Lessons From the Garden
Gardening (vegetable gardening) has become a hobby of mine over the last several years. Each year I am surprised all over again at the bounty that comes from a single seed. While I absolutely love to do the work, it is very difficult work. Especially since it is an immutable law of nature that weeds always grow three times faster than crops! Still, while it is difficult work, the smell of kosher dill pickles being canned and green beans heated for dinner or the eruption of flavor from a garden grown tomato make it all worth while. Truth be told, if I never canned or enjoyed the produce I would still be excited to see the miracle of life exploding from a small seed!
Between reading the Bible and gardening I have been fascinated by how the illustration of the seed is still an applicable modern parable for the work of God in the lives of his people. The Holy Spirit is the unseen mastermind behind the dying seed producing a full and fruit-bearing Christian. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7).” Any gardener could “amen” to that! Some plants – not matter how much labor the gardener puts into them – they simply don’t budge. In fact, we’ve taught our kids to pray God’s blessing over the crops, trees, and bushes because only he can make them grow.
Recently I’ve had three strange seeds stories that bring these biblical parables to life. First, I had planted seeds and put them in a mini-greenhouse we keep in the backyard. We live on a hill and always get violent winds during seasonal transitions. Consequently, the wind blew my greenhouse over and all the seedlings in it were smashed and destroyed. Or so I thought. Today I have a healthy Romanesco Zuchinni plant bearing fruit at the site where the green house crashed into the ground!
Second, for weeks we’ve been watching a squash-like plant grow out from the earth next to my patio. Naturally, we didn’t sow anything next to the patio. But today it is a HUGE pumpkin-like vine bearing curious green and yellow striped fruit. Our current guess is that they are cushaw pumpkins. We bought one last year at a farm. How some seed ended up next to the patio – I really couldn’t say!
Thirdly, while working the garden we’ve had various plants pop up in addition to what we’ve sown. Most are weeds. But one caught my eye; it rested between two pepper plants in a place I know I didn’t plant anything. The plant has turned out to be a cantaloupe vine! It is healthy and will soon put on fruit.
Okay, so what’s the lesson? One of Jesus’s parables told in Matthew 25:14-30 is actually not a parable about seed or crops at all. Instead it is known as the parable of the talents. To give you the cliff notes: the master of an estate plans a long journey. But before he leaves he gives three servants money to invest and grow while he is away. Perhaps you know the rest of the story. The first doubles his money as does the second. But the third one, he has an interesting take on investing. He buries to money to prevent loss – so he says. His excuse for doing nothing with the money is, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours (Mat. 25:24, 25).”
Do you see what he did there? We have a parable within a parable! And the parable within the parable is that of gardening and seed (see, I’m not as far off track as you thought). The servant says he knew his master. Moreover, the facts about the master were correct. For the master would confirm this to be so in v. 26. God is the master in this parable. He gives to all of us what we receive and he has expectations for us in how we use those things. That’s the point of the parable.
But what’s the point of the parable within the parable? In what ways is God the Father and Master Gardener one who, “Reaps where he did not sow and gathers where he scatters no seed.” I believe the point comes alive in the my three gardening occurrences I’ve mentioned earlier. We find that God is able to grow, bring life, and cause abundance even were we are not actively at work with Him. The stunning reality is that God does not need Paul nor does he need Apollos! Nor does he need Josh Hollis in order to produce results! He wants us to participate (thus we are given talents to invest). But make no mistake about it – he doesn’t need us.
As a pastor with a head full of ideas and hopes for our church, this aspect of God’s sovereign abilities brings about a sense of relief. I may be pouring my investments into sound membership practices, active gift and talent contributions from our membership, or just basic commitments to praying together. I may even be frustrated that the weeds grow faster than the produce (so to speak). Yet I serve a God who reaps where he did not sow and gathers where he scatters no seed! Like my unexpected crops that I contributed nothing to, God is bringing growth and life at the periphery of my work. The truth is, He is doing to same in your life and work. If you ever doubt it just consider my three crops. Remember these lessons from the garden that we might still be in awe of God’s movement even in places we are not currently focusing our efforts.