It’s March now though you wouldn’t know it by looking out the window. There are still some huge snowdrifts out there and the cold snaps are so persistent that we had to give them a new name. Now we call them a “polar vortex”. But I can still dream. I let my eyes wander over all the seed catalogs that have been arriving in the mail and my mind is off and running, planning my gardens for this summer. I’m envisioning one corner awash with various color sunflowers, a trellis covered with the lavender flowers of sweet peas, the pungent smell of basil and oregano amid towering tomatoes bursting out of their cages. It’s a good dream and I will work hard to see this happen. There’s nothing quite like cooking a meal using your own produce or arranging a vase of flowers snipped from your own cutting garden. A very good dream, but there is one thing that must happen first. The soil must be prepared by tilling and fertilizing. It’s a difficult, dirty, smelly job. So I do what any good gardener does – I call in reinforcements, namely my husband.
As he rototills the soil, I am always surprised at the rocks he tosses aside. When he’s done with his part, the soil is smooth, broken up and ready for planting. Yet each spring we will find rocks that have worked their way to the surface over the course of the winter. It’s been a brutally cold and snowy winter and I can’t help but wonder what boulders are lurking there, awaiting the gardener’s plow in the spring.
My pre-spring daydream creates the perfect backdrop for reading Luke 8:5-15 in which Jesus tells his followers the parable of the sower. The people of that agricultural society must have been able to connect with this teaching, but today it is curiously puzzling. Jesus compares the growth of God’s seed within us to a garden. If the seed falls on unbroken soil, such as a hard path, it cannot penetrate to the heart and well not be able to grow. Indeed, a bird passing by will be able to snatch it away. But the fertile soil of a believer is able to accept God’s Word. Just as my husband digs and churns up the soil with a rototiller, so does God prepare our soil. Only as we are broken of the pride that hardens us, can God plant, water and nurture His seed within us.
Jesus goes on to mention two other types of soil, rocky and thorny. The rocky soil is one that gladly takes the seed but never really gives it a chance to root itself. Think of a cornstalk whose roots cannot dig in because the soil has not been properly tilled. The first rainstorm will knock it over and it will die. God’s seed cannot root in thorny soil either. If you don’t let God permeate every part of your life and allow his roots to grow firm and secure within you, then you will fall when adversity strikes. The thorny soil is also soil that has received the Word, but allows the temporal worries of the world to choke out faith and trust in God just as weed or thorns can overcome flowers in a garden.
I like to think that my soil is fertile. I like to think that God has planted his seed and it is growing in my heart. But the truth is that my soul can be as thorny as an overgrown garden and as rocky as untilled earth. I shouldn’t be surprised to find rocks and thorns in my garden. It is important to recognize that these are the very things that drive us straight into the arms of the Master Gardener. If weeds never grew and rocks never surfaced, we wouldn’t need a gardener at all. We would be completely self-sufficient (and lonely and empty too).
We have the luxury of our very own personal Gardener, but all the rakes and hoes in the world are useless unless you allow Him access to your heart, “the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). I know that if I stay very close to the Gardener twenty-four hours a day, all year long I will blossom under His tender care. A garden cannot pull out it’s own weeds or toss out it’s own rocks. That is the gardener’s job but he can only work when we unlatch the garden gate to our hearts.
“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”