“So, when are we going to start working on my garden?" you ask.
"Are you sure you're ready?" Aunt Loola asks as she sets her tray down on the table. The line at the buffet was long, and your stomach is growling.
"Yeah, I'm ready. Why wouldn't I be?" you say as you set your own plate down and take a seat across from her. The only buffet-style cafeteria in town, Lois's, is filled with Sunday afternoon lunch customers. She raises her voice over the din.
"I mean, are you sure the garden is worth your effort?" Loola asks. You're surprised at her words. Is she experiencing a sudden drop in confidence, or maybe blood sugar?
“Well, yeah,” you venture, not sure where she’s going with this.
“Ok, imagine this. You’re standing in your garden months from now. You’ve put in a lot of work, but you’re feeling frustrated by all of the weeds, thorns, and unwanted upgrowth.”
“Well, that’s not hard to imagine,” you say as you take a bite of your lunch. Loola continues.
"Let's say that as you look around your overgrown garden, you start to wonder why you're so focused on fruit. After all, there are lots of things growing in the garden. There's clover, pigweed, and Canadian thistle. Sure, they’re weeds but they provide an adequate green ground cover."
“I don’t want weeds. I want fruit!” you say between bites.
“Yeah, but it’s way easier to grow wild weed flowers,” Loola says with more pressure than she normally uses.
“Well, I— uh—” you pause. “Are you saying I should give up?”
“No, not completely. Maybe just lower your expectations. I mean, the fruit tree is fine. It will survive, even if it doesn’t grow any fruit. Maybe just focus on the weeds. After all, you’ve got ragwort and oxalis that both have an acceptable yellow flower. There’s some creeping thistle that buds with purple petals.”
“Those are considered weeds too, aren’t they?" you ask.
“Really, what’s the difference in the end? A plant is a plant is a plant.”
“Are you serious?" you ask.
"Weeds are way easier to cultivate." Aunt Loola says. "You hardly even need to water. They'll grow on their own. Before you know it, the garden will be filled with color." You've heard enough. You're starting to get frustrated.
"Listen," you say, leaning over the table. You can feel the warm flush filling your cheeks. "I don't know what's come over you, but I want fruit, not hogworts, oxe wheel weeds, or whatever you called them. I want fruit. I know I don't know what I'm doing, but I want fruit. You said you would help me. I'll gladly accept your help, but I'm going for fruit whether you help me or not."
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I want fruit, abundant fruit," you say definitively. Aunt Loola takes a drink of her tea as she eyes you for a long moment. A smile begins to creep across her face.
“Good, I think you’re ready to start. We’ll get to it Monday morning,” Loola says.
“Oh— well—” you try to say. “Was that some kind of test?”
“Of course it was,” Loola says.
“And I passed?”
"Good." You take a drink from your cup now. Loola gives your hand a warm, matronly pat as she giggles gently.
“Sorry for being ornery,” Loola says. You smile at her.
“I’ve come to expect at least a little harassment every day.” You take a bite while still thinking about her strange approach to teaching. “Just out of curiosity. What would happen if I decided to cultivate the weeds?” She considers your question for a few seconds before she responds.
"Oh, it'd probably go well at first, but about the time you start to celebrate your ingenuity, things would begin to turn. The weedy plants would bud and flower, but with those flowers would come all kinds of new intruders. The new sprouts would bring bees, wasps, gnats, and flies. Creeping insects would begin to fill the ground, attracted to the new bouquet of options. An entirely new ecosystem would come to the buffet. To eat the insects, birds would arrive. Interested in bird eggs, squirrels, and other rodents would move in. Hoping to feast on the rodent population, snakes would take up residence. On it goes."
“So you’re saying, I don’t want the weeds?"
"You don't want weeds," she says. "Of course, the biggest problem would be that your fruit tree would never bear any fruit if you cultivated the weeds."
“And fruit is good, right?"
"Fruit is good. Especially peach, and at the moment, I'm craving some peach cobbler," Loola says as she lifts her empty plate and hands it to you. You rise with a smile and turn for the buffet. You're about to walk, but Loola stops you. "Honey, I don't eat peach cobbler alone." She grabs your plate and hands it to you as well. You skip off to fill your plates.
One of the greatest detriments to the abundant life is when we feed and nurture the wrong aspects of our lives. Jesus illustrated this idea in his famous parable about various kinds of soils. In his parable, he said, other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.1 He goes on to explain what the thorn-choked plants represent.
He said, the seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear [God's word], but as they go on their way, they are choked by life's worries, riches, and pleasures, and they do not mature.2
Here Jesus explains that there are a number of believers who legitimately hear and believe the saving message. However, they will never reach full maturity. In their spiritual garden, thorny weeds are allowed to grow. Those thorns represent worries, riches, and pleasures. Certainly, there are worries, riches, and pleasures that are not sins, but Jesus shows that as certain things grow more prominent in our lives, they can choke out our spiritual growth.
The writer of Hebrews explains that it's easy for life to get filled with sin that so easily entangles.3One of the greatest hindrances to the Christian life is sin. I know, I know, it sounds old school, right? It sounds like I'm some kind of a pulpit-pounding preacher from the turn of the last century, but hear me out.
The problem with sin is where it leads. You can’t do a single sin in isolation. Sin moves the person along a sliding path. James put it this way, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.4If you let your sin nature have complete control of your life, it will lead to death. Every sin is a gateway to a greater sin. That sin is a gateway to one more dangerous. That sin-paved road leads to your death if you don’t stop it.
When I was in my early teens, I was introduced to porn by a friend. I didn't dabble all that much at first. Though, over time it grew from an unhealthy desire to a full-blown lust problem. At that time, the internet was coming of age, and free porn was suddenly readily available. By my twenties, I was pretty hooked; despite knowing it was bad, I fed and nurtured my habit. Eventually, my porn consumption began to transform the way I thought about things.
Although I couldn't recognize it at the time, the sin, which had originally stayed very confined to one part of my life, was beginning to branch out into other areas. My porn guilt pressured me to isolate myself from believers who were growing. To do that, I had to convince myself that they were hypocrites or two-faced. Thinking that led me to become bitter and cynical. That outlook affected how I viewed everyone.
I grew jealous and angry as I distanced myself from church. I stopped praying, for the most part. I didn't open my Bible very much because it usually made me feel guilty. All of this led to me doubting a whole host of things I had believed. I found myself questioning even the basics.
That singular sin that began in my early teens grew to a massive, unwieldy dark tree laden with black poison-fruit. Just like weeds, sin seeds and grows other sin. Often the sins that we find in our lives don't seem like they could be related to each other, but they are.
The author of Hebrews said that we must be careful because it's possible that you can be deceived by sin and hardened against God.5 You may feel like your sin isn’t affecting your Christian life, but if that’s how you feel, you’ve already fallen prey to what this verse explains. Sin is a deceiver. It warps your mind in such a way that it will harden you toward God. I felt the hardening, due to my sin, in about a thousand ways.
One of the greatest mistakes we could make is avoiding the hard task of removing sin. As we will see in the following chapters, we don't fight sin directly.
After all, even the spiritual superhero Paul said, I don't want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway… when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong… there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?6
There was a time in Paul’s life that he did the try harder method. What he found was that he couldn't make himself stop certain sins, just by willpower. He couldn't deliver himself from the cycle of dead living that he was experiencing. Instead, he began looking for a way out.
My kids are still learning to share. It's a tough lesson. It's a tough lesson because the sin nature doesn't like to share. In fact, it refuses. Sin wants total dominion. Paul said that if you let it sin will, "reign in your mortal body." Sin wants to rule you. If you don't put up a fight, it will.
Sin is clever, though. You may have thought you beat sin when you really only exchanged one sin for another. There are those who have fallen prey to the sin exchange program. What's that? you say. It's impossible to make the flesh stop sinning by using flesh-powered means. You can't just try really hard to stop sinning and succeed. However, the flesh is willing to make a trade.
Your sin nature is sometimes willing to trade one sin in for another. This is why so many people have become victims of self-righteousness. In exchange for sins like drunkenness, adultery, and stealing, the flesh is willing to trade for pride, superiority, rivalry, condescension, and jealousy. Many very religious people have made this trade, like a dark game of go fish. It is not as hard as you might think to trade in unrighteousness for self-righteousness. Both are sins, which is why your sin nature is satisfied with letting you remain self-righteous.
Many think they are pretty righteous when in reality, all they have done is traded in obvious outward sins for inward secret sins. The sad bit is that Jesus seemed much more irritated by self-righteousness, pride, and superiority than drunkenness and adultery. The flesh is not willing to give up sins, which is why you can't force righteousness on your flesh by bodily means.
Have you allowed sins, even small ones, to continue growing in your life? I had years where I did. Many Christians do. Overlooking your sin is one of the most dangerous things you can do. It will stifle your life, change the way you think, harden your heart, and can ultimately lead to death if left unchecked.
It’s time that we begin to learn how to change our mindset. In the next section we will explore our first helpful habit; a tool that helps us set our minds on spiritual things.
1 Luke 8:7
2 Luke 8:14
3 Hebrews 12:1
4 James 1:15 NIV
5 Hebrews 3:13
6 Romans 8:15-24