Once the soil has been prepared it is time to plant. Plans are made for what will go where and the seed packets are opened and hundreds of little bits of potential life are buried in the ground.
The Bible tells us that the seed is the Word of God: Luke 8:11 —“…The seed is the word of God.”
“Word” in the New Testament is the Greek word logos which is the idea of those thoughts gathered together in the mind and expressed in speech, not just the physical word itself but also the thoughts behind it. God has provided us with access to His Word in the Bible. It is these words that tell us who God is, what His character is, and what He expects from people.
By taking these words and planting them in the soil of our heart, soil that is prepared and ready to accept them, we can become like the God that we worship because this is what God says about His Word: Isaiah 55:11 — “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
It is interesting that God commanded the nation of Israel not to plant their fields with mixed seed (Deuteronomy 22:9). So too in our hearts we cannot mix the words of God with the words of men.
So, how do we plant the word in our hearts? By reading the Bible, memorizing it, studying it, listening to it, singing it, writing it out…
Generally, seeds need three things to germinate: water, warmth and soil to grow in. There are some seeds that need particular situations in order to grow such as fire, light or darkness, scarification, very high temperatures or a long period of cold or drought – but for now let’s look at why seeds need water.
Water helps to soften the seed coat so the sprout can emerge, activate the food reserve which fuels the initial growth, and wash away any acid that helps to keep a seed dormant.
Once our seeds are planted in the earth, a gentle rain is perfect for moistening the soil and creating perfect conditions for most seeds to sprout.
In the Bible, rain is often linked to the blessing of obedience – “The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand…” (Deuteronomy 28:12). And lack of rain to judgment because of disobedience – “The LORD shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust: from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed.” (Deutronomy 28:24). The blessing we are looking for is not material things, but spiritual growth and refreshment.
It is also true that God sends rain upon the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), but the difference may be in how it is received. In places where there is more pavement than open ground, much rain is wasted and instead of sinking in and filling up underground aquifiers, it flows out to the sea, or results in problems such as drought and flooding.
How do we make sure the seeds we have planted in our hearts receive the water needed to make them sprout? I think the first step is to ask God’s blessing (Zechariah 10:1), and the next step is to trust God’s words – that what He has proclaimed good and evil is correct – and therefore to be obedient. “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:10).
As mentioned before, some seeds need very particular conditions to germinate. For example, some need fire to melt the resin that seals the seed, some need drought so their seed case dries and cracks, some need a season of cold so that the freeze and thaw cycle can soften the seed case, and some need to pass through the digestion process. Perhaps you can think of spiritual applications for all these processes.
One thing that all seeds do need to germinate is some degree of warmth. What came to me as I thought about how warmth is reflected in a spiritual garden was enthusiasm, desire, exertion, passion, love…
This does seem to be somewhat supported by Scripture. There has to be love for God before His character can grow in us. “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5). If that love grows cold, there is not much chance it will have a good effect on us. “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:12,13).
So, to add warmth to the soil in your heart, and allow for the germination of the seeds of the word, you need to add a little enthusiasm like David had: “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” (Psalm 84:2)
How do you create enthusiasm for the things of God? Prayer is a good place to start. Develop a relationship with God – praise Him for all that He is, thank Him for all your many blessings, ask Him for help in your troubles, make Him a real presence in your life, and look for the ways that He is there for you.
The warmth and moisture soon have little sprouts popping up out of the soil. These little seedling live off the nutrients in the seed for the first little bit, but once the true leaves appear they begin the process of photosynthesis.
A little bit of diluted fertilizer can be a help to give these little plants a good start.
Fertilizer concentrates mostly on three nutrients: nitrogen (leafy green growth), phosphorus (healthy roots, flowering, and fruit set), and potassium (overall vigor and fruit ripening). But too much is just as bad as too little.
Fertilizer may have a spiritual equivalent in the thoughts we put into the soil of our mind. Perhaps this may be through reading, listening, and what we dwell on.
Paul has some wise words about balanced thinking in this regard. He says, Philippians 4:8-9 — “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”
As the seedlings grow, so also do an array of weeds. It means that time must be spent pulling them out before they get big enough to compete with the plants you do want to grow. We will deal with weeds next… for today, we will talk about mulch.
Mulch is a layer of leaves or straw that can be laid down on the ground around your plants. Not only does it help to prevent weeds, it also helps to keep the soil from drying out.
I don’t want to stretch things too far, but I think it may be possible to see mulch as humility. Pride is something that comes so naturally to each one if us. We can think how well we are doing in growing our little seedlings, or we can look at others and lift ourselves above them, or we can even sometimes be like Job and think we deserve a reward for all the good that we do. But once we do that we stop being teachable. We start to think we know what is best.
This is what the Bible says, Isaiah 57:15 — “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
Whatever obedience we give to God, we are only doing what is our duty to do. Keeping the right perspective, humility before our Maker, will help to keep the weeds from growing too numerous, and help to keep the soil moist.
One of the best ways to deal with pride is to choose to be a servant to others: “…condescend to all the weaknesses and imfirmities of your fellow creatures, cover their frailties, love their excellencies, encourage their virtues, relieve their wants, rejoice in their prosperities, compassionate their distress, recieve their friendship, overlook their unkindnesses, forgive their malice, be a servant of servants, and condescend to do the lowest offices to the lowest of mankind.” (William Law) Become God’s servant – His means of working in the world.
It really is amazing how quickly weeds can take over a garden if it is not cared for. Weeds can often germinate more quickly, and grow to the point of producing seeds much more rapidly than the seeds we have carefully planted. The best way to deal with weeds is to pull them out by the roots while they are still small.
This is a truth we have to learn about ourselves… Weeds will grow in our heart. No matter how well we prepare the soil, or how often or well we weed, they will keep popping up. And this is so for everyone. Jeremiah 17:9 — “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
The gardens of our hearts must be weeded regularly. This requires time to examine ourselves and recognize what weeds we need to deal with but also the day to day putting to death the thoughts that can choke out the good seeds we are trying to grow. Mark 4:19 — “And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.”
One way of doing this is through fasting. Fasting is not satisfying the human appetite whether it is food, technology, laziness, or any other self-indulgence for a period of time, and instead feasting on the word of God. This will quickly show us what controls us and what needs to be controlled.
Insects are a part of life in a garden. There are the bad ones that suck sap, eat holes in the leaves, damage the fruit, and chew on the roots. And then there are the good ones that eat the bad ones or help with pollination.
I think we can compare insects with the words and actions of those around us. We can either be helped by the people around us, or we can be harmed. 1 Corinthians 15:33 ESV — “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.”
Paul says, Galatians 5:15 — “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”
There will probably always be some insects causing trouble in a garden, but a healthy plant, and the presence of beneficial insects can help to minimize any damage. We need to grow our garden in the presence of others who can help us and who we can also help.
Good insect activity is to love one another – John 13:34, honour one another – Romans 12:10, accept one another – Romans 15:7, serve one another – Galatians 5:13, be kind to one another – Ephesians 4:2, forgive one another – Ephesians 4:32, encourage one another – 1 Thessalonians 4:18, and pray for one another – James 5:16.
One more thing that can cause problems in a garden is disease. Many of the diseases that plants develop are due to either growing the same crop in the same soil too often, lack of diversity so that disease spreads easily, and not enough air circulation between plants.
Crop rotation – Perhaps growing the same crop in the same soil can be likened to sticking to the same routine for too long. It may be helpful to try different forms of spiritual discipline: read an intellectual book related to the Bible, find some new spiritual music or make some art, volunteer in areas of service, get out and enjoy God’s creation, travel and get to know Christ followers in different places, or find new ways of showing hospitality to your church family…
Diversity – Perhaps a lack of diversity can be sticking to our favourite parts of the Bible and not really getting to know the whole book. Maybe its time to pick a book, a theme, a character, a doctrine and spend some time studying it more thoroughly.
Air circulation – Of course, air makes me think of the Spirit. The word for “spirit” has the meaning of breath or wind in the original languages – something you cannot see itself with your eyes, but you can see the effect. Romans 8:13-14 — “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” On our own we will not accomplish much.
Healthy plants are very likely to produce the fruit that we are hoping for. It is not an instant process however. Growing takes time. Luke 8:15 — “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”
There are probably more things that could be said about gardening, but this will be the last post in this series. It is spring as I write this, and even while I am planting seeds in my garden, flowers are bursting out all around.
The main purpose of flowers is to enable pollination so that fruit (seeds) can develop. A lot of a plants energy goes into making flowers, so that it can produce the seeds that will begin a new cycle of life. But a flower does not last long. It fades quickly once its purpose is fulfilled.
We know what the fruit of the spirit is… Galatians 5:22-23 — “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” This is what the seeds of the word produce.
I think the flower is a bit like sacrifice – our will given up to produce the character of God within us.
Romans 12:1 — “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”
Ephesians 5:1-2 — “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.”
Buy a simple 4×6 frame.
Print the photos.
Slide them into the frame.
Put it where you can see it often.
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.
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.
Next post we will look at planting the garden.
Buy a simple 4×6 frame.
Print the photos.
Slide them into the frame.
Put it where you can see it often.