My friend and former nanny, Susan, is an amazing gardener. While she worked for us, the raised planters in our backyard transformed from overgrown weed-beds to a flourishing garden of beans, zucchini, squash, and tomatoes. (The peas didn’t make it—we couldn’t keep the rabbits away from them.) She did some work while the boys napped and included them in the rest. It was a long process of pulling out weeds, adding good soil, growing seedlings inside, transplanting them at the right time, and watering and weeding all summer.
I, however, am a terrible gardener. I don’t have the patience for a single one of those steps. The best I could do was make sure the plants got watered on the weekend and try to harvest the zucchini before they got too big and tasteless.
So at first, when I read a devotion saying we can’t understand the fruit of the Holy Spirit without understanding farming and agriculture, I was discouraged. It’s not that I can’t understand it, but I don’t want to do it. That sounds like too much work.
But after I read the verse a few more times, God finally got through to me. I’m not the gardener, he is.
In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. (James 1:21b, The Message)
The NIV translation reads, “humbly accept the word planted in you.”
That’s it. That’s my whole job.
Well, not exactly. Plants aren’t sitting around doing nothing; they’re actively drinking and photosynthesizing. To let God make me into a salvation-garden, I need to soak up his Word like water, bask in his love like sunshine, breathe in his guidance like carbon dioxide. Then the fruit of the Spirit will grow in my life.
Honestly, despite my impatience with gardening, I would almost prefer a to-do list. That’s something I could handle. But God didn’t give us a religion so that we could manage our lives—that was the Old Testament Law, and we know how that turned out. Instead, he gave us Jesus, who broke down barriers so that we could have abundant life, more and better life than we ever dreamed of (John 10:10).
Now if you’re thinking that your life doesn’t feel like it’s filled with sunshine, I hear you. I don’t fully understand how pain and hardship fit into an abundant life. A quick reading of the Psalms shows us that believers, God’s people, have struggled with that question, too. As far as I can tell, it’s perfectly fine to cry out to God in dismay or despair.
Yet we also believe that the joy and peace of God can transcend circumstances: that they can grow in dark places and bad weather. At those times, it’s especially important to remember that it’s not your job to produce fruit. You don’t have to pretend to be happy when you’re not. But God can produce those things in you. And maybe that’s the point. Perhaps the fruit that grows in the darkness is the best witness of all.