Our society today is far from Jesus’ agrarian-based culture. If we want tomatoes any time of year, we go to the store and buy them. We don’t have to wait for fruit to be in season because it gets shipped to us from places that are always warm. Our thankfulness for food is limited to being thankful that we had money to buy it, but we really don’t give thanks for the process by which it was grown.
But I’ve been gardening for the past three summers, and I have discovered that fruit doesn’t come immediately like it does at the store – it takes a lot longer. And I have learned that I am not a very hopeful gardener. I plant fearfully, praying every year, “Lord, please make something grow from this.” And every year that fruit comes, I know that it’s not because I have a green thumb. Somehow when the seeds are released from the confines of their packet, when the dirt covers them and the water hits and the sun warms, they grow, and they sprout, and fruit comes. And it always amazes me because I was not sure anything was going to happen.
Not only am I not a hopeful gardener, I’m also an impatient gardener. For me gardening is not about the process, it’s about the fruit. I plant tomato plants because I want tomatoes. I plant cucumbers because I want to eat cucumbers. And so I get really impatient with my garden. I wonder why the plants aren’t growing faster, why there aren’t flowers on them yet, if they are growing at all because they don’t look any taller than they did the day before. Did I plant them right? Am I giving them enough water? Have I messed up this time?
And summer after summer it happens. Over time, the plants grow. Flowers come. And fruit follows. I can take no credit for it, and I cannot speed up the process one bit.
Recently as I was fretting over my garden and wondering if this was the year that my lack of ability was going to doom all my plants, the Lord spoke to me about my impatience. He said, “Son, you do this same thing with the people that you minister to. You think that your job is to make them grow, and you think that if you just find the right verse or if you push them more, they are going to show fruit faster. You are an impatient spiritual gardener with misplaced hope.”
When I am an impatient gardener, my hope is in me and my ability to make things grow. But John 15:1 tells us that there is already a spiritual gardener, God the Father. Jesus said, “ I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.”
This is why Jesus uses gardening so much in talking about the kingdom of God - He is teaching us about hope. We sow seed in people’s lives and then we entrust it to God’s hand because only God makes it grow. Beneath the surface, where we can’t see, God is at work, whether we are awake or asleep. And our trust and hope is in the Father, who is growing His kingdom and wants to see fruit even more than I do, yet who also delights in the growth process.
My work as a disciple is learning to be a patient, hopeful gardener, enjoying the growth process and knowing more fully the One who brings fruit.