Monday, May 28
Philippians 3:8 I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…
It’s Memorial Day, and while many people are camping and boating and getting away from work, it’s the traditional weekend to plant the garden and the flower beds for my family. I know some people who spend hours every week tending to their yards and their gardens. They have an established set of daily rituals they go through – pulling weeds and fertilizing and pruning – so that they can enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. They are constantly doing whatever it takes to make their yard more beautiful and get just a little more enjoyment from it. But last week, as I pulled into my parking space at work, I was reminded that no one can duplicate God’s gardening skills.
Occasionally I park my car along the north side of the building, which is a gravel parking area. As I walked toward the building, I happened to look down, and there, growing up out of the gravel right in front of the car’s bumper, was a beautiful blue flower which I had never seen before. I don’t know what kind of flower it is, but I stopped and just looked at it for a long moment, thanking God for His choice to put that flower there. No person planted it, or watered it, or fertilized it, but there it was, in full bloom, bringing simple joy to my heart.
As I stood there looking at it, I thought about today’s Scripture passage. I thought about all the people who are working so hard in their spiritual gardens to try to bring beauty to their lives. They have an established set of rituals they go through because they believe it will produce a harvest of righteousness and peace and gain the attention of God. Some of the rituals have been established by their religion, while others are self-invented. Some of the rituals were imposed upon them, while others are done by their own choice. But the motive for all spiritual rituals is to produce a desired outcome – the gain of God’s grace.
Paul spoke of those rituals when he confessed that prior to his salvation he considered his religious rituals as sufficient for earning the favor of God. He reminded his readers that he had been circumcised on the eighth day according to the ritualistic standards of the Jewish tradition. This ritual had earned him a place in God’s kingdom, or so he thought.
But then, one day, while walking along a gravel road, his journey was interrupted by God. It was as if God had planted a beautiful flower in the gravel, and suddenly everything was put into perspective. Paul was blinded by the awesome beauty of the Lord, and suddenly all his work to earn God’s favor was of no value. He discovered that all of man’s rituals mean nothing to God, and the outcome of all that hard work is rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord.
Like Paul, we spend hours each week trying to create a beautiful garden of spiritual life when all we have to do is ask Jesus to be our gardener. The work God does is so much more magnificent than anything we can ever do. So much so that even those who work tirelessly in their own gardens still take drives in the country to see the beauty of what God does.
Who can duplicate the magnificence of the bluebell fields of Texas? Who can ever hope to have a garden that resembles the splendor of the prairie of western North Dakota? Who can recreate the magnificence of the hardwood forests in the fall? And who of us can match the beauty of a blue flower growing in gravel?
The secret is in the contrast. When God creates a garden, he does it in stark contrast to its surroundings, like a blue flower in gravel. When we try to create beauty for ourselves, it is usually blended with our surroundings. God’s work surpasses greatness because it brings beauty out of barrenness. He does the same in our lives.
Stop trying so hard to be a Christian, and let Jesus Christ do all the work. He prepares the soil of your heart. He plants the seeds of faith. He waters and fertilizes the seeds with His Word. He causes the plants of love, joy, peace and hope to grow. He makes them bloom in spectacular beauty for all the world to see. And when God chooses the location for the garden, he chooses the most desolate and barren spot He can find so all the glory goes to Him. He doesn’t need nor does He want our help in making the location fit for His use. He doesn’t require rituals to prepare the soil. He doesn’t even want us to determine whether it is a garden spot or not. In fact, He does his best work in places where nothing else will grow.
Let the Master Gardener do His work in you. He will bring beauty from the gravel.