In the Garden of Our Hearts

World Challenge Staff

God’s presence means that we should be growing spiritual fruit, but why is this so important and how do we maximize our results?

When Carolyn Craft and her husband first bought the plot of land where she would build her house, it was an abandoned horse pasture with clay soil and covered in weeds. For Carolyn, though, the land was a delightful challenge. She’s a University of California master gardener, and she’d soon planted about 60 roses, 800 hybrid and bearded iris, over 30 fruit trees and a wide smattering of shrubs and perennials.

Neighbors and dog walkers inevitably became curious, so Carolyn and her husband opened the gate. All were welcome to walk in and enjoy the flowers and fruit. Soon articles were written, professional photos were taken and the stream of curious visitors grew. 

Carolyn shared, “Among the most frequently asked questions are ‘Where is your sprinkler system? How could you possibly water all of this by hand?’ I explain that we try to plant things that fit reasonably well into our climate and don’t need much water. This results in a lot of conversations about water conservation…

“Many ask why there are so many bees, birds, and butterflies in our garden and not in theirs. Invariably, they had been using chemical sprays in their gardens, but were unaware that such practices kill butterflies and bees just as easily as they kill the ‘undesirable insects’ We also talk about mixing eggplants, peppers, herbs, and other edibles in among the flowers. This encourages birds, bees, and other natural pollinators, as well as beneficial insects that eat unwanted insect pests. Many of the vegetables in our garden are Mediterranean in origin and require less water. I really enjoy seeing big purple eggplants and long green peppers mixed among the blooms.”

As a result of their beautiful garden, they’ve met people from around the world. “A man from India wanted me to know that he had arrived the day the original story appeared in the paper,” Carolyn reminisced. “Because of the photographs, he asked his children to translate it for him. He then told them that this was the one place he wanted to visit while he was in the United States. The whole family came.”

Where to Find Good Produce

Gardens hold a special place in the Bible. God put the first humans in a garden and tasked them with tending the plants and animals there (see Genesis 2:15). God promised to bring the nation of Israel out of Egypt into a land like a garden (see Deuteronomy 11:10). In Song of Songs, the bride was compared to a garden (Song of Songs 4:12-16). When God promised to heal Zion, the prophet said that the Lord would make the barren land into a “garden of the Lord” (see Isaiah 51:3). Before he was arrested, Jesus retreated to a garden to pray with his disciples (see John 18:1).  

Although the Apostle Paul didn’t explicitly mention gardens in his letters to the early church, they must’ve been on his mind to some extent when he wrote to the Galatians. He didn’t use any garden imagery to describe the negative aspects of sinful human nature, but the moment he switched into what the Holy Spirit’s presence should do to our lives, the allusion to a garden emerged.

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:19-24, ESV).

The most difficult part of this garden allusion is that the fruit is only made possible by God. We’re not out of the picture, though; we have a part to play in all of this. We can’t produce the fruit. We have no seeds for such plants, so to speak; but once they’re planted for us, we must cultivate them.

This cultivation process is not always easy. It often involves a lot of dedicating ourselves to study, paying attention to the results we’re getting in our own lives and slow, steady work. Sometimes the spiritual fruit in our lives grows gradually, and we may not notice the differences in our day-in, day-out lives. Sometimes the Spirit causes fruit to grow hidden in the back of our hearts, until something pulls back the leaves and we see it for the first time.  

Do Not Garden by Yourself

The one danger of the garden metaphor is that many people in the Western world tend to view gardening as a solo venture. You go alone into your garden to putter around, pulling weeds and trimming vines.

Claude Houde noted this disturbing trend in a sermon about nurturing the fruits of the Spirit. “There's a movement of online, consumer, spiritual-buffet mentality. Where I pick what I want. I like this preacher and this one little bit of worship. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, and there's a whole movement. There's 10s of millions of Christians that the commitment has gone down, and there's no serving.

“There's no giving. There's no committing and there's many blinded religious voices that are peddling the lie of supernatural fruit without sacrifice or service. Glory without generosity. Pulling the lie of impact for Christ without intimacy with him. Power without personal power. Redefining church. Promising revival and renewal without repentance. …Can I say to you today obedience is still the only door that opens a supernatural of our lives?”

God didn’t put Adam into Eden alone. He promised a garden-like country to the entire community of Israel. The bride in Solomon’s poetry describes herself as a garden to entice her husband inside. The land will be healed for the entire people of God. Jesus takes his closest friends with him into Gethsemane where he speaks with the Father. No one is alone.  

Fruit of the Spirit are brought into life and existence by the third member of the trinity, but they’re best cultivated in each one of our lives through community. Scripture charges us with commands like “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25).

How do we cultivate love, patience or self-control unless we’re tried by broken sinners like ourselves? How will we know if we’re growing in true gentleness or kindness until we must display these traits while rebuking a brother or sister in Christ? Can divinely inspired joy sprout out of anything except corporate worship and seeing the prayers of others answered?

Our spiritual gardening is only possible with God, and it is always best done in the company of others.