Growing up, I helped my mom with her yard work. She has always had a knack for implementing different landscaping ideas, planting beautiful gardens, and maintaining it all to perfection. Unfortunately, I still don’t have a green thumb. I suppose I didn’t pay attention as well as I should have while she worked. However, one thing I did learn well was pulling weeds and other encroaching, undesirable plants. The most important part about pulling weeds is that you never just remove what you can see; rather, it must be fully uprooted. Some weeds are easy to pull up. Just a slight pull and up it comes. Others need a little more attention with a shovel and some digging—and much-needed gloves for the prickly ones. If a person constantly checks his or her garden, the weeds don’t have much chance to grow, and there’s less effort involved. If the garden goes unchecked, the process can be overwhelming, and there’s more of a risk of missing or breaking off substantial roots. These roots can then wrap around the good plants, causing them to wither and die.
As Christians, we can look at our spiritual life as a garden. When we are just starting out, our garden is made up of little seedlings with the goal of bearing fruit for the kingdom of God. But it’s not a matter of if weeds will sprout, but when. Alongside our little saplings, we might notice a little weed here and there—little thoughts from the enemy that start to grow—“Don’t forget about that mistake you made yesterday”; “Do you really think you can change?”; “You’re worthless and will never make it as a Christian.” As Christians, we may still struggle with some sins and face new temptations. With some quick attention to these issues and asking God for forgiveness and help, those weeds—temptations/sins—can be uprooted and no more.
But what happens when we only check on the garden once in a while? We go out and discover larger weeds, maybe some prickly ones that make the task difficult. It’s tempting to just cut the tops off so we don’t have to see the ugliness. No harm, right? Now we can see our beautiful flowers again. But the danger still lies beneath: Roots. Roots can be parts of the past that linger and start to kill our spiritual fruit. To dig deeper means having to deal with the real issues, the underlying weaknesses that we are afraid to see. Maybe they are sins that we are too ashamed of: anger, sexual promiscuity, jealousy, self-harm, stealing, lying, homosexuality, etc. Maybe they are lies that have taken a hold of us, making it unable to see any truth: unworthy, ugly, useless, could never be forgiven, [insert thought here]. The stronger the weed roots become, the weaker the good plant becomes, hindering it from bearing fruit.
What happens if we neglect our garden altogether? It will never grow to its potential. It will be overcome by the enemy. And eventually, it will die. What if it gets to the point that every good thing dies? Scripture refers to two options. First, if the person doesn’t desire to change or pursue God, the garden remains dead. That person has made the decision to walk away from God (Hebrews 6:4-6). However, with the second option, there is hope for the one who has lost his or her way but still desires to follow the Lord (Luke 15:11-32). What must be done? Repentance. Everything of the enemy must be uprooted and exposed, and the seeds of truth and righteousness must be replanted. Without a doubt, it will be painful, but God’s forgiveness, grace, and strength make it possible. Once it has been restored, the responsibility for maintaining the garden remains.
Being a Christian takes hard work. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we must examine our spiritual lives and be honest with ourselves. Are we being attentive to the little weeds/thoughts/sins that are starting to take root? Do we have deep roots that need to be dug out and exposed to the light? Is our garden overrun by all sorts of dangers that seek to choke out anything good? We have been blessed with having the Holy Spirit within us if we have made that decision to follow Christ, but we still have to listen. We are responsible for what’s growing in our spiritual gardens, but the Lord is there if we call upon Him for help.
Consider Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians regarding their Christian walk:
“So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” ~ Ephesians 3:17-24 NASB
Let’s gather our gloves and shovels and get to work!