Gardening the Heart

I went by the field of a slacker
and by the vineyard of a man lacking sense.
Thistles had come up everywhere,
weeds covered the ground,
and the stone wall was ruined.
I saw, and took it to heart;
I looked, and received instruction:
a little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the arms to rest,
and your poverty will come like a robber,
your need, like a bandit. Proverbs 24:30-34 HCSB

For at least my lifetime (unfortunately, I can’t remember much before then), my grandfather has had a HUGE vegetable garden. And it’s always been immaculate. He harvests enough food to feed dozens of people, and he loves to give his produce away. He even has so much that my parents and aunts have to be careful about mentioning anything garden-related, or they’ll have five years’ worth waiting for them when they get home.

In pretty much every respect, Pop is the polar opposite of the slacker in Proverbs 24. Pop’s garden is weeded and gorgeous. The plants are vibrant and healthy, and the rows are neat and straight. He really does make it look easy, but there’s a great amount of effort expended in getting a garden to that point, and then keeping it there.

I know, because the garden I had a couple of years ago was nothing like his. At. All.

Our garden was overrun with grass astonishingly quickly, even despite my sporadic efforts to hold back the tide of Bermuda in the yard. Getting home after work held visions of resting and decompressing, not manual labor–especially in the super-humid Tennessee summers.

For Solomon, he saw a garden that looked like mine, and took a lesson from it. The slacker did not maintain his garden with a Pop-like diligence, and it was overrun and ruined as a result. The disaster that came upon him snuck up on him. It didn’t seem like much at first; it’s just a little grass and a few weeds, after all. Then, poverty and need swept over him like raiding bandits, and he was left destitute.

It is without question that Proverbs is a book of practical wisdom, but also one of wisdom that is much deeper than it appears at first glance. For Solomon, we have the account of his life; in a sad, frustrating turn of events, he did not take as much from this lesson as he ought. In whatever ways the botanical and vegetable gardens of Jerusalem may have flourished, the garden of his heart was as weedy and ruined as the slackers. Solomon himself was a spiritual slacker, and he suffered greatly for it as a result.

Solomon’s weeds and grass took the form of his 700 (!) wives and 300 (!!) concubines. Some of these marriages were no doubt the product of political treaties and negotiations; others were equally undoubtedly the simple fruit of lust. Maintaining a harem of 300 sex slaves isn’t the result of good intentions and common sense, even for the wisest man who ever lived.

Little by little, the weeds and grass of these alluring women drew Solomon away from faithfulness to Yahweh; these women from other nations worshiped other gods, and they led Solomon away from obedience and purity to idolatry. His promising garden was overwhelmed by weeds; the wall of holiness was ruined.

It is the great grace of God that Solomon’s story doesn’t end with Proverbs (lest we think he did everything perfectly); nor does it end with 1 Kings (lest we think he was hopelessly lost). It ends with Ecclesiastes, in which he records his repentance and restoration to faithfulness. At last, he finally saw the weeds for what they were and returned to the tool shed of his own proverbs to warn his sons (and us) against the very sins he committed.

For you and I, we must apply ourselves to the diligent discipline of gardening our hearts. We must not grow accustomed to the sight of weeds and grass, lest they multiply and overtake us like bandits in the night. We must see the gardens of spiritual slackers and take instruction from it.

May the great Husbandman of the Vine till our hearts and fertilize our joys to grow strong and vibrant in Him!

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