Transformation is an amazing thing. For people, the ability or process to go from one thing to another can bring much hope, or increasing sorrow. Have you ever witnessed a pathetic homo sapien turn into something productive and spectacular? The most far-fetched dream of the alchemist pales in comparison. They merely wanted to create the Philosopher’s Stone to transmute base metals into precious metals. I believe it would be easier to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear than to spiritually metamorphose a wicked, vile, blasphemous sinner into a just, moral, paragon of virtue.

Look at the apostle Paul. He was a vile enemy of the early church. He wanted to wipe Christianity from the face of the earth, and he had blood on his hands for the murder of proto-martyr Stephen. How did he go from being less than the least (his own words in Ephesians 3:8) to becoming one of the greatest men to ever walk this Earth?

I’ve heard, or read, many various opinions. The better answers were God-centered rather than anthropocentric. Remember Wallace’s line in Braveheart, “God makes men what they are.” Very good William, but how does God do it? Did the Lord just zap Paul, and give him this astounding faith? We are taught in the Scriptures all his thought, words and deeds were rooted in faith. Many believe things happen because God stretches forth his hand and zaps here, zaps there, zaps over yonder, and so forth. I call it the “Zap Gun” mentality.

While God is surely able to effect anything he chooses, that is not his style. He works with his people and matures them over time. He is like a gardener, yea a Master Gardener. As one who likes to get dirt under his fingernails, I favor the similitude of a garden to illustrate how God works, rather than zaps.Master Gardener

We gardeners do not merely toss seeds on the ground, stretch forth our hand, give a little chant and voilà…there’s our corn let’s pick it. No, we must cultivate the soil, plant the seed at the correct depth, water it, insure it gets sunlight, keep the crows away, pull the weeds, apply some fertilizer, give it some pruning, remove the worms and bugs from the leaves, and protect the fruit. It’s a lot of work, especially in this hot, Mississippi sun.

It has been speculated the Lord used so much agricultural imagery in his parables because it was an agrarian, not industrial society. The imagery would obviously be more understandable. While that is true, it may not provide the whole story. Remember, the Lord often spoke in parables so his words would not be understandable, save to his elect (Matthew 13:13, Luke 8:10). And if the elect were made to understand, then he could have used any kind of imagery. Why then the agricultural references? Maybe because it is such a fitting emblem of the work of grace in our hearts by the Triune God. Let’s look at the steps mentioned above of maturing seeds into fruitful plants.

First of all, the soil is cultivated. The rocky, stony or hard clay fallow ground is broken up by the plow of the Spirit and the Word. Next that seed of faith is carefully planted at just the right depth. The seed has existed but it does not begin to grow until it is planted and feels the nourishing soil all around it.

Next comes the watering. The seeds planted by the Master Gardener get a special watering…living water from the fountain of life. This water is absorbed and brings life to every fiber of being. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

What happens next? The seed sprouts and immediately the fowls of the air take aim. They especially like to feed on the seedlings that may be tended by the Master Gardener. But wait who is this fearsome looking scarecrow dwelling in the midst of the garden, and what are these bright shining lights reflecting the sun? Why is it the best deterrent to the crows in your corn is shiny objects like pie pans and old CDs? The shining light frightens them just as the countenance of the Lord frightens the blackbirds that would attack his seedlings. Yes, it is the shining presence of the Lord that protects wee little sprouts from the fowls. We have our own “scarecrow.”

For the sprouts to grow there must be sunlight. For the spiritual shoots, the Sun of Righteousness shines through his word, and spiritual “photosynthesis” takes place. The shoots begin to grow. But alas, so also do the weeds. Weeds follow the plants like night follows day. What are these weeds? They are the lust of the eyes. These troublesome weeds want to tempt the young shoot to cast his eyes on the beauty of the other shoots and what those shoots have that it doesn’t have, and so forth. If we didn’t have a Master Gardener, these weeds would overtake us. But our gardener does not allow us to bear more weeds than we are able. And his sharpened hoe takes care of the things rather nicely.

Next comes the fertilizer if we are to grow and mature properly. Gardeners know fertilizer is not placed directly on the plant. It is placed outside the root line. That means that the plant must send forth its roots to take in the fertilizer. We need to take note of this. God freely dispenses grace but we must reach forth and lay hold on it. We must absorb it into our being. It’s there…we just have to reach out and grab it. God is indeed Sovereign, but man is responsible to make use of the good things that he supplies us.

Now, as the plant grows and matures it begins to form branches. If it is a healthy plant its branches stretch forth toward heaven, in a posture of prayer and worship. If the plant is not healthy its branches droop, and its leaves wither. Further, if the gardener is not careful the plant will begin moving in too many directions, and not stay focused on the goal of producing fruit. It will begin to send its branches off here and there. What is happening? So much of the life of the plant becomes devoted to extending its grab that it forgets to be content with few branches and much fruit. This we may call the lust of the flesh. Oftentimes, we think we are doing the Master’s service, when actually we have strayed. Rather than build up the Master’s kingdom of fruit, we are building up our own Kingdom of Branches. Remember this, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than a fruitless plant rich in beautiful branches and leaves to enter into heaven. Thankfully for us, the Master Gardener is there with his pruning shears to lop off those unnecessary shoots and bring our focus back to producing fruit.

Just when you think we are free and clear of hindrances being a healthy plant with fruit beginning to sprout, next comes the worms and bugs to begin to eat at it. And just what are these? These are the pride of life. We gardeners have known entire plants to be overcome if this is not attended to. But our Master Gardener does not forsake his plants; and he is there to apply a spiritual insecticide to save both plant and fruit. Not all worms and bugs are alike. Some eat at the roots, some the stalk; some devour the leaves, while others bore into the fruit. Our Gardener has a formula for them all. And yes for those inquiring minds desiring to know…it is organic, not chemical insecticide.

Finally we come to harvest time, and the gardener views his plants in great affection. He has labored with all individually, and has an individual love for each. Some plants have given him more trouble than others, but he has seen them all through to fruition. Some plants produced more than others, but all his plants have some fruit hanging on them.

In the original Garden, the Garden of Eden, there were no weeds to pull, and no thorns or thistles to contend with. Fruit was growing and abounding everywhere without labor. But along came sin: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life, and with it the need to tend the garden or lose all the plants.

Christ came into the garden to save some plants, not all plants but some plants. By the ultimate sweating of the brow, this Master Gardener labors steadily, and cheerfully, tending to every single plant on his acreage. None of his plants shall fail. He will not forsake his plants for it is his great love to tend them. In fact, he has sacrificed more than all other sacrifices in history put together just that he might have the privilege to tend the garden. And what debt do the plants owe the Gardener? More than they can ever repay. Yea, the best they can do is to please the Gardener by providing the most abundant and best-tasting fruit they can.

Well, this is my meditation on the work of the Master Gardener. It is not perfect and can applied, perhaps, many different ways…but the main points are there. You see, we live in an indoor TV/Internet virtual world, not an outdoor natural world. We tend to think that God nods his head like Genie, wiggles his nose like Samantha or points his wand like Harry Potter — and zap…things just appear or happen. But sanctification is a work, not an act. It is a long, painful and difficult work. It is a work of increasing our faith which, in turns, increases hope and love.

Spiritual growth comes by perseverance, enduring through great difficulties. Isn’t it amazing how we get food from a little seed. Most folks take for granted the food on their table. But it went through a lot to get there. It may have had to endure heavy rains, or maybe heavy drought. It had to endure vicious winds beating against it. And it had to endure the weeds, the worms and the bugs of life. And yet it endured it all, somehow!

We may say it is these trials that make us what we are. Yes God is there. He is protecting us, fertilizing us, pruning us and so forth. He is indeed making maturing his plants. But it is not accomplished by means of a zap gun. The scriptures teach it is through the furnace that the metal is purified.

postscript:
I ran across this while organizing some of my old writings. I have no idea when it was written nor can I remember the context in which I was writing it. It was incomplete so I tweaked it a bit this morning, and here it is…