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Some Lessons from Tilling My Garden

Well, my prospective, perhaps presumptive garden, that is.

One of the important elements to understanding stories in the Bible, parables included, is our perspective. In Christian circles, when we hear “the sower went forth to sow,” (Matthew 13:3), or perhaps “a farmer went out to sow his seed,” we generally see ourselves in the role of the one doing the planting. We are evangelising, and people have different kinds of hearts. Have you ever heard someone describe another person as being rocky ground? Or perhaps someone has said, “He’s trying to dig some hard ground there!” Usually these expressions are used regarding targets of evangelism.

garden and tillerI’ll mention evangelism later, but first, let me place myself in the role of one receiving the seed. Is that not what I do when I pray and hope to hear from the Lord? Is that also not what I do when I open my Bible and hope to be changed by God’s message? So I am the ground, not the sower.

But let me tell you the story of my garden thus far. Fortunately for me, I have few plans that involve saving money on food, supplementing my diet, or saving on the food budget. I had one purpose in starting a garden: I need to spend more time in physical activity. Now I’m a bit of a workaholic. I have a hard time not doing anything. The easiest way to get myself to do what I need to do was to make it into work. Then I can feel good while I do it.

So I picked a plot on our little place out here and started to work on it. It has gone through being broken up with an excavator (at which time I killed power to my office and broke our water line, but that’s another story), lots of hoeing and raking, and digging up of roots and rocks. This morning I finally got to the point of being ready to actually till the plot. My previous work had been aimed, not at getting the soil ready for actual planting, but at removing obstacles. I have a large pile of brush, roots, and rocks at either end of the plot, things I have removed as I worked.

Then I had a period of time when I was just too busy with work. Between my work with computers and computer networks and my publishing work, I was simply overwhelmed. The phone would ring by 8 am and I wouldn’t get that much done outside. What do you suppose happened? Well, the plot got some new growth, but not the stuff I want to grow, of course, since I hadn’t yet planted. So out came the weedwacker, the hoe, and finally the rake.

Today I finally got to the tiller. That’s the tiller, in the picture to the left. I borrowed it from my friend Tom Hunt. If you need a floorplan done for a new house, he’s the one to go to.

There were some interesting things about using the tiller as well. Weeds leave behind small roots that tend to wrap themselves around anything available. No matter how may rocks you’ve removed there may be a few more. Run the tiller in a couple of directions. The pile of dirt from one pass may hide some hard soil. Power tools are great, but I ended my morning session more tired than when I worked with the hoe. The tool helps, but the human still better put heart and back into the effort.

Let me apply these to Bible study just a bit. You might want to reference my post from yesterday. Here are some thoughts I had while listening to that wonderful purr (or roar) of the tiller motor.

  1. Different tools accomplish different things. No matter how much you may have gotten with one approach, try taking another look from another angle or with some different help.
  2. Weeds don’t stay dead. You’re never really done. It’s easy to get complacent and think you already have it covered. Now it’s all about telling other people. Don’t get in that place. If you neglect your heart garden for a while, you may find the ground hardening and the weeds getting tall.
  3. Don’t imagine that a period of neglect is the end. That’s what weedwackers, hoes, shovels, rakes, and tillers are for. Those of you who have forgotten your biblical languages after seminary, consider this as well. How about working on reviving them? Yes, I believe you can study the Bible effectively without the biblical languages, but after investing all that time and effort wouldn’t you like the benefit of that tool?
  4. Don’t be blind to the rocks that are still there. You may have removed bunches of rocks, yet there are still some to find and remove. I often joke with Jody that it would be nice if I could measure the quality of my cleaning by the quantity of dirt I removed and not by what was left. Read 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 if you’re thinking you’re good!
  5. Tools help but they don’t do the job. I love Logos Bible software. I love sites that let me compare versions (BibleGateway.com, for example). But these things don’t do your studying for you. They will make you more efficient. Many Bible students amass information and yet don’t get to what the text is saying to them. I was reminded of that forcefully as I moved the tiller through my prospective garden. It did more work than I could have accomplished with the hoe, but it still required me to make the application!
  6. Sometimes you get so tangled with the weeds that you can’t really go on clearing and tilling. I experienced this as left-over weeds and roots tangled up the tiller. I had to stop and clear the blades so the tiller could work efficiently. I’ve experienced this in preparation for teaching my Eschatology series on Google Hangouts on Air (link to next session, Thurs. night at 7 pm central time). Eschatological views are based on many, many texts, and there are many, many views on each of these texts, plus mountains of theology done to tie them together or explain them away. It’s very easy to get so tangled in the details that you can’t see the actual text in front of you. I bounced this off my wife Jody, who has a practical mind set. I asked her to read Mark 13 the other day and then question me about it. She had a set of questions that helped clarify the chapter.

I’m sure there are many more lessons, but those are the ones that occurred to me as I worked this morning. But does any of this apply to evangelism?

  1. Quit trying to judge the people you witness to. You can’t see what’s under the ground.
  2. The best way to witness is to till your own heart. I can’t emphasize this enough. Most people can tell very quickly if you’re trying to use them for something else. So if you are making relationships with other people in order to convert them or make them into church members, they’re going to get that feeling. But if you are genuine and genuinely care about them, they will also know that.
  3. The Christian life and Christian witness isn’t a strategy. See #2. Enough said!
  4. God is the one who changes people. You witness. God acts. Be humble enough to give God the credit. Be humble enough to let God take the responsibility.

Do you see what happened? Quite frankly, all the lessons but one applied to me. As for reaching others, I have one duty: plant the seed. Now planting the seed can be complex, but I suggest that it starts with some of the points I made above. Let God’s word impact your life. Continue to let God’s word impact your life. Continue some more letting God’s word impact your life. Continue yet much more letting God’s word impact your life.

You’ll impact the lives of others.


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