growing healthy and strong. When the roots get down good and deep, what is growing can thrive. But there has to be caution in how much trust is placed in one’s own ability and knowledge and this is perhaps more of a problem when seedlings are just starting out. It can perhaps more easily become prideful.
“And the Lord said: ‘Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men…You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?'” (Isaiah 29:13-16)
The addition of compost improves the quality of any type or mix of soil and it can be made right in your own backyard. All you need is the ingredients and a place to let them sit while they break down.
To make compost you simply make a pile of ingredients such as grass clippings or green garden waste, vegetable and fruit scraps, and leaves which you add to as the materials become available. Then you let it sit for a whole year or so to decay into lovely crumbly food for your soil.
It is important not to add diseased plant materials, weeds that have gone to seed, chemicals, or animal products such as meat, dairy, fat or grease.
So what is compost from a spiritual standpoint? I think that compost can be compared to repentance. To “repent” in the Bible means to change one’s mind – it is an act of will that rejects sin and prefers holiness. Compost is all about change – it takes dead things and turns them into a life-giving product.
How does “compost” produce repentance? Well, one of the ingredients of compost is grass, and grass in the Bible is often used to refer to mortal life: “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.” (Psalm 103:15,16). When we appreciate how short life is, and the vanity of life if there is no purpose, and no hope, it can open the mind to God.
Another component of compost is the leaves from trees. Trees in the Bible are often used to represent the righteous: “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” (Psalm 92:12) The purpose of leaves is to capture sunlight – and perhaps this can be compared to an appreciation of the need for justice in this world.
Compost also is made up of the remains of the fruit of plants that are good for food. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22,23). When the benefits of holiness can be contrasted with the damaging effects of sin, repentance is possible.
The pH of soil is measured on a scale of 14. Soil that is higher than 7 is alkaline, while soil that measures lower than 7 is acid. Plants grow best in soil that is pretty much right in the middle (6.5 to 7). One reason for this is that phosphorus is only soluble in soil that is in the neutral range and phosphorus is one of those very important nutrients that helps plants flower and set fruit.
Acid soil is often found in places where there is excessive rainfall which causes nutrients to leach out of the soil. It retards root growth and therefore access to water and nutrients. A fix for this is to add limestone or wood ash in small amounts and over time the soil will become less acidic.
Alkaline soil is often found where there is too little rainfall. The soil is often sandy or clay. This kind of soil limits the availability of nutrients and leads to plants with stunted growth. A fix for this is to add sulphur or peat moss and over time the soil will become more acidic.
How does this relate to the soil of our hearts? Perhaps we can start with the idea that the state of the soil is related to rainfall. Rain in the Bible is used as a metaphor for the word of God: “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass.” (Deuteronomy 32:2).
Perhaps the result of too much rainfall is an excessive focus on the judgment of God leading to a holier than thou attitude or an inability to see God as good, and too little rainfall an excessive focus on mercy so that anything is acceptable. Instead, the soil of our hearts must be where “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” (Psalm 85:10).
Acid soil needs to be tempered with limestone (from the shells of marine creatures formed over long periods of time: mercy and goodness of God), and alkaline soil needs to be tempered with sulfur (sometimes called brimstone: judgment and severity of God). But just enough to reach an equilibrium.
Dig it up
Before any planting can be done, the soil must be broken up and the roots of any perennial weeds removed. Any rocks must be taken out and an even layer of compost mixed in. This is hard work, but it is worth it in the end.
God tells His people:
“Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done– burn with no one to quench it.” (Jeremiah 4:3,4 NIV).
Circumcision was meant to be an outward sign of the covenant God made with His people – that they would be His people, and He would be their God. It is a symbol of removing wickedness from the heart, and consecrating it instead to the ways of God.
When we take the time to properly prepare the soil of our hearts – to remove the rocks (or the things that cause us to stumble); prepare the compost (reflecting on the reality of life and a Creator and the need for justice and morality); add the amendments (by taking the time to properly understand God); and digging that soil up to get rid of the roots of thorns that will cause us trouble later on, the seed has a much better chance of growing well and producing fruit.
An interesting question is whether or not we can have any effect on the soil of the hearts around us. I have found that most gardeners are very interested in what everyone else’s gardens are growing, and open to sharing their successes and their mistakes, and giving and taking advice wherever it is needed. I think this is also true for spiritual gardening. We can influence others through example, and by sharing our experiences.