The Garden of the Heart

This is something I wrote last night to share with my children this weekend. At age five and seven, my two young sons will probably not comprehend everything that I have said here, but my daughter who is twelve should be able to grasp most of it. And anyway, I plan on sharing this with them several times so they get the point. I thought I would post it here with the hopes that it may benefit someone else, too.

This is the story about a garden. Well, it’s about two, really.  A literal and a metaphorical one. The first is a little fenced in patch of land near our house where my grandfather used to grow squash, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, melons, onions, and other fruit and vegetables. My grandfather passed away several years ago, and for the last three or four years of his life, he was not able to tend it. To look at it now, you would never know it was once a garden at all. Because we have pictures of my grandpa in his garden (when it really looked like a garden), I thought this would make a good illustration for my kids to understand the nature of our hearts—the nature of sin, and our need for the Savior.

I’ve sprinkled questions throughout to invite them to think and interact with the illustration. I pray that it will point them to Jesus and allow Him to minister to their hearts; without His Spirit involved, there’s not much I can do besides talk. I would like ask that you please add your prayers to mine that, as a father, I can effectively communicate the gospel to my children… that they would recognize the sin that indwells their own hearts, as well as their own need for Christ, for repentance and faith.

Here is the story I am going to share with my kids as we sit inside the overgrown weed-patch that once fed a family.

The Garden of the Heart

This is the garden that your great grandfather used to tend. I can show you pictures when this garden had fruit and vegetables growing out of the soil—tomato bushes, melons, onions, carrots, and other good things to eat. It was not overgrown with weeds, but was tilled, properly seeded, watered and looked after. The seeds that your Great Grandfather planted were cared for, watered, and protected until they grew into shoots—which are small plants that would grow larger and larger until they began to bear fruit (or vegetables depending on the seeds he planted) that could actually be eaten and that provided nourishment for the body.

Which of the plants that you see growing in this garden today would you like to go and harvest something to eat from?

What you see here now is what the earth will produce naturally here without the constant care and maintenance of the gardener. There isn’t anything growing in this garden now that you want to eat, is there? There isn’t anything in here that looks like it would provide any sort of nourishment for our body at all.

Now, what I want you to understand is that our hearts are like this garden. Left to our own devices, what will grow up in them is just like what you see here in this garden. Without someone tending the garden, planting good seeds, pulling up the weeds that grow naturally, watering the plants as they grow and watching out for pests that would come and destroy the plants before they can produce fruit—well, not much good will grow in them. We will produce nothing nourishing for the body.

Our hearts will naturally produce every kind of thorn and thistle, poisonous berry, nettle, spur, and weed you can imagine. They grow of their own accord and choke out the plants that require tenderness—ones that actually produce fruit. If I told you that from this day forward, all that you could eat is what you could find in this little garden, how long do you think you could live?

Now suppose I told you that you could plant some seeds and tend the garden, so that it would produce some things like potatoes and carrots, some grapes and strawberries, and even some watermelons. If I told you that you could plant seed and tend the garden, but didn’t give you any seed or any tools to tend your garden with, do you think you could produce enough in a harvest to feed our family? Why not?

So what if I give you all the tools you need to till the ground and plant the seed, to pull up weeds, and water your plants, but I don’t give you any seed to plant. How do you think things will go in your garden?

Well, now, suppose I went ahead and gave you some seed to plant. What are some fruits or vegetables you would like to grow in this garden that you could eat and share with others? What would you like to grow?

Okay, so let’s say I give you all the seed you need, but I make you give me all the tools back, so you have to do everything from pulling up weeds to shoveling, to digging into the earth and planting seed using your bare hands. No gloves, either. How do you think that will go?

All right, to give you a truer picture of what our hearts are like without Christ, let’s pretend there’s no seed for you to plant, there’s no tools for you to use, and both your hands are tied behind your back. Do you think you can produce enough food for a harvest in the garden of your heart to feed your family? How long do you think you can make it that way before you die?

That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? You’re going to need some help, right? If you have no seed, no tools, and even if you did you wouldn’t be able to use them anyway, then you’re going to need some help, right? Because there’s not a whole lot you can do with your hands tied up behind your back—and since you have no food to eat, well you’re probably already dead. But if you have even a single breath of life, you’d better call out for somebody to come and help you out. Now, if we are talking about the garden of our heart, who do we need to call out to?

If we are completely bound and unable to help ourselves, unable to pull out the nasty weeds and thorny plants that have grown up inside our hearts, what can we do? Who can help us? What can He do?

When our hearts are overgrown with sin and selfishness, so thick that even if we had good seed to plant, it wouldn’t take root, we need to go to the Cross where our Savior died. He died to make Atonement for our sins. In other words, He died because by the power of His death and resurrection, He has the power to bring what is dead in us to life. Our hearts, which are dead in sin—spiritually dead to God—can be made alive in Christ. He has the power to pull up all the foul and wicked weeds that have grown up inside the garden of our heart, so that He can put His own seed there, to nurture and to grow and to care for. 2 Corinthian 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

The prophet Ezekiel, speaking the word of God said, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

Jesus, speaking to Nicodemus said, “”Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

For this garden to be “born again” (and to really be a garden by the proper meaning of that term) everything that is in here that is not a garden plant must die. Every plant that does not produce fruit or vegetables that has roots and is growing in this space must be pulled up and put to death… destroyed.

Jesus, speaking to His disciples, used similar words to teach to His disciples (all of whom, except for Judas Iscariot, were already chosen by God to believe in Him and who trusted Jesus as their Lord), “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:1-6)

There are many other references in scripture that describe this process, but the point to understand is this: We have neither the will, nor the ability to take the wild and wooly, weedy, overgrown mess that is our heart, and do anything ourselves to “fix” it, to make it into a garden that produces a harvest. Unless God works in us, to clear out the old brush and brambles that grew there, nothing new will grow. Unless God plants the seed and tends the garden, and unless the Spirit of Christ produces the fruit within us, there will be no harvest. Nothing nourishing will be produced within the garden of our heart to nourish the body.

And what is the fruit that God grows in the garden of our hearts when He is at work within us? The apostle Paul writes to the churches in Galatia that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23)

The apostle Peter complements what Paul shared to the churches in Galatia, stating in his own words, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

It is quite clear from these passages what is meant by the fruit God intends to grow in His faithful. But what of the body He intends to feed with this harvest? Just as the fruit that enters the stomach shares its nutrients not just with the stomach, but the entire body, so fruit that is grown for a harvest in a garden is never meant solely for one person’s enjoyment, but to nourish many other members. It is to be shared.

“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

“For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” (Ephesians 5:29-30)

Perhaps the most descriptive analogy in the entire Bible is given by the apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians:

1 Cor 12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…

1Cor 12:14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.
1Cor 12:15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
1Cor 12:16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
1Cor 12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?
1Cor 12:18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
1Cor 12:19 If all were a single member, where would the body be?
1Cor 12:20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
1Cor 12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
1Cor 12:22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
1Cor 12:23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,
1Cor 12:24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,
1Cor 12:25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.
1Cor 12:26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
1Cor 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

So now that you know the garden, the process, the fruit, the Gardener, and the body, do you have any questions?

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