Cultivate: Tilling for Hope

I don’t love cooking, but I do love eating a homemade meal. So I cook. In much the same way, I don’t love gardening, but I do love eating fresh, homegrown veggies. So I go to the farmer’s market. Ha!

However, there were a couple of summers that my gardener husband had time and energy to put in some raised beds full of vegetables. And that first year it flourished! We’d harvest dinner a few minutes before we started cooking. It was incredible! 

Maybe it was beginner’s luck? Because we never had such a bountiful load of tomatoes, peppers, and squash as we did that year. The bugs found us. The drought beat us. And the weeds–well, they got the better of us.

On a bigger scale, farmers know their crops require the water and nutrients available in the ground, so they till the dirt days before planting time so that the soil will be as soft and friable (easily crumbled) as possible. Tilling also pulverizes weeds that have popped up since the plowing. And, since weeds grow faster than crops, farmers want them gone so they don’t steal the good stuff their fruit-bearing plants need–and so they won’t crowd the crop. As Jesus said, those weedy thorns choke out the plants (Matthew 13:7, 22). 

And there’s our connection. We the field, the soil in which Jesus wants to plant His Word, can get overrun by suffocating, life-sucking weeds. It’s time to till the soil of our hearts so we can cultivate hope!

Pulling Weeds

All we have to do is look to Genesis 1-3 to see how quickly weeds can take over a garden. Only three chapters in, and weeds pop up. Weeds of doubt and pride and untruth worked together to choke out the trust Adam and Eve had in God.

Since then, the world has continued to be really good at weed growth. Weed varieties include, but aren’t exclusive to:

  • Sins that overtake our hearts and lives–others’ sin and our own. 
  • Distractions–like “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” (Matthew 13:22). 
  • “Weeds” that look to have potential so we put our hope in them–like other people, organizations, political movements, denominations, doctrine, or even (gulp) ourselves.

For Christians, the temptation is to hit our knees and start pulling at all the weeds. Everyday. All the time. But weeds are persistent and hearty, and they grow without any nurturing or effort on our part. So, we dig deeper, trying to get to the roots. We try harder. We get really tired.

Then JD Walt drops this, “The way to flourishing is not by trying to manage the weeds of sin, but rather to focus on the flourishing of the farm of the Word of God.”* And my mind is blown. “Of course!” I say to myself. When we’re pulling weeds, our eyes are focused ON THE WEEDS. The best way to kill the weeds? Focus on the seeds, the Word of God. Water them. Nurture them. Spend quality time with them. I mean, if we’re the soil, then let’s wrap ourselves around those seeds of the Word of God and enter into the symbiotic relationship where we give our all and the Word gives us Himself–all the love, all the peace, all the hope!

Photo by Zoe Schaeffer on Unsplash

Moses’ Weed Killer

When the main-man Moses steps onto the scene, the people of God–those promised to Abraham–have been enslaved by Egypt for over 400 years. After a series of miraculous signs and wonders, the Israelites are freed! They make it to Mount Sinai to worship the One True God and to receive laws that will equip them for this new way of living (Exodus 19-20). 

But, as time would quickly reveal, the people were out of Egypt, but the weeds of Egypt still grew in them. Generations of enslavement meant exposure and forced worship of the pantheon of Egyptian gods. It meant no rest or respect. It meant no free will or free thinking. It meant doing exactly what they were told and nothing more.

With their new found freedom, fear overtook the Israelites each time they faced a problem like hunger or thirst or the desire for a visible, tangible god–and it choked out all the good God wanted to do in them.

God’s Word, spoken to Moses and delivered through him to the people, became the weed killer. For forty years the Israelites weeded out the unhealthy habits that slavery had taught them. The Law planted in them a new hope in God. His Word gave them new focus and purpose.

For centuries the Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai gave shape to a nation, to a people meant to become the priesthood of God. But the law in front of them wasn’t enough to truly transform them. The Word needed to be in them (Jeremiah 31:33): Jesus, the Word (John 1:14). Jesus, the Spirit in us (1 Corinthians 3:16). Jesus, the greater Moses.

But Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a house deserves more praise than the house itself. For every house has a builder, but the one who built everything is God.

Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.

Hebrews 3:3-6, NLT

Friends, our hope in Christ is the ultimate weed killer. When we fix our eyes on Him and offer up our bodies as living sacrifices, our focus, our posture, our inner workings change. 

  • Instead of swatting at the distractions and sins, we put our energy in remaining in Christ. 
  • Instead of putting our hope in a person–that they might change or save or fix us, we put our hope in Christ. 
  • Instead of putting our hope in an organization–that they might hold us together or turn things around, we put our hope in Christ.

Only Jesus can bear the weight of the burden of being someone’s hope. He’s the only one who can always remain faithful. Only Christ can constantly be truth and grace. Only He can fix and heal and transform. (side note: That’s not to say doctors and counselors and such aren’t good and right and needed. But if we put the full weight of our hope on them alone, they’ll crumble.)

Jesus, Our Only Hope

Jesus tried to explain this tendency we all have of putting our hope in things besides Him when He addressed the Jewish leaders who balked at His claim of being God’s Son:

“Do not suppose that I will accuse you before the Father. The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me.” 

John 5:45-46 NET, emphasis mine

Whether we’re Jewish leaders of the first century or women leading families and businesses in the twenty-first century, we must refrain from putting our hope in anything but Jesus.

And it starts with recognizing who or what else we put our hope in. This was my lesson years ago when life as we’d known spiraled because of choices our son was making. In my middle of the night meeting with God, sobbing about how life wasn’t going as planned, God whispered, “Whose plan?” And from that moment on, He’s been unveiling all the ways I put my hope in the wrong places.

In that season, I was putting hope in our son to change himself as a result of consequences. I was putting hope in my carefully laid plans, in our youth director to turn our son around, and in church camp to make a holy difference. 

Hear me. All of these are good things. We need plans and our kids need consequences. We need adults who influence our kids for Jesus and mountain top experiences. But these aren’t our hope. Jesus–He is our only, true hope. 

Like those desert-dwelling Israelites, I’ve been learning these last dozen years how to recognize my natural tendency to put my hope in things besides Jesus. I’ve been walking the wilderness roads with God, dismantling old habits and learning new ones. I’ve been leaning-in to listen to God’s whispers because I loooooong to follow His way, not my own. But it takes effort–not striving in my own strength, but a holy intentionality–those “unforced rhythms of grace” I’ve come to rely on (Matthew 11:28-30).** 

Cultivating our hearts to be a fertile field for hope requires something of us. And maybe it means less effort and focus on the weed pulling and more attention on God and His Word in us. It helps to remember that if we remain fallow, unplowed and unplanted, the weeds will grow unheeded. They’ll rob us of the Word’s truths. They’ll choke out all the good Jesus has for us. 

To flourish for Christ, we need to make like a farmer and get ready for the planting by tilling the soil of our hearts with rhythms of grace that, while unforced, are built into our lives in such a way that they sustain the deeper life with Christ. And, as we do, hope will begin to sprout.

Heavenly Father, we, the field, desire to be plowed and tilled and sown with the seeds of the One Who Is Greater Than Moses. We’re tired of weeds that crowd our faith and kill our hope. We’re ready to bear fruit that matters today and for eternity. So we lay ourselves before You, asking that You would till the soil of our hearts, rooting out distractions and false hopes so that we are free to flourish for You. Lord Jesus, thank You for the parables that help us grasp how easy it is to lose the seeds of your Word that You’ve tried to plant in our hearts and minds. We confess our tendency of putting hope in our plans, in other people, and in places that were never created to bear such a load. Instead, we desire to fix our eyes and hopes on You. We want what You want, so we choose today to lay down our plans, our fears, and our doubts–and pick up faith. We put our hope in You! Holy Spirit, it’s so easy to take You for granted. As we read the stories of the Israelites as they failed over and over to love and obey God, we realize they didn’t have You dwelling within them. But we do! And that gives us so much hope because we know it’s not by our strength that we cling to the hope of Jesus–it’s by yours!! So, we put our hope in the Lord, and our strength is renewed. In Jesus’ name, amen.
(inspired by Hebrews 3:3-6; Matthew 13:1-8, 18-23; John 15:5; Psalm 92:12-15; Hebrews 12:1-2; Ephesians 6:16; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Isaiah 40:28-31)

  • 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.
    • *A quote from JD Walt in Seedbed’s Wake Up Call 10/12/22. He also asks his readers about the saying, “You reap what you sow.” If you sow nothing–what do you get? Nope, not nothing. You get WEEDS!!!
    • I loved this quote but never worked it into today’s post. So, I’ll share it here. It’s from a farming site, but I love the spiritual implications! “Fruitful gardening means learning to know what your soil needs each year.” (this site)
    • I raised my kids during the Veggie Tales heyday. And, all this writing about weeds has unearthed Larry Boy memories. If you want a smile or a fun (possibly cringy), toe-tapping tune that will stick with you for, say, twenty years, I offer you “The Rumor Weed” song.
    • And, of course our “Revival of Hope” playlist. I snuck another song in the mix, “My Hope Is in Jesus” by Hillsong Worship. It’s opening lyrics pull from Psalm 20:7, and the song paints the picture of how easily we put our hope, or trust, in things other than God. But Jesus is our hope!
  • Rhythms
    • **Unforced rhythms of grace are those practices we weave into our lives in a more rhythmic fashion–less forced, more flowing. One rhythm we could lean deeper into this week is to dig into one verse or passage or chapter of Scripture–not so much to glean information but to soak in its life-giving truths. If you need some suggestions: Psalm 92, Isaiah 55:8-13, or John 15:5-8.
    • One rhythm we can employ ANYTIME our minds wander or our hearts falter is to repeat this specific truth that quickly gets us back in sync with Jesus’ heart and mind: “Jesus, I belong to You.” (Many thanks to JD Walt for this aligning truth, which–I think–got started here and has been our rhythm since!)
  • 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 me! Taken in Santa Fe, NM — at the their Farmer’s Market (ha! Of course!)

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.

2 thoughts on “Cultivate: Tilling for Hope

  1. Thank you, Shelley! This spoke especially true to me today. I’ve been beating myself up about my bad habits. I continually think, “Tomorrow, I will start afresh.” But, as you say, if I put my focus on the seeds, it will be a more organic and spiritually-minded shift of habits. Thank, as always, for sharing your gifts!

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