Friday, November 21, 2008

Good Soil: A Reflection on Landscaping the Soul

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop (Luke 8:15).

It’s been one of those mornings. I’ve been sitting here for nearly an hour absolutely stumped. The daily reflection for Friday morning needs to be written. I’m in meetings all afternoon and then planning to leave this evening for a weekend commitment. So the writing needs to be happening now. Problem is, it isn’t.

While sitting here I’ve been hearing voices and commotion outside. I finally opened the blinds on my office windows to see four men with shovels (I kid you not) digging up massive piles of soil. They’ve made big holes in the ground and the dirt they’ve churned up looks like good soil to me.

The material for today’s reflection on good soil is happening right outside my window. I only needed to open the blinds and take a look.

I went out and spoke to one of the landscapers. He explained that those holes were going to be filled in with eight foot Holley trees. That’s one way to make a garden. Take the fully grown plant and drop it in the ground. Pack the dirt around it. Water faithfully. And there you have it.

If only spirituality were the same way. That would be a very appealing way to do the life of faith. But the soul cannot be landscaped like a garden. We don’t get to take a mature faith and place it in our lives right where we want it. No, the life of the soul is formed over time, cultivated.

To be fair, so are those eight-foot Holley trees. We have friends in North Carolina who own and operate a nursery. They deal with the plants before the landscapers get them. Every plant that gets placed in a hole along the side of a building was grown and nurtured somewhere.

Landscaping the soul, becoming more like Jesus, is the Spirit’s work of slowly cultivating Christ-likeness in us. That happens as the word of God falls on good soil.

The Greek of Luke 8:15 literally says that the word of God “bears fruit in patience.” The NIV Bible renders that phrase with the word “persevering.” The basic idea is the same. Even in good soil, in a good heart, the word of God works slowly. Immediate results are not a good litmus test of the condition of our hearts.

Jesus tells us there are three ways the seed of God’s word shapes our lives and brings forth life: Hearing, retaining, and patience or persevering.

So stay at it. Do the hard work of landscaping the soul. Don’t look for shortcuts that try to fill holes with fully developed faith. Grow in faith by the word and by prayer. Hear the word, use your mind and memory to retain it, and patiently walk with Jesus through every circumstance of your life.

God, a master landscaper, will use the seed of the word to bring beautiful things out of your life. Thanks be to God.

Merciful God, by the work of your Spirit form your likeness in me. Use the seed of your word to cultivate the attitudes and thoughts and actions that reflect Jesus’ presence in my life. Help me to hear and to hold fast what is heard. And in all of this teach me to patiently endure, knowing that you are at work in all things. Amen.

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