Have you seen the variety of bags of soil in a garden centre? There is the common soil with compost for most plants. There is the special mix for rhododendron and roses and something else for your herbs.
Healthy soil is a living material. It is full of bacteria, minerals and other ingredients that build up the plant. In order to keep a plant growing, blooming and bearing fruit you need to renew the soil annually. Natural additions like compost and manure will be healthy for worms and bacteria that cooperate with the plant. Beware of chemicals that might give a quick short-term result but in the long run make the soil sterile, unfit to produce new life.
The question now is: If we are going to “grow in Jesus” what kind of soil and environment do we need? Here are a couple of suggestions to answer that question.
The living word of the New and Old Testament.
We do well to reflect on the meaning of the Living Word of God. When we read the Bible there is always a process going on in our soul and our head which transfers the words into something that gives meaning. There is, for example, the cultural framework , such as understanding the Jewish lifestyle and religion. There is the historical and geographical context, which is the backdrop to the Apostle Paul’s travels and messages. Basic knowledge of these factors is important.
However, the main thing that transforms the sentences of the Bible into the Word of God is the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul puts it drastically in 2 Corinthians 3:6, saying that the letter of the law kills but the Spirit gives life. He is not suggesting that the Ten Commandments or the old Scriptures are not valid, but rather making the point that God has fulfilled them, given them a new life in Jesus. He goes on to use enthusiastic words like glorious, a surpassing glory, an ever increasing glory when we understand the will of God through the reality of Christ.
When Jesus talks to the crowds, (probably people of all ages, with various levels of education, men and women) he refers to the “word of God” as the active presence of God. It is like a seed that ends up in different kind of soils (Luke 8:1-15), it is about hearing God speaking through Jesus and putting it into practice (Luke 6:46-49; Luke 8:21; Luke 11:28). The common factor here is that the Word of God is more than the printed Scriptures or information that is passed on. It is the Living Word, and its message is communicated through the ongoing life of Jesus himself in me.
The pruning of the Father.
It is good to develop and grow. Every new thing we learn, every experience we have and all impressions that enter our personality continue to shape us. Not all web sites, workplaces or spiritual messages feed us with good things. In the same way as plants always grow in the direction of the sunlight, so we are also attracted to lifestyles that sparkle and shine. Some discover too late that behind the glitter and light there is the darkness of lies, of sin in its various forms.
Jesus gives the picture of himself as the vine, the trunk on which the branches grow. We, his followers, are the branches and it is on us that the fruit, the grapes grow. The role of our Father in heaven is to be the gardener. If we read John chapter 15 thinking of a God who is looking for our weaknesses in order to dismiss us, we can become frightened of him. However, the picture is more about a Father who is caring for and helping us to be the best we can be.
The bit about cutting off branches can actually be encouraging to us. If I am attracted to a light that will make me develop in the wrong direction, that will make me unable to bear fruit, I will find the pruning a good thing.
The water of the Holy Spirit.
In flower shops, I sometimes see artificially coloured flowers. It is mostly notable when there is an unnatural blue colour to them in order to match them with yellow flowers – giving the national Swedish colours (or Ukrainian for that matter). The change happens by putting white flowers in coloured water.
Flowing, living water is one of the symbols used for the Holy Spirit. We will grow in Jesus when the colour, the nature, the presence of the Holy Spirit is alive within us. While coloured flowers can look a bit unnatural, it is the reverse with a person filled with the Spirit of Jesus. The life of holiness is like having “a spring of water welling up” or “rivers of living water” within you (John 4:14; 7:38). That kind of life is attractive and actually the normal standard for a human being.
Just because the majority of people around us seem to lack the life Jesus gives, it does not mean that they have the best deal or that the majority is right on this issue. You are a person according to God’s original intent when the Spirit of God fills you.
The fellowship of the garden.
Many people, and I am one of them, are attracted to gardens. It can be something simple at the back of a house or a big tourist attraction. One thing these two extremes have in common is that there is a variety of spaces and plants within the garden. The botanical gardens with the right combination of blooming plants for each season is not better than the garden with just a lawn where the kids can play. They are just different for different purposes. That can be an illustration of the variety in a corps.
When Paul writes to the church in Corinth he also address this temptation of comparing ministries or ourselves with each other.
“For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. For we are fellow workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:4-9)
God is unique in being who he is and doing what only he can do. Only from him comes the new life of salvation that makes it possible for us to grow in Jesus, so that we can be more than “mere human beings”. However, we also have responsibilities.
The folder for Vision 2030 2.0 describes four areas where we need to take initiatives and make things happen. They are:
- We learn from Jesus and come to him in prayer.
- We make holiness the standard for our lives.
- We help people become disciples of Jesus.
- We enjoy worshipping Jesus together.
How can that become a reality where you are? My suggestion for a first step is simple and possible for everyone to do. Find your copy of the vision 2030 2.0 folder (or open the link above). Open it in the middle. (See – not difficult!) There you will find some suggestions under each of the four headings. In the margin there are also other ideas.
When you have read a passage, stop and pray. Ask God to speak to you. What does this mean to you? What does it mean to your corps? When God speaks, he usually gives you a thought, a picture in your mind or some words that seem to repeat themselves in your head.
It is even better to read, pray, listen and have a conversation together with others. Some of the goals are a personal responsibility. Some of the goals need to be talked about in the fellowship.
Go and do the vision
To have a vision is to place yourself in a context where you wish to be in the future. I challenge you to see yourself having deeper roots and producing more fruit as a follower of Jesus during 2018. You can for example set the goal of having a deeper, personal understanding of the death and resurrection of Jesus on Easter Day (1 April). What do you need to do to make that growth happen? You can go deeper into the Bible with commentaries. You can allow God to “prune” you from spending time on things that do not promote this goal. You can pray for the Holy Spirit to speak to you and you can serve more intentionally in your corps. By that I mean having the intention in your motivation to proclaim the new life of Jesus in everything you do (be it serving coffee, playing an instrument or playing with children) and not just seeing yourself as doing a practical job.
If you place yourself in the good soil of God’s Kingdom, growth is guaranteed to happen. That is a promise from Jesus. “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces corn – first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” (Mark 4:27-28)
“By itself”, in the good soil. That is such a hopeful word. Allow yourself grow in Jesus, and we will later rejoice together when the harvest is ripe. Do it all in the good soil of the Bible, being pruned by the Father, watered by the Holy Spirit and enriched by the garden variety of your fellowship.
This text has been published in the Heilsarmee Magazin #1 2018.