My first ever foray into the world of gardening is beginning to pay off. The flower borders are starting to unfold into a display of yellow and red. The vegetable seeds I sowed and covered with poly tunnels are just poking up through the soil. I was very dubious about my ability to grow brassicas successfully, but the Brussels sprouts plants I put in are strong and flourishing. The Peace rose is putting out new shoots, so are the phlox, and the bedding plants are growing healthily. The nematodes I watered in seem to have dealt with the slugs; the honeysuckle which was a spindly eighteen inches when I planted it is now four feet high and bushing upwards and outwards against the trellis which I fixed to the outhouse wall. The night-scented stock and sunflower seeds are starting to germinate in the borders. The sweet peas are creeping up the canes I placed for their support. The grass is thickening up where I overseeded it, the birds are coming regularly to my bird table, and when I sit at my desk or run on my treadmill I survey my little domain with a real sense of satisfaction, and anticipation of the coming summer months when I will be able to sit out and relax in it (if it ever stops raining!)
There’s just one problem. When I moved here six months ago the lawn was twelve inches high and consisted as much of dandelions, buttercups, dock leaves and stinging nettles as of grass. I covered it with weed and feed and the weeds have started to die back, but not before leaving last season’s seeds all over the garden. In all the flower borders cotyledons are beginning to open out on the surface of the soil and I find it impossible to tell which ones are the seeds I planted and which are the weeds. At this stage they look so similar that I don’t have the confidence to start weeding them out for fear of uprooting the plants I’m hoping will fill my borders by the summer.
I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares. “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13. 24-30)
This is one of Jesus’ parables of the end times, looking ahead to what will happen when He returns to establish His reign of justice and peace. But like so many of Jesus’ stories, it has different layers of meaning. I look at my own life, and I can see some things which God has planted and which are flourishing. I see other things which, frankly, are shrivelling up and need a good watering from the well of the Holy Spirit. But I also see new things beginning to germinate. Some of them worry me. Is this one a trait God wants me to develop? Is it something He’s going to use in my life? Is it going to grow into something that bears fruit from which others can be fed? Or is it something insidious that will spread its roots invisibly around the things God wants to grow and choke them? It’s not always easy to tell. Am I becoming less anxious, more restful, more trusting of God? Or is my natural tendency to laziness reasserting itself when I should be expending energy in pursuit of what God wants for my life? It can sometimes be hard to distinguish. Am I learning to relate to God in everyday life instead of religiously following the patterns of my upbringing (e.g. you must get up early every morning to have a “quiet time” – this is the foundation of Christian living)? Or can I just not be bothered to get up early and spend that time with Him at present? Am I becoming more sensitive in my dealings with those who don’t yet know Jesus personally? Or have I lost my passion and boldness in sharing the Gospel?
At the moment these are questions I genuinely don’t know the answers to. Some of them could be applied to the church, too. As God gently dismantles the structures we have been used to in church life and shows us a new way to be as the Body of Christ, He is sowing many new seeds that are going to result in greater fruitfulness, increased unity and love, deeper maturity. But in among all of that there are bound to be some things that will not be helpful, new ideas that don’t move us on in our journey from vision to reality. And it can be very hard to distinguish one from the other. It would be very easy to go round uprooting things left, right and centre, both in my own life and in the life of the church, with the attendant risk that we remove or damage the burgeoning seedlings that God wants to grow in us – or worse still, remove His sowings and leave the weeds to flourish.
I’m itching to start ripping things out of the soil in my flower borders, but I’m restraining myself until they grow to the stage where it’s obvious what they are and which ones need to be removed. That could take many more weeks yet, and the process takes patience and trust – I have to set aside any anxiety and believe that the weeds will not be allowed to strangle the plants I’ve sowed. In my life, too, I’m trying to learn to trust things into God’s hands and wait patiently for the moment when He begins to say, “Now you can see why that one is not helpful and needs to come out, and now you can see why that one is going to be a real blessing to you and others and needs to be watered and fed.” In the meantime, I have to listen to Him, allow His rain to water my life, drawing constantly from His well of supply, and basking in the sunshine of His presence. Soon enough it will start to become apparent what adjustments I need to make and what I need to abandon in order to pursue His agenda. The same is true in church life – we can trust the Holy Spirit to show us when and how to uproot something that’s growing where it doesn’t belong, and how best to water the emergent fruits that will turn His church into a source of beauty and nourishment for the community in which He has placed us.