Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Unsightly Growth

“You are God’s field” (1 Cor. 3:9).

“All healthy things grow, but not all growth is healthy.”

I’d like to be able to take credit for those words, but I can’t. I’m not sure where I heard them or who said them. Something in my mind whispers to me that Reggie McNeal said that line in one of his keynote addresses at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship conference we hosted here back in February. Whoever said it, the words aren’t mine and a proper footnote needs to be inserted somewhere in this paragraph.

I didn’t craft the sentence but I know its truth well enough. I spent more than three hours in my yard this past Saturday removing growth. Around the right side of my house a small jungle had flourished. I had noticed it for several weeks, but I didn’t want to deal with it. When creeping vines had extended their tentacles as far as a second floor bedroom window, I knew it was time to take action.

My weapons of choice were an old-fashioned sling-blade and two different kinds of clippers. I didn’t need an axe or a chainsaw because not all of the growth was bad. Some of the healthier bushes simply needed trimming. But among the healthy growth I found all kinds of dead limbs and unruly branches. I went after them with the intensity of a personal vendetta.

“Not all growth is healthy.”

What I realize now is that I never should have let things get that out of hand. Looking at my house from the street you would have never seen that unsightly foliage creeping up the wall. You would have never noticed the brittle naked branches of dead plants and bushes. Typically my yard looks quite good. I won’t win any prizes from the homeowners association, but my yard holds its own.

The problem growth was hidden from sight and easily ignored. Quietly, insidiously, it took root and kept spreading until removing it required hours of unpleasant effort. I’ll be paying better attention from now on.

“You are God’s field,” wrote Paul. His point was that the Corinthians – and you – were the site of God’s master work in cultivating the life of the Spirit.

And yet, there are also some things in your life that probably don’t need to be there. Jesus used a similar word picture in his parable of the soils. Some soil allows the growth of weeds that choke the healthy growth of God’s word planted in the heart (Mark 4:1-8).

People may look at your life and never see what is out of control or lifeless in you. We do a pretty good job of ignoring those things and concealing them from others. The yard that is your life looks good, but just around the corner, out of sight from passers by, it’s a real mess.

Some of the most unsightly growth looks like this: anger that gets hidden in public and unleashed at home; envy that grows in the shadows of smiles and handshakes; greed that parades as hard work and commitment to a task; slander offered as a joke or sarcasm.

These are the kinds of things that need to be attacked and pulled up by the roots. Left alone, they’ll do nothing but spread. Eventually, they’ll kill the appetites of the soul that are necessary for spiritual growth (1 Peter 2:1-3).

What might have taken root in your life that needs to be uprooted today?

Show me, O God, that which has found a place in my heart and is not from you. Stir me from the sloth that keeps me from dealing with it and make me bold to remove the dead and lifeless things. Come by your Spirit and grant growth and life, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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