Are you a so called “green thumb”? I used to envy people who were good with plants—I saw it as a gift you either had or you didn’t.
Perhaps this attitude comes from growing up in Broken Hill, a dry, arid area of inland New South Wales. The ground there is unforgiving. The sun bakes the land. The earth is the rich ochre of oxides broken down in the soil by the heat. It’s difficult to grow anything there, and if you attempt to then you have to be ready for a fight.
I know this from watching my father watering his lawn. Whether it was by hand or by sprinkler, each inch of grass had to be meticulously watered. Any that was missed, would soon dry and die. But my father was faithful and the soundtrack of my lazy evenings was the hiss of the sprinkler as it thwacked around our front yard. Because of dad’s hard work, the lawn was immaculate. A shining emerald rectangle of barefoot joy among a sea of red dirt and hard rocks. It took me a long time to realise that people who have green thumbs put hard work into growing those precious plants. Plants have died under my watch. It turns out you are meant to care for, water and nurture them—ignoring them doesn’t work so well. In fact, plants have taught me a lot over the years.
Jesus once told a short story about a seed. The kingdom of heaven, He said, was like a mustard seed, a very tiny seed (Matthew 13:31,32) that, when fully grown is the largest of garden plants, so big that birds can perch in its branches. The size of the seed doesn’t predict the size of the plant. When we let the kingdom of heaven in, we really don’t know what we might grow into.
And that reminds me of the family cactus.
We had a cactus of some kind that lived under the garden tap. It loved the red dirt of Broken Hill, and the water that dripped from the tap kept it happy. It was a little pokey though, and its spikes would threaten to bite every time we tried to turn the tap on. I would complain to dad about it. Life would be better if we took the plant out but it just sat there—a couple of feet of nasty spikes. What was it good for? It never changed.
Then one day, after 15 years of inactivity, a stem emerged from the top of the cactus. It grew and grew higher and higher until it stood twice the height of the plant itself. I remember coming outside about a week later and the stem had burst into glorious flower. Vivid purple blooms reached for the sky. It was incredibly beautiful. Turns out all those drips from the tap were doing some good after all.
When we start following Jesus a seed is planted in us. What happens to it after that depends on whether or not it is watered. If you are going to follow Jesus, then that small “Kingdom of Heaven” seed in your life needs watering. How does that happen?
The Bible likens the word of God to water in Ephesians 5:26, describing a church made clean by a washing with the water of the Word. I think that’s how we water that mustard seed of faith.
We don’t have to grow alone though. In Ephesians 4:15 the apostle Paul says this growth is something we all do as a greater whole, a group of people the Bible calls “the church”. Jesus is the head of that group, and we grow together when we all grow to be like Him. We aren’t just off by ourselves growing alone.
Just like Christians grow better together, plants grow better in a garden. Just like the quandong bush. If you’re wondering how to say it, I pronounce it KWAN-DONG (I may even have that right). It produces a round, bright red fruit, about the size of a lychee. Most of the inside is made up of seed, the pale, yellow flesh only covering the giant seed with a small layer of tasty goodness. They are an incredible source of vitamin C as well as bursting with antioxidants. The taste is similar to rhubarb, with a sweet and sour earthy tang. You can eat the fruit raw off the tree or you can dry them and keep them for years, but for me they taste best when stewed up with a bit of sugar and baked in a pie.
While the kitchen was primarily Mum’s domain, when cooking the quandong Dad took over. He would roll up his sleeves and take a whole weekend, producing pie after pie. The stewed fruit mixed with bright white sugar would bubble up in his pot and then be ladled generously into the pie crust. With a few deft cuts of his pastry knife, he would impress a smiley face into the pie lid for good measure. Then into the oven for baking to a golden shine. With ice-cream there is nothing better.
After I had moved away from home, I couldn’t find any quandongs to eat. I couldn’t see any trees to grow at the local nursery, so I did some research. It turns out that quandong trees are notoriously hard to propagate. The quandong bush is hemiparasitic, which means that as its roots grow underground, they join and merge with the roots of neighbouring plants and it uses those roots to feed itself and grow. It can’t grow alone; it needs to grow alongside another tree or bush.
This makes the bush hard to grow commercially but perfectly suited to the difficult conditions in the outback. The bush is drought resistant and will survive soil with high salinity.
Ephesians chapter 4, verse 16 says “From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” The Him there is Jesus—He is the foundation of all Christian life. When the seed that Jesus has planted in us grows, it grows best with other people around. Lone plants will struggle, but we thrive when we, like the Quandong tree, help each other to grow. That will make us resistant to hard conditions when they come. And as a result, we will be built up in love as each of us supports the other. And of course, it means we will produce fruit.
Colossians 1:10 says that a life that is worthy is one that bears fruit. That fruit can be seen in the good things we do for others and in how our character is changed to make us complete and contributing people. Our growth in Jesus should be evident, and something that has a positive impact in the world.
My wife helped to really open my eyes to the amazing world of plants and how helpful they could be, the “good fruit” they had. I had been cooking and accidentally seared my index finger on the hot plate. Wonderful!
As I was standing there running my finger under the cold tap, waiting for it to feel better, my wife approached with a thick, green cactus leaf she had just carved off her plant outside. She skinned it and slathered the thick juice over my poor finger. That was my introduction to Aloe Vera. Where had this miraculous plant been all my life? From the outside the Aloe Vera plant may be nothing to look at, or even seem spikey and forbidding to touch, but when you see the inside you realise there are hidden riches meant to help and heal. I started telling everyone about Aloe Vera. There might be people with burned fingers who need this important information!
The Christian life is similar. Colossians 1:5,6 says that when that seed of hope in Jesus grows, it will bear fruit and grow throughout the whole world. Faith and love will spring out of you because you want to share the good news you have discovered. Paul says the people at Colossae (whom he addresses in the book of Colossians) understood how good Jesus was and the work of helping to heal, grow and be strengthened in Him—that was why they were experiencing the benefits of life that they saw as they grew into the people God created them to be.
So this good news of Jesus really is like a plant —it will spring out of the smallest thing in our lives, help us grow together with others in love, and produce amazing fruit in our lives; fruit that keeps expanding around the world, that tastes good and heals others. Sounds like a plant I would like—I just have to remember to keep watering it!
Justin Bone supports and trains pastors and congregations around Victoria for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He is passionate about helping people understand the Bible better.