Maybe we silently lament in our heart of hearts why the Lord planted us in hard places where we think we cannot grow, flourish, and bear fruit as much as we need to. Difficult marriages, divided families, noisy or hostile neighborhood, unsafe community, hypocritical workplace, are just some of the “soils” in which we may find ourselves sown. We believe that had we been sown in a more conducive, nurturing environment, we would be taking up healthy roots, springing out new green shoots, and growing up sturdy limbs and lush foliage until we blossom and mature, bearing fruits that are beneficial to others.
David wrote of the blessedness of such a man:
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper. (Ps. 1:3)
We long for our marriages to be rich soils wherein our souls thrive, our minds expand, and our hearts heal and are transformed. We dream of conversations that flow smoothly like a stream of fresh water in an unsullied forest, bridging the hearts, mending the broken places, lifting up the weary soul, encouraging the weak and fearful mind. To hear words that minister grace to our teetering courage and disposition. Or receive warm appreciation for our own sincere efforts, the embrace of it expands our chests and makes us bolder to run more purposefully. In this way, we have grown.
But what if the soil wherein we were planted erodes little by little because of the dry and harsh environment? What if our roots cannot grow deeper and wider because the soil tends to be barren, rocky, hostile? What strong limbs, lush foliage, beautiful blooms, and abundant fruits can develop and grow from them?
This scenario can be compared to the terrain of our hearts, minds, and souls. Are our minds shrinking in virtues and expanding in sensuality, like harboring bitter envying and strife in [our] hearts (see James 3:14-16)? Are frequent strifes [ what reside in our hearts more than the fullness of the Holy Spirit and His works, just because it is what our environment provides for us?
We think of others’ lives and situations and believe that their marriages are blissful, their families are next to perfect, their jobs are their dream jobs, their communities are peaceful and safe. How excellent it would be if spouses are worshiping and praying together, resolving problems peacefully without creating more strifes, forbearing [one another, not desiring to have the last word or win a fight!
But a harsh or hostile environment could work for us three ways: quit and flee, stay and be stagnant, or stay and grow despite of.
Quitting and fleeing are not easy things to do. You cannot just walk out of a marriage or family just because you believe you cannot grow therein. For a Christian man or woman, that could be the hardest and most painful thing. Not to count the fact that we might be disobeying and displeasing God with our (selfish) decision. When we quit and flee, we are saying to God that we reject what He has planned and purposed for us.
When we choose to stay but succumb to the devil’s work, we will become spiritually stagnant. We will not grow and have no fruits to show of our faith. We will be desiring to walk worthy of God’s calling one moment, then weak enough to be pulled down by a spouse’s (or a family member’s, a co-worker’s, a neighbor’s) unkindness the next. Weak in that, instead of falling on our knees in prayer and forgiveness, we seethe in repressed resentment. We become bitter instead of better. Our souls shrink instead of grow and soar. And the more we think about our pitiful plight, the more we become resentful and bitter. What a vicious cycle!
But that is not the kind of life God has called us to. For the kingdom of God is … righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit – those are the first fruits of our life in the Spirit. How can we have them in the hard places where we were sown? AND how can we not not have them? Are the power and work of the Holy Spirit constrained by our environment? That can only be so if we let it. Greater is he that is in [us], than he that is in the world (see 1 John 4:4).
Could it be that God sowed us in this very same place we are at so we can grow deeper and wider and higher, because of the very same things that we thought retarded our growth and fruition? Could it be that the seeming harshness and barrenness of the terrain are the very things that plunge us closer and deeper to God and our knowledge of Him?
For we are called not only to grow and bear fruit, but live to help others grow and bear fruit, too! If we flee the hard places – the people who challenge our faith, peace, and joy, who hurt and try to pull us down – how can we minister to them and help them establish a deeper relationship with Christ? Maybe God is teaching us to be humble, obedient, long-suffering, courageous, and steadfast, so that we can teach the difficult people in our lives by our good example, when they see our respectful and pure conduct (1 Pet. 3:2). Maybe God put us here, the very place we lament and want to flee from, so that together we can grow, by our show of humility, love, and sacrifice. By putting on Christ.
Wherever we are sown, we can grow and thrive when we make God’s Word fuelled by the Holy Spirit the rich soil that will nurture us each and every day. God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness that we may be partakers of His divine nature.
I invite you to read the following passage, digesting each powerful phrase and letting it settle into our heart, mind, and soul and find its home there. May this good, precious advice from the apostle Peter empower us to live fruitful lives even in a tundra (cold) or a desert (dry) environment and be a salt and light in that place.
For it is not our environment that will dictate the quality of our spiritual life, but our intimate relationship with God.
His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
5 …For this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Pet. 1:3-8)
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Journey with Jesus,