ARA Garden WithinDig deep. How long has it been since you’ve looked in on your spirituality? How long ago since you really set aside some time with God? If you were to examine the garden that’s in your heart, what would you find?Living busy lives, we are easily distracted by matters of the world. Our priorities are spread thin and our attention focus on too many things. The author of this article uses the analogy of a beautiful garden to remind us to examine our relationship with God. When we draw near to Him, He will draw nearer to us.
There is a marked difference between a garden and a wild field.
A garden is someone’s treasured corner. It comes complete with oak benches, man-made fishponds, and three-inch Chinese wooden bridges. Someone cares for it and takes delight when its grass grows a deeper shade of green and when its flowers blossom in thriving abundance. It is loved.
A wild field is left to the harsh realities of nature. Its plants grow to unkempt lengths, and its soil is parched and dying. Yet somehow, it finds the endurance to run for miles and miles free of care—often impinging on someone else’s garden and silently choking their foliage from underground.
When we come to believe in Jesus and confess Him to be the guardian of our soul we find ourselves knocking on His door. This door that we walk through leads to a beautiful garden, which Christ Himself has prepared on our behalf.
This garden exists in heaven because perfection can be found in no other place on earth. But we do have an imitation of this perfection, and it lives within our heart (Heb 8:5). Faith guides us to this garden’s door and, with the purchase of our soul at the cost of His life, we have been given the key to enter in.
Deep in our heart dwells the garden of God. He has plans for it to bear fruit, and He hopes that it will leave the lingering fragrance of His presence. He longs to fill it with His Holy Spirit—the life and soul of this garden.
He has given specific instructions on how it should be kept: enclosed, shut up, and sealed.
ENCLOSED WITH HIS WORD
Just as a garden is vulnerable to the tempest of seasons, so is our faith susceptible to doubts and the cruel nature of this society. Everyday we are faced with temptations and the prospect of sin. Guarding it has never been more intricate. Therefore, we must enclose our spiritual garden—to protect and to separate ourselves from the world.
To be enclosed is to put up a partition to keep out the influences of this world. It is to surround ourselves on all sides with the words of God. “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You?(Ps 119:11).
With each word of God hidden and added to our heart, we gradually build a strong and fortified wall. The stronger this wall, the clearer we are able to see that we are distinct and separate from this world.
Therefore, we need to build the walls of our spiritual garden with the best materials, so that, when tested, our faith shall stand.
Some Christians read Chicken Soup more than they read the Bible. Others enjoy dissertations on theology and supplementing God’s words with philosophy. Some of these are external tools to help us and some will lead us further away from the truth—we must remember that only the Bible has the complete truth.
It is the best material to support our garden. If we desire to seek after God, we need to turn back to His words as the foundation of our faith. It is important that we compare what we have learned with the Bible’s teachings.
These [the Bereans] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11)
There is a difference between a genuine Christian and one that is lackadaisical. The former diligently holds on to the words of God, but the latter knows only to acknowledge that the Bible is important. We need to be careful and discerning of the influences of other teachings, because these will affect our relationship with God.
SHUT UP IN PRAYER
Hardly any gardener keeps his garden open for constant display. There will be times when he needs to close the garden to water the plants, feed the soil, and trim the branches. He doesn’t do it with many people in his way; rather, he does it when all the visitors have gone home and he is alone.
The pursuit of spiritual discipline is likened to tending a garden. The more often we prune and water, the more effective its results. Dig deep. How long has it been since you’ve looked in on your garden? How long ago since you really set aside some time with God?
The more time that elapses between each encounter, the more chance the world will have its way with you. You might’ve been given a garden, but who could tell the difference from a wild field?
What I’ve come to realize is that even though we may be entrusted with His garden and appointed as gardeners, we don’t always nurture and care for it as we should—we may serve God faithfully for many years, but it doesn’t mean that we are cultivating God’s garden.
That is why some of us end up bitter and disillusioned about our purpose as a Christian. We forget why we do what we do, and when the Lord Jesus passes by our garden and wants to come in, we are embarrassed to open the door.
Our First Love
We are a spring shut up, but more than that—we are a spring shut up in prayer. Praying is spending time with God. This is our time away from this world. And the only way to have deep communion with Him is through His Holy Spirit.
We cannot do without the spirit’s guidance, and we cannot live without His breath. Every relationship requires something to keep it going. Our intimacy with the Lord Jesus requires the Holy Spirit, for it is the essence of our friendship with Him.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (Jn 14:26)
It is through prayer that we are able to find our first love deep within our garden. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would help us remember all things—it would help us remember our first love.
Our first love is Jesus Christ Himself, someone we cannot do without. Therefore, we must “pray without ceasing?(1 Thess 5:17):
But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly (Mt 6:6).
Go on. Close that door behind you today. Shut up this garden of yours for a little while and give God your full attention.
SEALED TO ONE MASTER
Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,?and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.?(2 Tim 2:19)
Things that are sealed are meant for only one owner, and no one else can claim ownership. When Jesus died for us and shed His blood on the cross, He placed a seal over our heart. He is our owner and we belong to Him.
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to one and despise the other?(Mt 6:24)
Likewise, our hearts cannot contain more than one master.
Being the children of this age and society, it would be a lie to say that, somewhere in this lifetime, we have not been torn between our love for God and our love for the world. It is because we continue to serve two opposing masters that we find conflict within our spirituality.
We must learn to be prudent gardeners, so that our heavenly master will be pleased. We must bear the responsibility of the garden God has entrusted to us. How can a garden thrive when the gardener cannot tell the difference between a flower and a weed? The more attracted we are to the world, the harder it will be for us to separate flowers from weeds.
A Garden Ready for Display
The most important responsibility God gave us was to nurture our garden. If we cannot look after our own heart—to discipline our mind and spirit—how can we be entrusted with the greater things of God?
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Pet 2:9)
God does not tell us how special we are to make us feel good. He tells us to let us know that with His love comes the commission to “proclaim the praises of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light.?/p>
When our garden is ready for display, we have a commission to go out and praise God, and wherever we go, our garden will display the seal of our master, the Lord Jesus Christ. And this seal will bear no resemblance to worldly knowledge or accomplishments or status in society.
This seal will bear the love of Christ expressed in compassion, in humility, and in the virtues of the spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Gal 5:22-25)
And everywhere we go, this is the seal that will proclaim the praises of God.
God spiritually gauges us; no one can tell us if we’ve reached His standards. We can only strive for perfection with the tools He entrusted us—with His spirit and His truth (Jn 4:24). This is what spiritual discipline is all about.
But do not be disheartened that you might not be able to live up to His standards, for He left us with this promise:
The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Isa 58:11)