Do you have a garden in your backyard? My family started one this past year and we have had a great time with it. It has forced me to be more patient since no matter how hard I work I can't make the fruit grow any faster. I can see why so often in Scripture, the analogy is about farming, gardening, or growing. But for many of us, our lives are just the opposite. American life, especially in Silicon Valley, lends itself to a lifestyle of "production." The problem of course is that when we have a lifestyle geared towards production, we tend to view our spiritual life along those same terms: if I try harder and work harder i can be more successful spiritually. At my old job in the transportation industry, my success was measured in how productive I was. Even on the weekends when I wasn't working, it felt like the same mindset penetrated my day: a good Saturday was about how many of my tasks or chores I was able to check off my list. Spiritually, I wanted to get closer to God so I threw myself into everything I could: school, reading books, volunteering for everything I could. But in the end, it didn't really work out so well. I wasn't really fruitful because I was focused on what I needed to do.
In my experience, Spiritually works very differently. The goal, like in gardening, is to be fruitful, and there is only so much we can do to get that to happen. No matter how hard we try, we can't control the process. We can't force the Holy Spirit to work in us or through us. What we can do is cultivate an environment where we can listen to what God is saying. We can prepare ourselves by recognizing that God has control, not us. What God has in store for us is a mystery, we need to learn how to partner with that mystery. When I garden, I don't know when it will rain, or how the frost will hit my plants. What I need to do is to learn how to recognize and be in a situation where I can respond appropriately. How different is that from our Spiritual lives? We don't have control of what God is going to do or send our way. What we can do is put ourselves in a position where, when given the opportunity, we know how to respond and our response is automatic. A few months ago, Pastor John showed this video of a bus driver who noticed a woman on an overpass and stopped her from jumping. Noticing the situation and reacting appropriately are not traits which the bus driver "just has." It is a compassion that has been cultivated in him for a long time so that when opportunity arose his response was automatic and natural.
Cultivating such an environment means we are not waiting for the Holy Spirit to do it all for us. It does not mean that we take it all on ourselves. It means that we have an ongoing relationship with God so that we can listen to what He is saying and partner with Him. Such a partnership makes us stronger than we could ever be on our own. Our relationship with God, as with any relationship, grows and changes over time. We have to be intentional about cultivating an environment for the relationship to be healthy, we have set aside time to spend together in the relationship. We don't look for short term results but rather an overall healthy partnership for the long haul. That is what I want to encourage you to do today; to approach your relationship with God as you would in planting a garden: cultivate a healthy environment, realize that you have limited control, and remember that the goal is fruitfulness, not production.