On top of the continental divide in the high desert, it requires extraordinary effort to grow a garden. In the arid climate, water must be delivered in subterranean ways. Every plant is mulched heavily—sometimes over black plastic around each plant. Drip hoses are employed, snaking along under this moisture-saving covering. Special concoctions of nutrients for the roots are needed—some store-bought, some homemade. Moisture grabbers are buried under plants when they’re transplanted (disposable diapers work wonders under tomatoes). Shelter from the wind and locations that give full sun all day must be provided. This is how I gardened in western Wyoming.

Gardens need tending every day on the high desert. Neglect your garden, and it will die. One benefit—weeding isn’t a daily task; there aren’t many weeds in the desert. Not so on the well-watered, rainy peninsula where I currently live. The problems here are too much water producing water-logged roots in the heavy soil, not enough sun, and weeds that easily overrun the garden if you take a day off.

Too much of anything can kill a garden, and too little can produce the same result.

It’s a good thing the Vine-dresser provides exactly what his garden needs! He gardens precisely as is necessary, watering, lopping off branches, pruning, fertilizing, aerating, sheltering, and shining the light of his Son upon his growing plant—his church. And then, we grow.

Here’s what Paul said about spiritual growth: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ. Here is a trustworthy saving that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:12-16 NIV 1984).

Make a tally of the blessings provided for growth. They are ours as well:

  • Christ’s strength made available to us
  • the evaluation of one as faithful (are you?)
  • appointment to Christ’s service (you are)
  • God’s mercy (mentioned twice)
  • the grace of our Lord (poured out abundantly)
  • the faith and love that are in Christ
  • salvation
  • his unlimited patience (shown toward us both before and after)
  • the example of Paul (illustrating that God can save and transform anyone, even you)
  • the ability to believe
  • eternal life (what a gift!)

God gives us all of these through Christ Jesus. His mission was (and is) to save sinners—even the worst, no matter what you once were in the days when you acted in ignorance and unbelief. Paul’s life demonstrates this. God took the worst, transformed him, and used him to accomplish the most. What a wonderful Savior!

This is what grows the Christian garden, the universal church. We have a merciful Savior who knows we’re deformed by the sinful nature handed down to us from Adam. Cognizant of this, our Savior displays his unlimited patience, draws us to himself, gives us faith, forgives us, shines the warm light of his love upon us, and gifts us with eternal life, starting the very day we place our faith in him.

But that’s not all. Now that we’re his, he expects us to produce fruit—all growing plants do. He gives us a life that has meaning, considering us faithful, appointing us tasks to live out in his service, and even enabling us for these good works. His Holy Spirit within us now provides us with his grace, giving us the strength we need to serve him. Our lives now have purpose, and he gives us examples to follow, Paul for one (human) and Himself for another (divine).

The Master Gardener knows how to coax fruit out of desert ground in need of fertilizing and careful watering (the one with no knowledge of him) or out of water-logged, saturated soil in need of aeration and soil refining (the long-time churchgoer who thinks their Bible knowledge equates to godliness, though they may not be walking their talk).

Whichever you are, grab the grace poured out so abundantly. Sink your roots down into the life-giving water of the Savior and follow in his footsteps—let him refine your soil; let him drench you with his living water. Using the strength he provides, follow the path of his appointment, serving him with the gifts he has given uniquely to you. As Paul summarized for Timothy, fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. This is how we live eternal life, starting right now. This is how the garden grows.