Let me begin by saying that I am not a gardener. While I enjoy gardens, I am completely unfamiliar with any of the technical specifications that go into developing and sustaining one. I have, however, quite enjoyed researching what may obstruct the health and vitality of the plants you may wish to grow.
See, recently I have been reflecting on the Parable of The Sower, found in Matthew 13. In this parable, Jesus puts forward 4 different types of soils: the pathway, the rocky ground, the thorns, and the good soil. All have the seed sprinkled upon it, yet only two soils receive the seed. I find it intriguing that both the rocky soil and the good soil receive the word of the kingdom with joy. Both soils receive the Word and begin to live anew in God’s Kingdom. The only difference appears to be that the good soil takes the seed deeply into itself, allowing the seed to take root. As Jesus explains, it is because the rocky soil has no roots that life in the Kingdom is abandoned at the first sign of problem or difficulty. Roots sustain life.
What stops a seed from establishing roots? Arguably, this question is outside the scope of the parable itself. Still, the question intrigued me. As it turns out there are a myriad of answers. Yet topping the list perhaps is the problem of overwatering. Overwatering is one the biggest no-no’s you can do to a plant.
Rather than drowning a plant, overwatering limits the amount of oxygen available for the roots. Like all living things, plants need oxygen to survive. This oxygen is stored in small, microscopic pockets throughout the soil. The roots extract this oxygen from the soil and use it to promote the plant’s health and vitality. Overwatering fills these air-pockets with water, effectively cutting off the supply of oxygen to the plant. If you overwater a seed, roots will never be established as there is no oxygen to support root-growth. Without any air to breathe into itself the plant suffocates.
Just as our physical bodies need to breath in oxygen to survive, our spiritual lives run on the same principle. God’s indwelling Spirit animates our spiritual lives. Without the Spirit within we cannot expect our life of faith to be vibrant, healthy, or growing. Breathing in the Spirit allows the reality of God’s kingdom to establish roots in our lives.
Scripture employs a beautiful play on words when it describes God’s act of breathing the Spirit. In both the Hebrew and Greek language, the word for breath is the same word for spirit (which is the same word for wind). A great example of this is Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. In this conversation, Jesus describes how flesh gives birth to flesh, but Pneumatos (Spirit) gives birth to Pneuma” (John 3:6). When Nicodemus scratches his head, Jesus extends this play on words and begins to discuss the attributes of “wind.” “The wind blows wherever it pleases, you hear it sound, but cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going” (John 3:8). Jesus seemingly leaves his discussion of the Spirit behind to describe the activity of the wind. This may seem like a non-sequitur until you remember the play on words going on in this text. Jesus literally says “The “pneuma” where it wishes breathes (pnei).” He then he describes how we hear the wind/Spirit’s “phonon”- meaning its cry, its language, or its voice.
Putting everything together, the connection becomes clear. Nicodemus comes to Jesus with a deep yearning in his heart. Despite his opening pleasantry, his visit with the Messiah is clear. Nicodemus is spiritually restless, discouraged. He longs to know how he can live a vibrant spiritual life, a life deep in the presence and activity of God. To this longing Jesus responds by describing Nicodemus’ need to breathe in God’s Spirit, and to listen to the Spirit’s voice.
If we wish the seed of the kingdom to extend its roots into our lives, then we need to provide the spaces wherein we can breathe in the Spirit. After all, the first thing the resurrected Lord does for the disciples is to breathe on them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he says (John 20:22). The Spirit is necessary for our life of faith.
Breathing in the Holy Spirit is never a one-time thing. It is not something to which we can point to a specific date or location. To Nicodemus, and to us all, Jesus describes an ongoing, interactive, spiritual reality. Like a plant’s own need for oxygen, our spiritual lives need to be animated by the Spirit of God. If we allow the spaces of our lives to be filled up with other things, then we cut off the flow of the Spirit within.
Is this one of the things that distinguished the rocky ground from the good soil? Did the rocky ground receive the seed with joy but then subsequently cease all interaction with it? Did the rocky ground fill the air-pocket spaces with other things beside that which it needed to breathe deeply?
The good soil, however, continued to breath in the Spirit into itself. It established a dependance, not just on the seed, but on the inbreathing Spirit. The good soil relied on an active interchange between itself, the word of the kingdom, and the Spirit of life. Thus, it withstood the taunts of weeds and thorns, magpies, and harsh conditions. And it grew; its life flourished, thirty-fold, sixty-fold, and one hundred-fold.
What gets in the way of you breathing in the Holy Spirit? Is there something in your life that dampens flow of the Spirit? Are you like Nicodemus, feeling a deep desire for more in your spiritual life, but unsure exactly how to cultivate it? The good news is that the Sower has already planted the word within you, and if you allow him, he will breathe upon that seed and allow it to stretch its roots. We simply need to allow enough spaces in our lives for the Spirit to work.
Are you feeling spiritually discouraged? Do you feel like you would like a fuller, deeper, richer spiritual life, but don’t know where to start. Do you find yourself echoing the deep cry of Nicodemus? Sign up to receive my monthly encouragements and you will receive “9 Questions to ask when you are feeling Spiritually Discouraged.”