‘In that day- “Sing about a fruitful vineyard; I, the Lord, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no-one may harm it.” ‘ (Isaiah 27:2,3)
I love the idea that God tends His vineyard and cares for it scrupulously and continually. Although few of us will own a vineyard, it is likely that we will have a garden or have enjoyed a garden at some time and it is from the perspective of tending a garden that I would like to explore this theme.
Although I grew up with a large garden and spent many happy hours playing there as a child, and had parents who enjoyed growing their own fruit and vegetables, my own family have never been keen gardeners. In fact I am sorry to have to admit that for years the best we could manage was to mow the lawn when it got too unsightly and maybe pull out a few weeds here and there. We did buy and plant a few items such as rose bushes and an apple tree, but generally any natural beauty that existed happened by chance rather than planning or good maintenance! Being a full- time teacher and having four children also meant that time and energy for gardening was limited. I would often admire other peoples’ gardens and sometimes felt ashamed of my own, wishing that I had the creative gift of designing and making it well laid-out and attractive.
When I became semi-retired two years ago, with the encouragement and help of one of my daughters I started to work on different areas in the house to de-clutter and re-organise space and get some much – needed decorating and home improvement done. This was satisfying and the next task to consider was the garden, although I did not really have much idea of what I wanted or where to start. It was a very pleasant surprise, therefore, when my son, who had just finished his university course, began to show an interest in developing the garden. He and I visited garden centres together and little by little the garden began to take shape as he created attractive areas using wooden edging, planters and rocks to accommodate a variety of plants of assorted colours and shades. Although there is still more to be done it looks so much better than previously and reflects the love, care and hard work that he has put into it.
God works in our lives to bring something beautiful from us
As I look around at the different aspects of our garden I often see analogies to illustrate how God works in our lives to bring something beautiful from us, in the same way that we work hard to create a place of beauty which will bring us pleasure. Indeed, a keen gardener will know exactly where they have planted each one and will have carefully considered the best place for it, whether it should be in the sun or the shade, the type of soil needed for it to thrive, the size of pot or planter that is best suited to it, the amount of space it will need and where it will look best in relation to other features of the garden. If we can show love and care for our plants how much more will God, the master gardener, care for us and ensure that we too are in the best environment to grow and thrive so that we will bear fruit and give pleasure and delight to Him.
He ‘plants’ us in the right soil
He ‘plants ‘ us in the right soil, where we will have the best opportunity to reach our potential by bringing people, opportunities and situations into our lives who will bless and encourage us and sometimes stretch and challenge us.
In my own experience I can look back over the years and see how He has brought others alongside me at different times whose friendship, experience and gentle encouragement have helped to build my faith or develop my giftings. One such example is at a time when I was not attending church and did not have any Christian friends to support me. My mother had been praying specifically that I would find a church to go to. Then one day, when returning home on the bus from a shopping trip, my husband and I met a couple whom my husband had known many years previously at school. They told us about a small Christian fellowship that they attended and how a pianist was needed to lead the worship. I told them that I could play the piano and they invited us to go the following Sunday. We accepted the invitation and were very quickly welcomed into the fellowship where we attended for a number of years and made some good friends who were a blessing and encouragement at a time when we needed it. It also developed my skills in providing a lead in worship and made a way for me to grow closer to the Lord through song and music, things which He wanted to use.
In more recent years I can see how He has blessed me with many good friends and close relationships which have provided amazing support as we have prayed together and spoken into each other’s lives often through times of great challenge and difficulty. One of these ladies had experienced many difficulties and disappointments in her life and a few years ago moved house to live in the same cul-de-sac as me, on the opposite side of the road! God used this for the benefit of both of us, as we began to share in Christian ministries together, specifically a prayer ministry called Healing Rooms held in a local café.
He values us as individuals
Each individual plant has a unique character with its own shape, height, colour and leaf design, bringing its own qualities and interest to the overall effect. Some flower year after year while others have a much shorter existence. We have a large number of poppies in our garden, all of which just appeared- we did not plant them. They look beautiful while they are in flower but fade very quickly, literally here today and gone tomorrow. Nevertheless, they have an effect of their own which adds to the character of the garden, even if only for a brief time. I feel the same is true of every human life. God has plans and purposes for every individual ever born and each one has a unique part to play and contribution to make to the world and God’s kingdom. Sadly many lives are overlooked and considered of little worth, but our loving Father treasures each one.
” For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God created in advance for us to do.” ( Ephesians 2: 10)
He maintains the soil and keeps it clear
Regular weeding is needed to keep the soil clear to prevent plants being choked. Sometimes certain plants have to be removed because they obscure and crowd out smaller plants. How often does God, unbeknown to us, remove ‘weeds’ from our soil.. situations or people who would have a detrimental effect on us? However, we too have the responsibility to examine our own lives to see if there are weeds which need pulling out, maybe bad habits or wrong thoughts, or even relationships which are not healthy and which distract us from our relationship with our Father. On this same theme, sometimes a tree or shrub needs to removed completely, the roots dug up and the tree destroyed. We had a tree in the corner of our garden whose roots were spreading out across the whole area and were in danger of encroaching on the house foundations. The tree had to be uprooted and removed to prevent damage to our home. In the same way, drastic action sometimes has to be taken in our own lives; roots of bitterness or unforgiveness may need to be pulled up and thrown away before our relationships with God and others are poisoned.
He prunes us for greater fruitfulness
“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. “ (John15:1,2)
By our back wall is an apple tree that we planted when we first moved to our house in the ‘90s. It produced fruit, but many of the apples would fall off into the road on the other side, because the branches had extended so far out. There were so many apples on the ground outside, many becoming squashed and rotten, that a neighbour complained and we had no choice but to cut the tree down. It was cut almost down to its stump, much to our sadness because we loved the tree, and we really did not expect it to grow again. But grow it did, and a year later branches and leaves were sprouting in profusion with the promise that fruit would once again be produced. God may have to take drastic action in our lives in order to produce greater fruitfulness. This is hard to understand and I cannot give answers but we are told that ‘God disciplines those He loves’ (Hebrews 12:6) Although we cannot always see the reason why we have to go through times of testing we have to believe that it is for our good and comes from the hand of a loving Father.
The purpose of a garden is for enjoyment, rest, peace, beauty and fruitfulness. Our purpose as the body of Christ is to work with our Father, the gardener, and accept His planting and pruning to grow in our faith and in His likeness, in order that we may produce good, healthy and delicious fruit. This will bring joy and fulfilment to us and delight and glory to Him. How wonderful that God is the master gardener. He is not too busy, too tired or too unimaginative to create a beautiful garden in the lives of His children or the collective lives that comprise His Church, the Bride of Christ.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Let’s remain in Him, the true Vine, responding to His loving care and discipline as He perfects us for His glory.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your love and tender care. Thank you that you value me highly and that you personally work in my life to develop something beautiful. Help me to stay close to you and respond to your loving care and discipline. May I enjoy a close relationship with you and bear good, lasting fruit for your kingdom.