After a Talbot chapel some time ago, in which we struggled with three or four 'glitches' in the program, my dear colleague Dennis Gaines leaned over and said to me, "I call these things weeds". Yes, weeds...those little irritations that prevent our best efforts from being the gems of perfection we designed them to be.
That same week one of my senior students was clearly aggravated because his youth drama team didn't show up for their part in an Easter outreach event. And on top of that, the whole program had to stop for 5 minutes so some noisy fans could cool down the church's old meeting place to a tolerable level.
In pondering these experiences, I thought it might be interesting to picture ministry as a gardener tending his or her flowerbed. Along with the many facets of such joyful work is the necessity to deal effectively with those "undesired plants that grow in profusion" as Webster defines them. Of course, one person's flower might be another's weed (we can't see the value in Oxalis, for instance :-). Yet, the prophet Isaiah used the presence of weeds to signal the judgement of God upon the nations (34:13) and their absence to be indicative of Messianic blessing (55:13). Basically, these are plants we really don't want around.
As we begin our investigation, you might want to take a minute and think of some personal or ministry problem currently threatening the health and beauty of your garden. With something in mind, observe the following about weeds:
• There are many varieties - There are perhaps tens of thousands of different types of 'useless plants' (again, Webster). It's a challenge recognizing them, for sure. I've 'helped' Rolane with weeding on many occasions, only to find myself having murdered some poor defenseless plant which would have been a beautiful addition to our summer bloom!
• They are very effective at camouflage - Just the other day I found a three-foot tall clump of grass 'hiding' in our Alstroemeria. Similar color, leaf shape - the only thing that gave it away was the grass seed at the tips.
• They grow faster than most other plants - Rolane says they grow at 'light speed' compared to the flowers she desires in her plant beds. Some have literally appeared from nowhere overnight. Interestingly, none of our flowers has ever done that.
• They are hard to kill - If left to nature, flowers always lose out to weeds. When's the last time you saw roses growing along the interstate in New Mexico? But there are the weeds, proudly jutting from the cracks in the pavement. Amazing!
• They are self-centered - They draw away nutrients from the soil and steal warming rays from the sun, making it more difficult for the plants you desire in your yard to thrive. For some reason, they seem to always win the competition for resources.
With such cunning adversaries, how is a gardener to cope? In our ministries and personal lives, what can we do to make sure our flowerbeds are places where the color and fragrance of God's design for His children can permeate a needy world? Here are some suggestions:
• Know your flowers - It would be very difficult to know the vast array of weeds out there. Like FBI agents trained to spot counterfeit money by mostly handling the real stuff, we are well advised to spend a lot of time learning the truth of God's word and coming to discern the presence and leading of His Spirit in people and situations. A well known humorous rule of gardening states "When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant". You don't need to know what every weed looks like, but being thoroughly acquainted with your flowers enables you to eliminate the intruder quickly without destroying your beauties.
• Check for weeds regularly. Successful gardening requires discipline. One must regularly peruse the beds and check on their progress. There are times when you can't tell the wheat from the tares, so to speak. In such cases you may have to wait and see what fruit is borne by each plant. More than one follower of Jesus can share how they were fooled by seemingly spiritual people, only to find later they were not what everyone thought. Such disappointments are sometimes unavoidable, but keeping a close watch on your plantings will usually reveal those intruders that would do harm to your garden.
• Because weeds grow fast and are hard to kill, the wise gardener removes them when they are young. Once you see a small weed (weedling?) it is time to go in for the kill. The thing is, if you don't get the root, it will reappear and propagate until and after the Lord returns. When we as believers become aware of spiritual concerns in our church, family or social groups, we should confront them sooner, not later. Waiting too long can often lead to such problems becoming embedded in the soil of the fellowship, making removal much harder in the future. Rolane and I witnessed this often in our years in the pastorate. When our leaders dealt decisively with the beginnings of gossip, immoral behavior or divisiveness, the church grew stronger and more resilient to such attack. When it failed to do so near the end of our time there, much grief came to our lives and that of the church itself.
• Plant flowers, and use lots of mulch. There's a great line from the movie classic 'The Secret Garden' that goes like this: Wherever you plant a flower, a weed cannot grow. The best way we know of to prevent the onset of weeds is to plant lots of flowers and cover the rest of the bed with a thick layer of organic material. The flowers grow and shut out the light to the weeds, preventing them from growing. As well, the mulch chokes out the undesirable shoots and keeps the nutrients for the flowers only. You remember the parable of the soils. Explaining the seed that fell among the thorns, Jesus said"..the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful." (Mark 4:19).
I think we can say that cultivating good intentions, godly habits and loving acts is the way to weed prevention. If the bad can choke out the good, then the good can choke out the bad. Romans 12, that marvelous chapter encouraging the church to live up to its expectations as being blessed by the mercies of God, ends with these words: 'Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.' (v.21) Great gardens don't have any room for weeds. Yes, keeping them clean is costly, but the alternative is to allow the glory God intended for the lives of His children to be swallowed up by thorns of defeat and pain.
May your garden flourish this season, and in all those to come. __Mick__