About six weeks ago, we planted a small vegetable garden in our backyard. I tilled up a small section, mixed in some compost that I had been working on for a couple of years, and planted seven rows of seed. What a wonderful experience it has been to see those little seedlings emerge and soon to be able to eat and enjoy the fruits of our labor. It has also proven to be an excellent teaching opportunity in our family. The kids have been “helping” me along the way—planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting. It has been a great occasion to instill in them the truth that though we work the garden, it is “God who provides the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7).
One of my few other experiences in gardening was during my high school days. My mom and I decided to plant a vegetable garden behind our house so we prepared the area and planted the seed. However, we neglected one of the most important aspects of gardening—pulling weeds. Before we knew it, the wild plants were out of control. Sure, there were vegetables growing in the garden, but they were weak, sickly, and essentially useless. The weeds were choking them and robbing them of all they needed to thrive.
Weeding is one of the least pleasurable but most profitable aspects of gardening. You can water, mulch, fertilize and spray for insects, but if you neglect to deal with the wild flowers and grasses that invade that garden soil, you will end up growing the healthiest weeds and sorriest vegetables in the state. However, if a person takes great care to keep the weeds out of his garden, the reward is great. Those planted crops get full advantage of the sunlight, soil nutrients, and water so they can grow deep, strong roots that generate an abundance of tasty produce.
The Christian life can be compared to a garden. One can work hard to amend the soil of his heart with Scripture, prayer, and Christian fellowship so that the seeds of the Spirit’s graces are given the right soil in which to flourish and grow in. But woe to the man who lets the weeds of sin go unpicked. A Christian cannot pride himself in his knowledge of the Bible or consistent church attendance while ignoring the parasitic wild flowers of sin that are sprouting in his heart. Eventually those seemingly tame weeds will grow deep roots and multiply, spreading throughout his heart. His life will eventually be overrun by lusts so that the fruit of the Spirit produced in his life is minimal and relatively tasteless.
John Owen uses this garden analogy in his book on the, “Mortification of Sin in Believers.” He writes, “The (unmortified) heart is like the sluggard’s field—so overgrown with weeds that you can scarce see the good corn. Such a man may search for faith, love, and zeal, and scarce be able to find any; and if he does discover that these graces are there yet alive and sincere, yet they are so weak, so clogged with lusts, that they are of very little use; they remain, indeed, but are ready to die. But now let the heart be cleansed by mortification, the weeds of lust constantly and daily rooted up (as they spring daily, nature being their proper soil), let room be made for grace to thrive and flourish—how will every grace act its part, and be ready for every use and purpose!”
How are we to tend the gardens of our hearts? We should pluck the weeds of sin out as soon as they appear. We must maintain an aggressive dissatisfaction with sin that in no way and at no time grows complacent with residing evil in our hearts. Romans 8:13 gives us insight into this heart-weeding work. “If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” May each of us take seriously the responsibility we have to dig up and eliminate the big and small weeds of sin in our hearts so that we will be able to bear healthy fruit and multiply.