[NOTE FROM JESSICA: Go here for the archive of emails from the 9-Day Prayer Challenge: June 25-July 3, 2018].
My dad, just like his father before him, has been gifted with the greenest of green thumbs. (I, on the other hand, can’t recall a time I’ve kept a plant alive for more than a month, which is really just more evidence that God appreciates irony.) During our visit to my parents’ home this summer, it’s been eye-opening watching him take care of his plants. For one, I don’t think I realized how much discipline gardening actually takes.
It takes being intentional, setting aside time to water your plants when needed, to move plants from the shade into the sun or vice versa.
It takes paying attention, recognizing when a plant is beginning to wilt, noticing when weeds are starting to grow.
It takes patience, showing up day after day to provide the best conditions for a plant to grow, even when it’s not obvious that what you’re doing makes a difference.
And in watching him garden, I’m reminded of our call to pray unceasingly, to be patient, to stay alert.
I think of Jesus telling the parable of the weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). That the specific weed that Jesus speaks of — the darnel — is a weed that looks just like wheat in its first stage of growth. I’m reminded that in our prayer, we must pay attention to those things that may resemble wheat, but given time, may in fact turn out to be weeds.
I think of Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10:14-16), who reassures us that his sheep know his voice, and who tells us he has “other sheep that do not belong to this fold,” but who also hear his voice and whom he will also lead. I’m reminded that God cannot be contained, that no group has a monopoly on God — that God speaks and leads those who are both in and out of the fold.
I think of John’s words to “test every spirit to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1-6). Even today’s reading (Matthew 7:15-20) is another reminder that even since its early days, the church has faced the challenge of discerning truth from lies:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them.Mt 7:15-16a
And in all of this, as we face situations where we stand in the midst of “the waves and every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14), let us call on the Spirit of Truth to shield us, that we might not be like infants, tossed by waves and swept along by the wind.
Let us ask the Spirit to unveil the Truth, so that we might recognize those who honor God with their lips, but whose hearts are far from God (Is 29:13), those who simply say “Lord, Lord,” but fail to do the will of the Father. May we be always sensitive and attentive to the movement of the Spirit, that we might recognize and uproot from our lives the weeds which sap the life from the real plants, those things which produce bad fruit.
And how do we distinguish the fruit of the Spirit from the works of the flesh? As Paul writes to the Galatians:
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.Galatians 5:19-23 NABRE
(Interested in reading a more accessible translation of this verse? Check out this one from The Message.)
And so we pray on this third day of our Prayer Challenge: May our actions be guided by the Spirit, who is the Light of Truth. May we become Lights to each other, as we share and pray those Scripture verses that have given us hope. Here’s a verse that one of you sent in:
Isaiah 43:1 -
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine."