What’s inside: Just like a beautiful garden needs good seeds planted, weeds pulled, and much nurture given, so does your life as you grow in your relationship with God.
Whether or not you’re a gardener, most of us understand the basics of how plants grow and what they need to thrive. Give your plant a little love – some nutrient-rich dirt, space to grow without getting choked by weeds, and the right balance of sunshine and water, and your plants will love you right back.
With time, your hard work will begin to pay off as one tiny seed sprouts into a massive flowering plant a thousand times its size, a wobbly perineal becomes a sturdy centerpiece in a flower garden, and baby bedding plants produce meals worth of yummy fruits or veggies.
Sounds simple, right?
I love the idea of being a gardener, and I’ve tried to improve my skills through the years, but I haven’t earned my green thumb award – yet. Getting my garden to flourish has been a decades-long process of learning from my (many) mistakes. One thing I’ve learned is that weeds need absolutely nothing to succeed. They will grow with or without water, require no fertilizer or compost, and can propagate themselves with astonishing speed.
Growing a beautiful garden is hard work and takes considerable knowledge, skill, and faithful tenacity.
Life is like that, too. In a garden, the only thing that will flourish left to itself is the weeds. The same is true for our lives. If we are going to cultivate beautiful, vigorous growth, we need both the knowledge of what the “garden” of our life needs and the skillful diligence to intentionally tend it faithfully, day by day, season after season.
We can sweat and toil pulling weeds through summer’s blistering heat in our flower and vegetable gardens. Still, if we are not planting good seeds to replace the weeds and giving those tender plants the water and nutrients they need, our little plot of earth will never bloom to its full potential. Likewise, in our lives, if we want the good and wholesome things to grow, we’ve got to be deliberate about what we plant, what we uproot, and how we nourish the good seed buried in the soil of our lives.
What Does it Mean to Flourish?
“The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; To shew that the LORD is upright: he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” Psalm 92:12-15
To flourish means, “To grow with vigor and health towards one’s peak condition and highest excellence; to thrive and blossom with beauty.” To thrive and blossom with beauty. Yes! That is what I want – in my garden and my life.
“Flourish: To grow with vigor and health towards one’s peak condition and highest excellence; to thrive and blossom with beauty.”
The Bible references planting, gardens, harvesting, weeds, good seed, droughts, soil, and many other agricultural themes. In the period of history when the scriptures were written, society was much more agrarian than much of the western world today. Perhaps that is one reason the Bible is so full of references to things that grow. Yet God has infused all creation with His divine signature, and fundamental laws that we see in nature (i.e., you reap what you sow) are timeless concepts that transcend cultures and customs and can be easily comprehended by almost anyone: city dwellers and farmer alike.
In this three-part series, Flourish, we will look together at specific areas of life where we can and should cultivate beautiful growth. In part one, we are looking at our relationship with God. In part two, we will discuss how we can thrive in our relationships with each other, and lastly, in part three, we will see some helpful ways to nurture growth in our personal lives through lifegiving practices, habits, and routines.
In each of these three areas, we will consider three important ways that we can tend our “gardens of life.” We’ll look together at:
- Beautiful seeds to plant
- Nasty weeds to pull
- How to nurture growth
Gardening is always more fun with a friend, so come along with me, and we’ll get to work!
Flourish and Grow in Your Relationship with God
“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” Psalm 1:1-3
In this well-known psalm, the writer compares someone who delights “in the law of the LORD” to a healthy, well-rooted tree. A tree that has tapped into a steady source of life-giving water, water that will allow it to thrive even through the harshest of dry spells.
Last summer, my family planted 500 baby trees on our property. It was a terrible year to plant trees, seeing as it was one of the hottest, driest summers on record for our area. But thanks to diligent hours and hours of watering (and eventually an impressive irrigation system my genius husband rigged up), 475 of those tiny trees survived and even thrived through last year’s drought and came back with leafy new growth this spring.
We had to diligently water those saplings for them to flourish, but a tree that is fortunate enough to be planted right along a riverbank has an abundant, constant source of life-sustaining water and will be able to come safely through a season of drought.
Whether in a calm, lush season of life or a dry, barren season, now is the time to make sure you are planted in a good place. Trees can’t up and move themselves to better soil, but the good news is, people can. Nothing can stop you from delighting today in God as He reveals Himself to you through His Word and creation (Psalm 19). Doing so will ensure an excellent root system to carry you through drier, harsher times.
Whether planting trees or flowers, the first step towards flourishing growth is choosing the right spot to plant. As we talk more about growing the garden of our lives, remember the first key to successful planting is to delight in the Lord. We can do “all the right things” (even planting a good seed), but if it’s not done with the right heart motive, the best intentions will shrivel up and die away when the inevitable hard times come. As you plant, ask God to help you desire Him most of all and to be “rooted and grounded in love.” (Ephesians 3:17).
Beautiful Things to Plant as You Grow in Your Relationship with God:
- Spending daily time in God’s Word. Having a reading plan and a scheduled time will help you stay consistent! (In the nurturing growth section of this post, we’ll talk about some simple, practical ways to move this off your “should do” list to your “doing it and loving it” list!
- Having meaningful prayer time each day. Both solid chunks of time and whispered prayer throughout the day will keep your heart in tune with God’s. We’ll discuss this more in the nurturing growth section.
- Meeting regularly with other believers. There are many reasons why Christians are commanded to gather in a local assembly of believers (Hebrews 10:25), but the first reason is so that we can worship the Lord together and be strengthened through the clear preaching of Biblical truth.
The events of the last few years have made it much easier to drift in and out of the church without putting down solid roots. Add to the frequent, scandalous headlines of spiritual abuse, not to mention the everyday friction that can happen inside the family of Christ just as it does in our human families. Many people have decided that church isn’t important and is not worth fighting for. Don’t be in that crowd!
Christ loves the church; it’s His bride! He has designed it as an essential element of a flourishing life. If you are already part of a Bible-teaching church, love that church and do your part to help it be a Christ-honoring, people-loving place. If you are not part of a local church right now, pray earnestly that God will lead you to one, and then put down roots! (We’ll discuss more reasons why we need the local church in Part 2 of this study).
Nasty Weeds to Pull So You Grow in Your Relationship with God
- Doubt. Speaking of gardens, do you remember what happened in that very first garden ever created? In Eden’s perfectly pristine environment, the serpent hissed a seed of doubt into Eve’s mind. That seed grew into a horrific plant of disobedience that has spread its poisonous branches throughout time.
If Eve could doubt God’s goodness when everything was perfect, how much more susceptible are we to doubting God as we experience a world groaning under the crushing weight of sin and suffering? Let your questions, grief, and weariness drive you deep into God’s Word instead of forcing you from the one Who holds the answers. Don’t let a heart of unbelief choke out the good work God desires to do in your life (see Mark 13:58).
- Distractions. Some weeds are not all bad – they might even have some health benefits and look pretty for a time (hello, infamous Dandelion!). But left unchecked, they will take over your garden and choke out the plants you do want. What things might be in your life (even seemingly harmless things) which are distracting you from the best things?
- Discouragement. Remember, growth takes time. This morning I was out watering my little raised beds where I grow veggies. My seeds are taking a long time to sprout, but I finally saw several teensy pops of green poking out of the black soil this morning. It will still be weeks before even the earliest crops, like my beloved Swiss chard, are ready for harvest, and months before other, slower crops, like corn, are ready to enjoy.
What if I just threw up my hands and said, “Enough of that! I’ve wasted too much time watering this box of dirt. I give up!” I would be assured of failure. But given patience, my little garden will produce. Don’t give up! When you hear those ugly words of defeat whispered in your soul, sing a song of praise a little louder, and keep pressing on. “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Psalm 126:6
Nurture Flourishing Growth in Your Relationship with God
Once we’ve planted beautiful things, it’s time to nourish them so they can thrive. Here are some ways we can do that:
- Have a daily Bible reading plan. It’s essential to havea plan for when you’ll read (or listen) to the Bible and where in the Bible you’ll be reading. Your plan may look very different than someone else’s and even very different between seasons of your life. Your plan may be a “chapter a day” as you read through the whole Bible one book at a time, a guided reading plan where you read specific passages each day but not necessarily in book-by-book order, or perhaps it’s a daily devotional that you are working your way through.
You may be in a season of life when you can spend an unhurried hour or more every morning in deep study, or you may be desperately hoping to snatch a few quiet moments during your child’s nap. Or maybe you have a long commute to and from work and listen to the Bible being read as you drive. I’ve been in each of those scenarios and more throughout the years. Here are some tips that have helped me at different stages of life:
- Look at your daily schedule and find a time when you are most likely to have a portion of uninterrupted quiet time and an alert mind. Block this off and make it as important as any other appointment.
- Keep your “tools” handy! Right now, I have a “Bible bag” that holds my journaling Bible, a small notebook, sticky notes, a prayer journal (more about that in a minute!), a pen case, and a couple of books. This bag lives in the same handy spot, so I don’t have to waste precious time scrambling to find what I need.
- Give yourself grace and send perfectionism packing. It is far better to spend some time listening to the Bible on an app while you get ready in the morning than not to spend any time in God’s Word because you couldn’t devote a solid chunk of time to sit down to read, underline, and take prolific notes.
In this season of my life, I like to get up earlier than the rest of my family and have quiet morning time with the Lord, but that doesn’t always happen (it didn’t work this morning!). Many of you reading this post are moms with young children. I know from experience that we need the nourishment of time with God more than ever during the demands of young motherhood, yet this can be one of the most challenging times in life to find any moments of quiet. When we do, we are often so exhausted that we fall asleep as soon as we sit still for a moment.
As I have been in the thick of those times, God has encouraged my soul with this promise: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11). Regardless of your current season, ask God to increase your desire to be in His Word daily, and then trust Him to fill you with the bread of life (John 6:35).
- Develop a plan and pattern for meaningful, faithful, fervent prayer. I confess that this is an area of my life where I still need much growth! Ironically, prayer is arguably the easiest thing to do (we need no supplies, we can do it anywhere, silently or out loud, alone or with others). Yet, unless we have intention, a whole day can slip away, and the hurried “thank you for the food” prayer we said (if we even did that much!) may be the extent of our communication with our heavenly Father. But it doesn’t need to be this way! Here are a few ideas that have helped me to be deliberate in prayer:
- Use a prayer journal. Years ago, I regularly kept a prayer journal, but I had fallen out of that practice and kept an ongoing list of prayer requests for several years instead. Then in more recent years, I started using a prayer app, where I can record requests and answers in an organized way.
I like the prayer app I use, but at the beginning of this year, my pastor (also my husband!) challenged our congregation to begin keeping a prayer journal, and I am so glad he did because the discipline has been good for me! There are many different styles of prayer journaling – I am currently journaling by topic rather than in a chronological diary-type journal. Either way is acceptable; the point is to have a record of what you have been praying for and a place to record the answers. Writing down your prayers is also a powerful aid in staying focused during prayer!
- Pray out loud! Whether alone or with your children, a spouse, or a friend, praying out loud is a powerful way of communicating with God. My mind wanders at lightning speed, but praying out loud reigns it in. Like prayer journaling, praying aloud can help you think through what you are praying about and helps guard against trite, distracted prayers.
- Keep a sticky notepad nearby. This is not for writing requests and answers down but for having a spot to corral those racing thoughts as I try and focus on prayer. I am ashamed to think of the number of times I have jumped up in the middle of a prayer to do a task that I suddenly remembered needed doing, and I was worried about forgetting it if I didn’t see to it immediately. There’s a minuscule number of things truly so urgent that they need to interrupt a prayer time, but my “There’s a squirrel” brain tells me differently, so if I can quickly jot down a pesky thought that pops into my head, that allows me to set it aside and continue in prayer without trying to wrangle my thoughts like unruly horses.
I trust that you have been encouraged to continue to flourish in your relationship with the Lord as you plant good seeds, keep the weeds pulled, and nurture beautiful growth through some simple, everyday practices. May your heart be good soil, and may the seed planted there bring forth a beautiful harvest in time to come!
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- A good quality Bible reading app. There are certainly free ones available, but sometimes the voices are computer generated and not as pleasant to listen to. For years I used Scourby Bible App, and more recently, I have enjoyed using the Dwell app. Both of these are paid apps, and the Dwell app is spendy, but I was able to get it on a 50% off sale during Thanksgiving week. You can always try their free trial and see if it is something that you want to invest in, but I recommend waiting for a sale.
- A notebook for prayer journaling (I love my one with an index!)
- A Journaling Bible (extra-wide, lined margins make it easy to write notes alongside the passage you are reading).
- Pilot FriXion pens (This is a line of erasable, non-smearing pens and highlighters that work beautifully with the thin pages of a typical Bible).
- Walk Worthy Bible Study Resources is my sister-in-law’s shop and blog, and she has some great resources that will help you dig deeper into God’s Word.