Garden Devotions

Learning Spiritual Lessons through Gardening

God’s Pruning

Dark CloudsI watched from inside as the sky darkened and the first few droplets of rain spattered the cement of the back porch. The leaves began to sway in the wind and a flash of lightning crossed the sky. The weather report was right. We were in for a good old summer thunderstorm. The winds were rather fierce and the rain pelted against my living room window.

When the storm had passed, I went outside to peruse the damage it left in its wake. One large branch from the neighbor’s tree rested on my dog kennel fence and the yard was littered with smaller twigs from the various trees surrounding my house.

With plants, though, storms play an important role in their lives. Storms give them vital water they need to grow and produce fruit. They also are God’s way of pruning things naturally. Those twigs I picked up off the ground were shaken loose because they were either dead or dying, or they were too weak to hold on. Once those were gone, the tree could put its energies into the branches that were stronger and could provide the tree with more light to enhance the photosynthesis.

In our Christian lives God often allows storms to come our way to help us shed the things that are holding us back and are wasting our energy. We might lose things that seem to be important to us, but God uses that loss to get us to focus our energies in a different direction. Those things served their purpose for a time, but now their loss gives us an opportunity to create new growth in a way we never thought possible before.

“He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills.” Psalm 147:8 NIV

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A Tale of Two Containers

Carrot GreensOne thing I’ve really enjoyed about gardening with containers is the flexibility I have over a regular garden. I started two containers, one filled with tiny carrot seeds and one with six cucumber seeds, and I left the lid over them to give the seeds a better chance to germinate by retaining the moisture.

The cucumber seedlings sprouted up first so I removed the lid to give them full advantage of the sunlight. Carrot seeds, as most people know, seem to take forever to pop up out of the ground so I left the lid over that container for several days. Eventually the carrots came up and I removed both lids.

Both sets of seedlings were growing well—until the rain came. When I saw what the weather was going to do, I covered the carrot seedling container because the plants looked frail and I didn’t want the rain to harm them. The cucumber plants appeared to be much hardier so I left the cover off.

All the rest of my containers had endured many big rains and done fine so I hoped the cucumbers would do the same. By the time the rain finished, though, I saw a problem I hadn’t anticipated. The three inches of space between the soil and the top of the container was filled with water. None of the other containers in my garden, ones with established plants in them, had any standing water. They were all filled with the same mix of soil. So what was the difference?

I hadn’t taken into consideration the root system. The small cucumber plants hadn’t had time to build a large root system so they simply couldn’t absorb as much water as the larger plants whose roots catacombed the containers. The water backed up onto the surface and waterlogged the soil. The carrots, of course, were fine, but I lost three of the cucumber plants because of this rain.

Sometimes our spiritual lives have to survive a big rain when troubles come our way. When we’re young Christians, God often protects us from the truly difficult situations in life to give us more time to grow before our faith is inundated. As we grow, He allows us to face those times of testing to help us grow stronger in Him.

When the strong storms surround us, will the water drown us or will the spiritual roots we’ve sunk down into the truth of God’s word be adequate to absorb those troubles and to take in the nutrients we need but let the rest wash harmlessly away from us?

The only real difference between a nourishing rain and a flood is the ability of the plant’s foundation to soak in the water.

“The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Matthew 7:25

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Spiritual Weeds

(Yes, I’m back!  I’ll try to post every Thursday.  My health is better than it was at this time last year so I hope it will continue to stay at this level or higher throughout the summer.)

Pea seedlings with weedsOne of the most exciting days with a new garden is that day when you see some tiny green shoots coming out of the ground. The seeds are good, the soil is warm enough, and a faint indication of a row appears. In your heart you feel a rising hope of what the harvest will one day be.

Then you spot it. One of those slender green sprouts doesn’t look quite like the others. Is it a weed or not? Should you pull it or let it go?

At first, it can be difficult to identify which little sprouts are the plants you intended and which are the evil weeds that will siphon nourishment from your new crop. Some friends of mine planted a garden last summer, but being new to gardening, they had a lot to learn. They had an entire row of onions that they’d planted from seed, but never having grown onions from seed before, the first time they went out to weed their garden, they saw what appeared to be blades of grass growing up so they promptly pulled them. One of the many lessons they learned was when it comes to weeds, it’s always best to know for sure what is a weed and what isn’t before you pull it up.

The more gardening a person does, the easier they can spot the sometimes minute differences between the sprouts of the plant you want and the sprouts of the plants you don’t want. It was easy for me to see which ones were weeds and which were plants because I’d had experience with onions the year before. My experience with the weeds the year before had trained me to quickly see the difference between the two when they were small sprouts.

It’s a similar situation in our spiritual lives when it comes to the truth of God’s word and the false teachings we might encounter. Those who are new to the faith often have trouble distinguishing between what is real spiritual truth and what is a deception to lead them astray. As we grow in the Lord and we encounter some of these teachings, we learn to spot the lies and to weed them out while they are still harmless.

A gardener can study pictures of seedlings to learn what a specific seed should produce so when they see one that looks different from the seedling they are expecting, they can remove it. A Christian needs to know God’s truth so well that deviations from that truth will stand out clearly, and they can turn away from it before it does much damage. Just as there are many weeds threatening our crop, there are many spiritual weeds that threaten our spiritual lives. These spiritual weeds steal what we need to grow and end up stunting our spiritual growth.

Let’s train ourselves to spot these types of spiritual weeds and eliminate them as soon as they start—before they can take root and cause any damage.

“But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:14 (NIV)

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Firstfruits Offering

(So very sorry for not keeping up with this blog, but ironically, the very subject of this blog has made it impossible for me to do.  🙂  In other words, since my last entry, my garden has consumed all my energies so I haven’t been able to write more.  Some days all I accomplish is sitting there watching things grow because I’m so tired.  I’ve made a list of topics, though, for when I have enough energy to write.)

Container Garden from April to JulyFirst there was a late frost.  Then the rains.  And now the bugs — and the heat.  It seems each day brings a new challenge when you’re working with a garden.

As you can see, my container garden has grown from April (in the top picture) to the beginning of July (in the bottom picture).  None of this happened overnight, but was a steady pace of small increments, one container at a time.

Some of the plants, like the peppers in the front, started indoors long before the weather allowed me to take them outside (a definite advantage of container gardening!), but even an indoor start didn’t stop them from problems in their growth.  A round of aphids and then spider mites (evidently hitchhikers on some plants I brought in when it started to get cold last fall) came close to ending the lives of those three pepper plants on the left.  (Neither insect probably could have gotten a foothold if I wouldn’t have been too sick to check my plants for a couple of weeks.  Drat the flu!!)

With my limited energy, I look at this garden now and marvel at how far it has come and I credit most of that to God’s creative genius in giving plants the will to survive and to produce fruit.  I also think about how much of my own work has gone into it.  I’ve had to remove weeds, replant seedlings, carry water to the containers at least once a day (container plants need tons of water!), and trim off the old leaves to send the plant’s energy to the new growth.

In our day and age, if something happens to my garden, I can simply go to the grocery store and buy food to sustain me.  Sure, the whole point of me growing a garden was so I didn’t have to go to the grocery, but at least I have that to fall back on.  Now, imagine a world with no grocery stores, where the only food you have is what you’ve grown and stored yourself or what you can find on the land.  Bugs are no longer a nuisance, but a threat to your own survival.

When God asked His people to give Him the first fruits from their land, He was asking them to take a serious step of faith, a step that laid their very life on the line.  By the time the first fruit was ready, most of their stored food was most likely gone.  God was asking them to put their needs aside and give Him what they might have desperately needed themselves.  He was asking them to trust Him, to show that they believed God would provide the food they needed if they gave Him the first of it.

I think it’s hard for us these days to understand the sacrifice God was asking them for with the first fruits offerings.  Oh, yes, I eagerly wait for the first of each item to be ready to sample, the first radish, the first lettuce, the first Swiss chard, the first zucchini, the first watermelon, but if I give it to someone else, it’s not going to mean I will have to starve until the next one comes on.  In Bible times, though, that’s what it might have meant.

I’m not sure if we can capture the feeling those Israelites had when they took that first fruit they’d been working so hard for and gave it up to God instead of using it for themselves, but we can remember what God asked of them and their willingness to believe He would provide for them if they put Him first.  What might God be calling us to now, an act of sacrifice on our part that will show Him we are going to give up our own rights to something and offer it to Him with no strings attached?  Maybe as we look at our gardens, we can remember to give Him the first as a sign of our trust in His goodness and provision for us.

“Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.”  Exodus 23:19

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The Big Wait

seedling
After months of planning and more planning, the seeds are in the ground (at least some of them are) and the big wait begins.  My advice to gardeners is to plant at least one type of seed that has a short germination time (7-10 days can really try your patience!).  It did my heart good when I saw my first little radish sprout popping through the soil.

Much of gardening is about waiting, though.  At first we wait for the seeds to sprout.  Then we wait for the blooms to come on. Next we wait for the fruit to set, and finally we wait for the day we can pick that fruit and take it to our table to enjoy.

It seems with gardening we spend most of our time waiting and watching to see how God will reward our labor.  Just as with seeds, the germination time between when we finish a task God has given us and when we start to see the results of that task can vary greatly.  Sometimes we may never see the results of our work here on earth until we get to heaven.

Waiting patiently can be difficult for anyone, but the Lord has made it part of a gardener’s life.  We can put our effort into providing the opportunities for the seed to grow, but in the end we have to leave the seed’s fate in God’s hands to do the work.

Just because we can’t see what’s happening in the ground with our little seeds we don’t give up hope that it will eventually break through the surface.  When the work we do for God here on earth seems to be going nowhere, we need to remember this big wait time.  God never asks us to make the seed grow.  He only asks us to do what we can to give the seed the best opportunity for success.

So let us keep pushing on in our work for the Lord, even when we can’t see the results.  If we do our part, God will bless the work of our hands and produce the result He desires in us.

“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”  2 Chronicles 15:7

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Let the Fun Begin!

container-garden-smThe weather report says the time I’ve been waiting for has finally come.  As of the most current meteorological predictions, there shouldn’t be any more frost in the future so let the fun begin!

Since my raised bed is not that big, I decided this year to use it for the smaller plants, things I will harvest more frequently and that take up less space for each one.  I have 28 square feet in it, and I’ve planted 10 of those 28 square feet so far with cold weather regulars: peas, Swiss chard, lettuce, carrots, onions, beets, radishes, and kohlrabi.

But for the sprawling plants like cabbages and broccoli, as well as the vining ones?  This is where they’ll find their home, my container garden.  The first of the residents moved in today.  They’d been living in cramped quarters on my back porch and had to fight onslaughts from playful kittens so with the nice weather the past few days, I moved them outside onto the outside back porch.  Carrying them in and out each night, though, was starting to be too much for me to do and I broke a few leaves in the process. 😦  But now they’ve moved into their permanent home in the container garden, and there’s room on the back porch to start a few new containers. 🙂

After the long winter months of dreaming what this container garden was going to look like, I’m so excited it will soon become a reality.  Based on my past performance, though, I’m pretty sure it won’t be nearly as wonderful looking as the container garden I’ve imagined in my head, but it will be the best I can do this year, and I hope it will provide some decent produce for me to use in the process.

I’ve been told I have a pretty vivid imagination (which is why I’m pretty sure the end result won’t look as cool as my imagination thinks it will), but God’s imagination is even better than ours.  He has plans for each of us, just as I have plans for my container garden, and sometimes He moves us around in ways we don’t understand.  But as we allow ourselves to be placed where He wants us to be, a place that is specially made just for us with the perfect environment we need at that time in our lives, we can dig our roots down securely into Him and grow much more than we could ever ask or imagine.

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work  within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.”  Ephesians 3:14-21

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Building Up the Environment

soilOne of the things I’m quickly learning is how important it is to build up the soil first before planting anything.  The soil is more than just something to hold the seeds in place while they grow.  It’s the foundation that will lead to success or failure of your new garden.

Some plants grow better in one type of soil and others grow better in another type of soil, but they all need some of the basics in whatever medium they grow.  They need a way for their roots to absorb water, nutrients and oxygen.  As you prepare the soil, you consider what type of plants you’ll put there and what their nutrient needs will be.  There are all kinds of amendments you can add, depending on the specific needs of the plants.

As I mowed my lawn for the final time last fall I collected the clippings and the final batch of leaves and covered my raised bed with them.  I’ve also spent the winter raising red worms and building up some worm castings to enrich the soil for my plants.

No matter which amendment I end up choosing, my purpose for choosing it will be to give my plants the best shot they can at growing big and strong and producing the best fruit they can.

When it comes to our spiritual lives, we need to take a similar step to ensure the spiritual health of ourselves and those around us.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Let’s take the time to look around us at the people we meet every day.  In what way can we encourage them, or amend the soil around them, so they can grow bigger and stronger in their faith?  What are their specific needs and how can we meet them by our words and our actions?  What steps can we take in our own lives to give our faith a better chance of growing so we can produce the best fruit we can for our Lord?  Let’s always be ready to add the amendments we need to the soil around us and around the people we know so we can encourage them to become the best they can be for our Lord.

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Imperfections

beet-greensI’ve noticed since I started working with plants that I haven’t yet grown a perfect plant. I think that’s any gardener’s goal, to have perfect looking foliage or perfect fruit, but every plant I’ve seen has something that is just a little off on it.

As for me, I’m still learning how to garden so I’m thrilled if my plants grow and at least produce something edible, even if it isn’t the most perfect specimen. Each plant I grow I learn more about how to make it stronger and better. Insects, disease, lack of sunlight, not enough water, and unbalanced nutrients in the soil, they all add to the challenges in raising that perfect plant. It takes time to learn how to counter each of these issues, and with each failure I learn more about how not to fail in that regard next time.

I don’t think I was created to be a master gardener who can get as close to that perfect plant as any human can, but I can do what I am able to do with the knowledge I have at the time. The more I learn, the closer I hope I’ll come to growing those perfect plants I want.

God’s the Master Gardener in our lives. He’s given us the Holy Spirit to help us combat those trials that come our way, but there is one major difference between us and the plants we grow. We often fight against what He’s trying to do in our lives instead of submitting ourselves to our Master Gardener and His wisdom.

Each of us has our own imperfections, things that keep us from being a perfect likeness of Christ on this earth. We’re fortunate that we have a loving Master Gardener who knows exactly what our individual imperfections are and how to help us correct those. Just like our plants, we are all dealing with something that is trying to keep us from that perfection. It might not be the same challenges someone else is struggling with, but we all have something that keeps us from God’s perfection. Let’s try to remember that we’re all in the same boat and we all equally need the Master Gardener’s touch in our lives, and then give each other the same grace as the Holy Spirit does His work in our lives.

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6

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Small Steps

Container GardenThe idea of having a garden wasn’t even in my mind at this time last year.  In fact, I spent almost the entire month of April 2012 bedridden, or essentially so.  My world became my couch and my bed, with a couple of trips a day to the door to let the dog into the fenced area in the back.  That was it.

Some days I’d turn around on the couch and sit facing the window behind it, watching the beautiful, warm spring transform into summer, but knowing that I didn’t have the energy to participate in it.  A warmer than normal spring opened the door for my neighbor to work outside her house, and I often watched as she started to build something on the side of her house.  I wasn’t sure at first what it was, although before long it started to become clear.  She’d built a couple of small raised beds using cement blocks, with small wooden trellises at the back, and had planted a small garden.

As April turned to May, enough of my energy returned to where I could take very short walks outside, interspersed with a long period of sitting in a lawn chair and merely watching nature while I stored up enough energy to make the walk back inside.  I’d read that a raised bed doesn’t take much work, at least once it is planted, and I thought how nice it might be to have one of my own.  It’d be nice to have something to watch while I sat outside to get some sun (necessary because of an extremely low vitamin D level).  My level of energy, though, made it impossible for me to even consider something like my neighbor had done.

One day as I was changing the cat litter, it occurred to me that the bucket it came in would make a great container to plant something in.  Even if I couldn’t have a regular garden, I could plant a container or two.  Over the next several days, I prepared the containers and then planted a few seeds.  It was a long process for me, with frequent rest breaks, but by the time I finished, I had 6 containers planted, 4 buckets and 2 smaller ones (and a few large plastic bags full of cat litter just waiting until I needed it!).  It wasn’t much, not compared to the garden my parents always had, but at least it was something.

Sometimes I get frustrated with not being able to do all I want to do.  Did I say sometimes?  I’d probably better say often.  Things seem to take me ten times longer to do than they would a normal person.  But God knows my limitations and He’s not calling me to do more than I can do.  He honors what I do, even though it’s not all I want to do, as long as I do it with with a willing heart.

“For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.”  2 Corinthians 8:12

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The Impatient Gardener and the Uncooperative Spring

Snow on hoopIt’s the second day of spring, can’t you tell?  Last year I started my garden late and, if you recall, it was quite a scorcher of a summer with temperatures close to or above 100 and very little precipitation.  This year, I’ve been planning my garden now since just after the start of the new year.  Yes, seriously.  🙂

My health has been bad and I’ve had very little energy so sitting and dreaming about warm sunny days watching little sprouts turn into meal-producing plants has been a favorite past-time of mine.   We had a few warm days last week, which gave me the incentive to lay out the plan for my container garden (to the left) and to cover my raised bed.  The plastic works well during the day, and the hoops were plenty easy with pvc pipe (although that unruly one in the middle still refuses to go down into the ground very far), but unfortunately, the temperature inside is not staying above freezing at night.  I suppose there might be ways of fixing that, but my energy isn’t up to it so it will just have to wait a little longer for spring to catch up with us.

As I’ve been working with this and dealing with my impatience for the weather to cooperate, it dawned on me that sometimes this is how we respond towards God.  It might seem to me now that winter needs to be finished and those warmer days of spring should take over, but the earth isn’t convinced by my argument.  It has something else in mind, something that I can’t quite understand.  Each new bit of snow is more moisture it needs for the summer ahead, and every day moves the sun higher in the sky so the light will be better for my plants.  I can rant and rave about the uncooperative spring, but it won’t change when the warmer weather settles in.  All I can really do is use this time to prepare for when it finally arrives.

Sometimes God’s time schedule doesn’t fit with my impatient agenda.  I can feel like He’s being uncooperative, or even mean, by the delays He puts in my life.  I get impatient for things to change so I can continue on my way in the way I think I should go.  But I have to remind myself that He sees things I don’t and His delays are not haphazard.  He allows them for a reason — and my job isn’t to determine the timing. It’s to be prepared when God says the timing is right.  And that’s all I can do right now for my garden is prepare as much as I can so I’ll be ready to act when the conditions are right.

“Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is you, O LORD our God. Therefore our hope is in you, for you are the one who does all this.”  Jeremiah 14:22

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