You arrive at Aunt Loola’s house the next morning with a pen and notepad. You’re eager to get instructions. You feel as if you’re finally making progress, as you now know where you have to focus.
You knock on the door, but there is no answer. You knock again and wait. You're about to go home disappointed when you hear a whistling sound coming from around the corner. You walk the length of the porch and peek through the back gate. There's Loola, framed in golden sunlight, working among her small orchard of apple trees.
You steal quietly into the garden, careful not to disturb the delicate calm that rests over the place. A cool breeze wanders effortlessly through the trees. The fruit-laden branches dance as if to some unheard song.
“You’re here early,” Loola says, without looking in your direction.
"I'm here to learn," you say as you admire a healthy apple, almost ready to pick. "It's beautiful here. I wish I had your green thumb."
Holding her hand in the air, she says, "My thumbs are human-colored."
“I just mean—”
“I know, Honey, I’m goofing.” She inspects another branch as she continues. “No, anyone can be a gardener. It’s in our blood.”
“Would you like some coffee,” she asks.
“Now, I make real coffee, not like that weak tan water you fed me yesterday," she says with a grin. She points her cane in your direction, “Do you think you can handle the real thing?”
"Uh, yes, ma’am,” you giggle. "I just made the coffee weak because I didn't want to keep you up for your 11:00 am nap time," you say. Aunt Loola tips her head back and lets out a hardy laugh, one that comes from somewhere deep.
“That’s ridiculous.” She smiles. “My nap isn’t until 11:30.”
You remain in the garden as she goes into the house to get a couple of mugs and returns with them in one hand. In the other, she has a plastic bag. She hands you the darkest brew you've ever seen. "Thanks for the mud," you say. She laughs as she gestures toward the edge of the garden.
You sit on a bench that borders the oasis as you sip the thick coffee. You make small talk for a few minutes before you turn the conversation toward what you’ve come for.
“You told me I need to focus on my soil,” you say. “What do I need to do?”
"Come with me," she says as she rises to her feet. She carries a bag as she maneuvers through the gardened path. On the other side of the garden, she comes to a large barrel big enough to crawl inside, though you wouldn't want to. Glancing down into the barrel, you see rich dark compost.
"Coffee grounds," she says as she holds the baggie up to open. She dumps the clump of wet, spent ground coffee beans into the compost barrel.
“Why are you putting those in there?" you ask when her explanation is long in coming.
"They add organic material to the compost and aerate the soil," she explains. You pull out your pen and pad, planning to write, but she places her hand over the page. "But, grounds are also acidic, so if you have acid-loving plants, it's fine, but if you are trying to grow a fruit tree, most don't like too much acid."
"Ok, so less acid," you say, about to jot down the tip.
“No,” she says abruptly. “I’m not trying to give you specifics. I’m trying to teach you a general rule.”
“Oh, sorry. What’s the rule?”
"Your fruit tree is in a fight against everything else that wants to use the soil,” she says as she uses the end of her cane to mix the coffee grounds into the rich compost.
“So, I need to make sure the tree has what it needs in the soil?” you ask.
"Yes, but there's more to it than that. Right now, your soil is neutral. It's trying to support both the weeds and the fruit tree. You need to make the soil an alley of the tree and an enemy of the weeds."
“Ok,” you say, begging more.
"There are a handful of things you can do to help align the soil with the tree while choking out the weeds."
“Like what?” you ask.
“We’ll get to specifics in a bit. I want to make sure you understand the concept.”
“Ok, pop quiz,” she says. “How do you make the tree grow?”
“I don’t,” you say.
“Good. What empowers the plant to grow?”
“The tree’s growth is powered by the sun,” you say.
“So, there’s nothing I can do to force it to grow.”
“Then what are you supposed to do in the garden?” she asks.
“I’m supposed to make the soil an alley of the tree and an enemy of the weeds.”
“Well done,” she says as she folds up the coffee ground bag and tucks it into her gardening apron. She turns and knocks her cane against the barrel to clean it.
“So, what specific things can I do to alley the soil with the tree?”
“First,” she smiles. “Make your coffee stronger.”
You pull out your pen to take down a note. “So that I can use the grounds in the soil?”
"No, because I'm working at the feed store tomorrow, and I'll want a hot cup mid-morning, maybe about 10:30,” she says.
“You want me to meet you at the feed store?”
"Yes, bring coffee and money. I'm going to sell you some things," she says. "I'm a slick salesman." She winks as she stands and heads home.
Your mindset is vital because it blocks you from thinking certain things. This is where the gardening analogy comes in handy. The soil represents the mind. The soil can only support a limited amount of growth. That growth can be weeds, or it can be fruit-bearing plants. Since weeds grow much easier than fruit trees, an attempt to grow both fruit and weeds will result in no fruit but plenty of weeds. If you try to grow both, the crop will fail.
The mind is similar. Because of the limitations of the mind, you can't think of multiple things at once. There is only room in your stream of consciousness to be focused on one thing. What you're focused on can change rapidly, but at any given moment, you are only thinking of one thing at a time. That's a good thing because it allows for some pretty amazing results when you drive your train of thought in a deliberate direction.
Let's think about what Paul said to his friends in Philippi. He said, whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, any virtue, and, anything praiseworthy—think about these things.1 How much time could you fill up thinking about the things Paul mentions here? You could let your mind focus on what’s true, noble, pure, lovely, good, and virtuous all day long every day and not run out of thought material.
We must pack our minds so tight with good things that no garbage can fit. I remember my mom used to say, "go occupy yourselves with something productive," to my brothers and me when we were too destructive in the house. Idleness often got us into trouble. She knew if we were occupied with something productive, it would keep us from getting into trouble.
Your mind works in a similar way. If it is not occupied, it can drift back to that old default, which is to focus on fleshly desires. If your mind is so filled with spiritually valuable ideas that nothing else can fit, then you're on your way to spiritual transformation.
If you stock the pantry with good wholesome food so much so that there is no room for chips, cookies, and candy, then when you get hungry, you'll eat what's good. You need to have enough stored away in the pantry of your mind that you can have a focus feast at any time. When the mind is full of good things, it has no room for junk.
No doubt, you've heard the idiom, "an idle mind is the devil's workshop." That illustrates what we're talking about pretty well. If you leave open space in your mind, the flesh can use that space for its own purposes. What's worse, if you fill your mind with fleshly content, the flesh will be that much quicker to occupy your mind. However, if you pack every room with good, not letting your mind be idle for a moment, then your flesh doesn't have as much chance to draw your mind away.
Paul explains it this way, those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.2 There is a cycle at play here. If your goal is to satisfy your bodily desires, then your mind can stay right where it is, focused on the flesh. When you're mind is focused on the flesh, it will feed the cycle, and it will shove you into a repeating loop. Focus on the flesh will lead to living by the flesh, which will lead to focusing on the flesh, which will lead to living by the flesh.
However, when your mind moves to the spiritual realm when you focus on Godly things, it unlocks this amazing new level. A new cycle begins to take root. When your mind begins to change, it starts to transform you. You begin taking actions that are spiritually motivated, which leads to more focus on the Spiritual subjects. The cycle strengthens the more you do it.
Something amazing happens when you focus your mind on Godly things. You begin to be transformed, which results in abundant life. Fruit begins to grow from your proverbial branches. Things change when you focus on God. When your mind is set on spiritual things God releases his transformation power into you.
Paul explains, Since the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.3 This is why the mindset of the Spirit is life and peace. God, who has experience with raising people from the dead, will use that same kind of resurrection-power in you when you focus your mind on Him. It’s a resurrection miracle.
Inside you, there's a power plant humming with limitless renewable energy. It so pleases God when you focus on Him that he allows that power to radiate out even into your flesh. He begins to bring your flesh to life. The transformation begins to permeate your body which was previously dead in the sense that it couldn’t do good works. That means that even your flesh will begin to do things that are aligned with the Spirit. It's all because you have a resurrection power plant in your inner being. Your mindset is how you plug in and throw the big switch.
You provide the mindset, and the Spirit provides the transformation power. Your mindset alone would have no power against the flesh if God's Spirit wasn't at work each time you think of Him. When you go to God in your thoughts, He comes to you with transformation power. The Spirit is where fruit and abundant life come from.
Every Christmas, my kids get a number of battery-powered toys. Eventually, those batteries run down. Instead of having an easy-to-open battery compartment, the safety-crazed toy makers manufacture the toys such that you have to have a tiny screwdriver and about seven hours of free time if you want to change the batteries. So, those toys remain dead, not able to do what they were originally designed to do.
As believers, when our minds are set on earthly and fleshly things, we are like those dead-battery toys. We can't do anything worth a good. However, setting our minds on spiritual things is the equivalent of plugging your dead-battery body into a new power source. It's a Frankenstein wiring job. God's Spirit brings life to your dead-battery flesh, making it able to do good, and please God. This is why God gets credit for any good deed you've ever done. It's His Spirit that makes you capable in all cases.
This is why I can say you don't make fruit grow, but you do provide the soil for it to grow from. Your spiritual mindset is the good soil, God's Spirit-power is the sunshine. Those who remain resistant to God will keep their minds on bodily desires and continue to miss out on the transformation He offers. Those who focus their minds on Him are in store for fruit.
Now you might be thinking, "It couldn't be that simple. I'm just supposed to think about God and related subjects, and I'm going to begin to transform into a more spiritual person?” Absolutely. That's why it's such a miracle! However, you ought not miss this important point. I've said it already, and I'll say it again. It's simple, but that doesn't mean it's easy.
The amount of abundant life you will experience is all about how long you can sustain focused on Spiritual things. Every believer can focus on the Godly concepts for at least a little while. Even a person that has only been a Christian for a few seconds can focus on spiritual ideas for a time. However, the success will only come in short bursts, without some training.
What's the longest you have ever been able to keep your mind focused on God? Maybe a few minutes. Possibly an hour here or there. Ultimately our flesh is so good at distracting the mind from God that we don't spend that much time focused on Him. We need practice. We need stamina training.
1 Philippians 4:6-9 (edited for brevity)
2 Romans 8:5
3 Romans 8:11
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