Cultivate: Plowing for Hope

One winter I had the inspired idea to plant tulip bulbs in the hard, red dirt of Oklahoma. I went into the project thinking I’d dig some holes, drop in some bulbs, and wait for spring. But what transpired was HARD WORK. 

My little spade proved quite inadequate, especially used by my scrawny-mom arms. I would ineffectively push and stab at the ground in my attempts to break through its solid crust. My husband came to the rescue with his full-sized shovel and put his whole self into getting that little plot of ground broken up enough for me to dig my holes. 

Despite this project being much more involved than I’d imagined, I kept the end in mind with each back-breaking scoop of clay-dirt. I really wanted blooming tulips in the spring–their colorful heads announcing winter’s end. So I didn’t give up.

While my tiny tulip garden is a fraction of the size of a farm, my experience has helped me not only appreciate farmers but realize that growing fruit and flowers is a process. And it all starts with the soil.

So, as we set out to foster the growth of hope in our lives, the soil of our hearts must first be cultivated by God. 

Plowing the Fields

It helps us to stop here and acknowledge that WE are neither the gardener, the sower, the seed, or the fruit. Friends, we are the field.* We are the dirt that must get broken up, softened, cultivated.

When farmers want to create a new field or revive a fallow, unused or unproductive, field, they start by clearing the land of trees and underbrush. Then the dirt work begins–with plowing. First, a plow known as the subsoiler “breaks the fallow ground at its depths, turning the field upside down. Then there is the disc, which breaks up the slabs of packed soil into smaller clods.”** What Larry could do with his shovel, farmers must do with really big machines. 

In this labor-intensive practice of getting land prepared for planting, the farmers and their tools put forth all the effort. The soil–it submits to the plowing, giving itself over to the work. Likewise, the Gardener does all the work on our hearts. We simply allow Him to do it.

Just as removing the hard, crusty layer of earth opens up spaces for better air and water penetration, I’ve felt God’s plow gently, yet firmly, chip away at my stubborn pride and plans. His plow is breaking open my heart that was once closed, guarded against disappointment. With each turn of the soil, my heart is freer–and I’ve noticed… 

  • how much more deeply I feel His love. Seriously, when I sit with Him or worship Him, there are days that I just weep with gratitude as His love floods me. 
  • how much more His Word penetrates my heart, making me aware of where I need His truth in my life. 
  • how my heart retains the nutrients of His Word–those verses that used to be so hard to “memorize” have started planting themselves and taking root in my being so that they are becoming part of who I am.

The more I give myself to the Gardener’s work, the more I experience His presence and preparations. Then on days when things fall apart, my heart is less likely to leap to my former habits of jumping into planner-mode as my way of coping. Rather, I can hope against hope that God is faithful. And present. And hard at work–even when I can’t see it. Even when circumstances seem impossible.

Hope Against Hope

We can look back to the Old Testament at Abraham and see a man who chose to follow God at all costs. When God said pack up and move your family–oh, and I’ll tell you where to go later–Abraham said yes (Genesis 12:1, 4). When God wanted to make a covenant with Abraham, God promised that Abraham would be the father to many people and nations–as many as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5). 

Abraham agreed to follow and obey this invisible God (v.6)–even though not one child had been born to him and his wife. He could have given up hope for a son, yet Abraham did not. In fact, Paul says, “Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations” (Romans 4:18 NLT). Because God said so. 

In God’s timing, Abraham’s son, Isaac, was born. And from him came Jacob, then the twelve sons who became the tribes of God’s nation–one of whom was Judah, the ancestor of Jesus the Messiah. So, friends, count the stars.*** We are numbered among them as Abraham’s descendants. 

Hope is defined as a feeling of anticipating a future that is better than the present.**** For Abraham, this hope for a future that was better than his childless-present proved fruitful because his “hope against hope” was not in his circumstances but in his most faithful God (Romans 4:18 NRSV). 

Abraham is noted as a man of great faith because over and over he put his hope in God (Hebrews 11:8-12). And God always proves faithful–so we have reason to hope.

Plowing Our Hearts

It’s for this hope that we can surrender our hearts to God’s work. We can trust He knows what we need. And what we don’t.

When a field is plowed, rocks and chunks of old trees hiding deep in the dirt are discarded–thus removing everything that would prevent future plant growth, giving roots space to dig deep and shoots freedom to grow upwards toward the sun.** Our hearts are no different.

As the Gardener has plowed my heart, I’ve become more aware of the obstacles to growing deeper in Him and closer to Him. Distractions, like the scrolling of social media or the lure of planning coffee dates every afternoon, can hinder my spirit’s connection with His. That’s not to say connecting with people on our phones or over a hot cup of tea is bad. But for me, I can fill up everyday so fast that I never spend a second of it with the One I love.

So, the more I surrender my heart to obstacle removal, the more room I have for God. Without all the distractions, I rest better in Him because I’m rooted in Him. My eyes are freer to fix on my Savior, and I am better able to align my heart with His. 

Photo by Miriam G on Unsplash

With God at the plow (not me!), the field of my heart gets softer. I become more willing to trust and obey Him with each decision and every uncertainty. And as I do, I get to see how faithful He still is–just as He was in Abraham’s day. 

Friends, we want solid, godly hope! We desire to grow and be fruitful for our Father. We long to become more and more like Jesus. But, if we forget that fruit is not the first step in the process but the final one, discouragement is sure to be borne. 

Instead, let’s think on all that must happen before the seeds are ever planted–let’s remember that this spiritual life we lead is a process. To bear the fruit we long for, we must start with the soil of our hearts. We must, ourselves, become the soil for the Gardener to plow, surrendering to His work of turning over the hard places and removing the obstacles. As we do, we’ll persevere in our practices and rhythms with hope. Because God is our hope.

Father God, You are the Gardener. We are the soil in which You toil. You plow up the hardest sections of our hearts, not to punish us, but to prepare us. To cultivate us. To free us. In your omniscience, You know everything about us–even the layers of our hearts that resist your presence and holy work. But, today, we surrender our hearts to You, trusting that with You at the plow, true cultivation will take place. Lord Jesus, You have firsthand knowledge of such hard, rocky soil. It’s why You spoke in parables about the soil being our hearts and the seed being your Word. You have always known that obstacles like rocks can block the roots of our faith from growing. You have always known that bad soil will prevent our faith in You from ever taking root. So, we confess to You all the distractions that keep us from rooting deeply in your love. We confess that we’ve allowed a hard shell to grow around our hearts out of fear. Today, we claim the promise that your perfect love casts out fear! Holy Spirit, we know that we need to surrender our hard hearts to God’s plowing so that You can penetrate with your work of healing, restoration, and sanctification. We ask that You would meet us where we are, helping us to trust that God is faithful and trustworthy. Help us put our hope in God! Jesus, we belong to You. And it is in your name we pray, amen.
(Inspired by John 15:1; Jeremiah 31:12; Psalm 139; Matthew 13:18-23; 1 John 4:18; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Titus 3:5; Isaiah 40:31) 

  • Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
    • *Jennifer Dukes Lee said this in her book, Growing Slow.^ Last year I had the enormous blessing of going through an online course with Jennifer, a woman who wears many hats: writer, editor, mother, and wife of a farmer. So, her book pulls in all the farm imagery as a way to help us lean into this spiritual growth with patience and fortitude. She’s also an amazing follow on Instagram. In fact, she quoted her own book on Insta back in August: “God says you’re a field. He knows the lay of the land that makes you you. He knows exactly how to care for you, cultivate you, and grow you. As long as there is soil, God is always planting.” (It still inspires me!)
    • **A quote from JD Walt in Seedbed’s Wake Up Call (10/19/22). He also says things like: “Fruit is the end of the process, not the beginning. Fruit is not instant. It takes time. Fruit is not ‘produced,’ rather it is borne. And remember, we are not the fruit. The fruit is borne through our lives. Nor are we the seed. And we are certainly not the gardeners. We are the garden. We are the seedbed. …I see the sower as Jesus, the Father as the gardener, the Word of God as the seed, and the Holy Spirit as the waterer and the water.” In later posts of the same series, he brings home the idea of roots and shoots, language that has really stuck with me.
    • ***I have had the We the Kingdom album on replay for a couple of weeks now. Take a listen. You’ll thank me later. 😉 When you do, you’ll notice it has an incredible song entitled, “Count the Stars.” Hear it as God speaking over you. Just wow.
    • ****The Bible Project has a great video on biblical Hope. It gives an overview about hope’s use in the Old and New Testaments and helps us grasp how godly hope differs from the world’s.
    • And, of course our “Revival of Hope” playlist. (When We the Kingdom isn’t playing, this is!!)
  • Rhythms
    • We really do want to persevere in our rhythms. Be intentional every day this week to sit with Gardener God and ask Him to do His work on (and in) your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you trust God and to surrender to the process of having the hard, rocky places of your heart broken up and softened–making it ready for the seeds of God’s Word to root themselves in you.
    • A rhythm that JD Walt has offered up is a simple yet imperative one if we’re to enter fully into this growing process with God. It’s repeating, “Jesus, I belong to You,” every chance you get. Then if you really want to jump into the deep end speak aloud, “Jesus, WE belong to You.” This little truth, planted in our hearts and minds, does its own work of rooting out lies and untruths that block our growth in God. We are created for community–we are part of the starry host of a family that God promised Abraham.
  • And, as community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others. Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light into the world! 

Featured Photo by Wai Siew on Unsplash
^affiliate links with which I may earn a bit

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

7 thoughts on “Cultivate: Plowing for Hope

  1. Let’s hear it for scrawny mom arms! They might not be good for digging, but they are great for hugs and holding babies etc! We dug up an area along a fence line on our property in the fall of last year and planted tulips. It was amazing when they came up in the spring. (Which here where I live in the Colorado Rockies is May 25th!) Then my husband let the cows out to graze and they ate the tops off all of them! So we got to enjoy the blooms for about 2 weeks!

      1. And I am putting my scrawny mom arms to work this winter shoveling snow! We already have 5 feet at our ranch, and at least two more months of snowy weather!

  2. Your prayer had the words I could not express.
    “surrendering to His work of turning over the hard places and removing the obstacles. As we do, we’ll persevere in our practices and rhythms with hope. Because God is our hope.” 🙌💜
    This is not easy, but I know it is necessary. Thank you!!

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