Haphazard. Functional. Low-Maintenance. These are all terms that describe my philosophy toward gardening. I know, as a life-long Midwesterner I’m supposed to have soil running through my veins. But the truth is, I just don’t really care for it. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in gardening as a theory. I’m always hopeful when spring arrives and I scour the farmer’s market looking for little green tomato shoots and florals bursting in vibrant colors. Like all diligent townfolk, my husband and I plunk down the obligatory chunk of change to fill our trunk with flowers and produce and return home with the best of intentions for off-setting our carbon footprint.
But then we look around the yard..and the flower beds need to be cleared of last year’s detritus, and it really is unusually hot for a spring afternoon, and maybe that side of the house gets too much sun for these hydrangeas, and the topsoil in the garage is too hard to work with, and wouldn’t it be lovely to just go take a walk or read a book or watch a ballgame?
In the end, as my tomato saplings begin to wilt in the spring heat, I make a mad dash to the vegetable bed, shove them into the ground, sprinkle them with some tap water and wish them well. Three months later, this is what you’d see on a visit to our backyard.
This is not the “garden of salvation” James was referring to in the opening Scripture. This is doing the least amount of work required to get a harvest. Although I prefer to look at is as encouraging plants to be self-sufficient, I wonder sometimes if the garden of salvation being cultivated in my life looks a little more like this instead of the beautiful topiary of love, joy, hope, grace, and mercy God intends it to be. Sometimes I do the bare minimum when it comes to my faith development–a haphazard prayer while I’m firing up my computer for work, a random Scripture reading as I’m waiting for the coffee to brew, a few minutes of focused worship on Sunday morning before my mind drifts off to grocery lists, schedules, or wondering why on Earth my son would wear long songs with shorts. Sometimes, my spiritual practices lack the discipline necessary to cultivate a garden of salvation. And this is exactly what James is warning his readers about in his apostolic letter.
James tells his readers not to get thrown off course.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! James 1:22-24 (MSG)
James exhorts his readers to submit to God with humility, and to let this Master Gardener cultivate a garden of salvation with his Word. But we can’t produce a harvest in our salvation garden by doing the bare minimum. As James says, we can’t just talk a good game, sharing Jesus-y hashtags and posting Scripture pics. We have to act. We have to dig our hands deep into the gardens of our souls and pull out by the root all of those things that take us away from God. We have to take the time to water, to sit with God’s Word and meditate on it. We need to give our souls the breath of God by spending time meaningfully communicating with him, both in prayer, study, and worship. And if we do these things, then we create an environment in which God’s garden of salvation can grow. We will be, as Isaiah says, a well-watered garden.
And what will be harvested in our garden? Only the best God has to offer! There’s love, of course. And peace. Forgiveness for sure. Gallons of grace and mounds of mercy. Justice like a rolling river. Righteousness like a never-failing stream. And the abundance! We will have such a cornucopia of God’s goodness that we can’t help but share it with others, which is James’ final command in chapter 1.
Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. James 1:27 (MSG)
James does not mince words–the apostles believed that the end of days were imminently approaching, and they didn’t have time to mess around with conversational niceties. But it’s important to note that the actions James called his readers to engage in were not about making others feel ashamed or judged. Rather, James commanded his readers to reach out in service to the least of these, and to offer them the fruits from the garden of salvation, recognizing, of course, that the world is corrupt, and encouraging them to continue to practice good gardening habits so they could minister in a world that does not always follow God.
I think the same advice holds true for us. We are not to take up our pitchforks and go tearing around our communities lambasting people for perceived ungodliness. Rather, we are to fill our carts to the brim with the harvest of our salvation garden and freely pass out the produce to those who most need it. And, we need to go to the gardener over and over again, letting him tend to our souls so that once our cart is emptied, we have enough to fill it again.
Blessings and Peace,