Are you good with plants? Are you a so-called green thumb? I used to envy people who were good with plants. I saw it as a gift you either had or didn’t have.
Perhaps it’s because I grew up in an arid area of the Australian outback. In the town of Broken Hill, if you wanted to grow something, you had to be ready for a fight. The ground was unforgiving. The sun baked the land. The earth is the rich red of the oxides broken down in the soil by the heat. It’s difficult to grow anything there, and if you do attempt it, you have to be ready to really work at it.
I know this from watching my father watering his lawn. Whether it was by hand or by sprinkler, each inch of grass had to be meticulously watered. If any got missed, it would soon dry and die. But my father was faithful, and the soundtrack of my lazy evenings is the hiss of the sprinkler as it thwacked around our front yard. Because of Dad’s hard work, the lawn was immaculate—a shining emerald rectangle of barefoot joy among a sea of red dirt and hard rocks.
It took me a long time to realize that people who have green thumbs have them because they put hard work into growing those precious plants. Plants die under my watch because I’m supposed to care for them, water them, and nurture them. Ignoring them doesn’t work so well. Actually, when I think about it, plants have taught me a lot over the years.
In Matthew 13:32, Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven, which He likens to a very tiny mustard seed. However, once it’s fully grown, it becomes the largest of garden plants, so big that birds can perch in its branches.
When we let the kingdom of heaven into our hearts, we really don’t know what we might grow into. The size of the seed doesn’t predict the size of the plant. And that reminds me of my family’s cactus.
We had a cactus plant that lived under the garden faucet. It loved the red dirt of Broken Hill, and the water that dripped from the faucet kept it happy. It was a little pokey though, and the spikes would threaten to bite us every time we tried to turn on the tap. It was annoying, and I complained to Dad about it. It seemed as though life would be better if we took the plant out. It just sat there, a couple of feet of nasty spikes. What was it good for? It never changed.
Then one day, after 15 years of inactivity, a stem emerged from the top of the cactus. It grew higher and higher until it stood twice the height of the plant itself. I remember coming outside about a week later and seeing that the stem had burst into glorious flowers. Vivid purple blooms reached for the sky. It was incredibly beautiful. It turns out that all those drips from the tap were doing some good after all!
It’s the same with Jesus. When we start following Him, His seed is planted in us, but what happens to the seed after that depends on whether it’s watered.
Matthew 13 has a parable about a farmer sowing seeds. The seeds were in constant danger from falling on the hard path and being eaten by birds, from falling into the wrong soil, or from being scorched by the sun. But the seed that fell into the good soil multiplied greatly.
It’s the same with us. If we’re going to follow Jesus, the seed He plants in us needs watering because it won’t grow without it. How does that happen? The Bible likens the Word of God to water. Ephesians 5:26, 27 describes the church being made clean by a washing with the water of the Word. I think that’s how we water that mustard seed of faith, which will make it possible for us to grow spiritually.
Fortunately, we don’t have to grow alone. In Ephesians 4:15, Paul says this growth is something we all do together as the greater whole of the church. Jesus is the head of that church, and we grow together when we all grow to be like Him. We aren’t just off by ourselves, growing alone. Christians grow better together.
All plants grow better in a garden. A good example is the Australian quandong bush. It produces a bright-red fruit—a small, round fruit with sweet, white, scented flesh, a large central stone, and a thin, rough skin. Most of the inside is made up of the seed. The pale flesh only covers the giant seed with a small layer of tasty goodness.
When I was growing up, the kitchen was primarily Mom’s domain, but when it came to cooking the quandong, Dad took over. He would roll up his sleeves and take a whole weekend producing pie after pie. The stewed fruit mixed with bright white sugar would bubble up in his pot and then be ladled generously into the pie crust. With a few deft cuts of his pastry knife, he would impress a smiley face into the pie for good measure. Then into the oven it went for baking to a golden shine! There’s nothing better than quandong pie served with ice cream.
After I moved away from home, I couldn’t find any quandongs to eat. There were no trees at the local nursery, so I did some research. It turns out that quandong trees are notoriously hard to propagate. The quandong bush is hemiparasitic, which means that as its roots grow underground, they merge with the roots of its neighboring plants. The plant uses those roots to feed itself and grow. It can’t grow alone. It has to grow alongside another tree or bush.
This makes the quandong bush hard to grow commercially because it’s hard to make it happen intentionally. It makes the quandong perfectly suited to the difficult conditions in the Australian outback. It’s drought resistant and will survive in soil with high salinity when other plants won’t.
Ephesians 4:16 says, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” The “Him” in this verse is Jesus, and He’s the foundation of all Christian life. The seed that represents Jesus has been planted in us, and it grows best with other people around.
Lone plants will struggle, but we thrive when we, as with the quandong tree, help each other to grow. That will make us resistant to hard conditions when they come. And as a result, we will be built up in love as each of us supports the other. And, of course, this means that we will produce fruit.
Colossians 1:10 says that a life that’s worthy bears fruit. That fruit can be seen as we grow into a knowledge of God and in the good things we do as a result. Growing in Christ should be evident, and it should have a positive effect in the world.
It took my wife to really open my eyes to the amazing world of plants. I’d been cooking one day and accidentally managed to burn my finger on the hot plate. Wonderful! I was standing at the sink with my finger under the running cold tap, waiting for my burned finger to feel better, when my wife approached with a thick green cactus leaf she’d just carved off her plant outside. She skinned it and slathered the thick juice that flowed out over my poor index finger.
That was my introduction to aloe vera. I couldn’t understand where this had been all my life! How had this miraculous plant escaped my notice? From the outside, the aloe vera plant may be nothing to look at. It may even seem spikey and forbidding to touch. But when you see the inside, you realize that it contains hidden riches that are meant to help and heal.
I started telling everyone about aloe vera because there might be people with burned fingers who need this important information!
The Christian life is similar. Colossians 1:5, 6 says that when that seed of hope in Jesus grows, it will bear fruit and grow throughout the whole world. Faith and love will spring out of you because you want to share the good fruit you’ve found, which is God’s grace. Jesus is the good news of that grace. He came so that we could grow in Him and be strengthened and grow into the persons God intended us to be.
The good news of God’s grace is like a plant: it will spring out of the smallest thing in our lives. We will grow together with others in love and produce amazing fruit of good works in our lives that keep expanding around the world.
Sounds like a plant that I would like. I just have to remember to keep watering it!
Justin Bone supports and trains pastors and congregations around Victoria, Australia, for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He is passionate about helping people better understand the Bible.