For a week, Aunt Loola has been visiting each morning. She likes her coffee hot and dark. She comes armed with instructions for you. You’ve seen little progress so far, but at least you’re getting your hands dirty.
“What should we do next?" you ask.
“It’s time to do something about these weeds,” Loola says.
“Should I just rip them all out?" you ask, cracking your knuckles, readying for action.
"Ripping out every weed isn't necessary for now. The size of the tree's canopy of leaves is usually the size of the roots below the dirt. That's the area we want to focus on first. As the tree grows, we'll expand our weeding," she says.
“Ok, so pull up the weeds that are around the sapling. Got it,” you say.
“Yes, but there’s more to it than that.”
“Oh?" you ask.
“Many of those thorny vines are probably wrapped around the roots. We don’t want to simply grab and tear. We’ll have to be gentle at first," she says.
“Gentle, no problem.” You step into the garden and reach for your first fistful of weeds.
“Uh, Honey,” Aunt Loola says. “You’re going to want gloves. There are some angry thorns in there.”
"Oh yeah," you say before rushing off to the shed. Now gloved, you return and step back into the garden. You kneel and prepare to pull some weeds.
“Now,” Loola says, interrupting you. “What is your weeding schedule going to be?" she asks.
“Schedule?" you say. “I am going to just get it all done now.”
“Oh, you have a time machine, then?”
“I uh— what?”
“You can only take care of the weeds that are here now. More will grow, and you’ll have to take care of them when they arise. You can put down mulch which will help keep them from growing, but you’ll have to check for weeds on some kind of regular basis," she explains.
“Oh, yeah. I guess that makes sense. How often do you weed your garden?”
“A little every day.”
"Ok, I'll try that then," Now that you have that out of the way, you turn your attention to the garden and prepare.
“Do you know how to weed, Dear?” Loola asks.
“Yeah, of course," you say. Who doesn’t know how to weed, you don’t say.
“Ok, let’s see.”
“Are you sure you don’t have another speech?"
"I'm sorry, am I disturbing you? I won't say another thing." She draws her fingers across her lips, making a zip tight seal.
You laugh at the playful sarcasm as you lean down low and begin. It feels good to grab, rip, and tear the vines, thorns, and poisonous ivy that has been threatening your fruit tree. You feel like an avenger, taking out sweet retribution on everything wrong in the world. In five minutes, you've shorn the space down to the dirt in a two-foot circle. Your fruit tree can finally soak up the sun.
Pulling off your gloves, you take a seat next to Aunt Loola. You wait for her response.
“So, when are you going to start?" she asks.
“Start what?" You wonder if her eyesight is failing.
“When are you going to start weeding the garden?"
“I just did. Didn’t you see me?”
"I saw you give those weeds a haircut," she says.
“I —uh," you stammer. “I pulled up the weeds.”
“Sweetheart. Weeding isn’t grabbing, ripping, and tearing," she says. “Weeding is digging. Weeding is removing the whole plant, roots and all.”
“Yeah, I guess I didn’t, uh—” you trail off as you look at the garden you just shaved.
“No, you didn’t, Honey. You’ve got to get the right tool. Plus, all you’ve done is disturb them. Now they are going to feel threatened and grow back twice as hardy.”
"Oh, ok, I'll get a shovel," you say, moving once more toward the shed.
"No, it's too late," Loola says. "Now that you've cropped them stalk and leaf, we can't see where the roots are. We'll have to wait until they grow back. Then we'll weed them right."
Weeding is something a gardener must commit to regularly doing. To weed successfully, you have to go deep and get at the roots. Without weeding, there will be little to no fruit. Weeding a certain amount per day isn't the purpose or the goal of gardening, though it's something that needs to be done for gardening success.
This is our analogy for prayer. In your pursuit of abundant life, you need to commit to prayer on some kind of regularity. Your prayer must go deep, which you do by being honest and vulnerable when you talk to the Lord. Without prayer, there is going to be little spiritual fruit. Don’t forget, however, that praying a certain amount of your day isn’t the ultimate goal of the Christian life.
The ultimate goal is abundant life that comes by transformation. The Spirit transforms you when you set your mind on Spiritual things. This is why prayer is so important. By definition, prayer is placing your mind on things above, in a practiced and deliberate way. In the next few chapters, we'll lay out why and how to pray as we trace the ways in which you can be spiritually transformed by prayer.