Finding Faith in the Garden

by Libby Slaughter on

Articles 14 min read
Matthew 13:3–23

I often walk into my garden to wander and poke around (literally to poke things), to feel the sunshine on my face and see how my plants are coming along. I snap the dead flowers off my cosmos and zinnias, tie up a new shoot on my cucumber. Sitting in the garden makes me breathe deep, smile and rest. But my battle to get the garden to flourish in Texas is what most people don’t see. It is literally blood, sweat, and sometimes even tears. (Yes, I cried when one of my roses died from Rose Rosette. Look it up before you plant roses!) As I put on my gloves and pick up my spade to step onto the battleground, I realize how far we’ve come from Eden.

Between pests, weeds, weather, and disease, the natural course of a garden on this earth is now chaos and death amidst the shadowed beauty of God’s original design. And as I think about the garden and God’s creation, various spiritual truths surface through this toilsome but rewarding hobby.

Good Soil

Every spring, I begin by designing my garden in a way that gives it a chance to survive the elements. My mom is a master gardener and she will tell you that the most important preparation you can do is in the soil. It’s the foundation and if that part isn’t healthy, your plants won’t be either. If I’m planting in existing soil, I clear out the weeds and always amend the soil, which involves adding nutrients to support plant growth.

Jesus already gave us a direct correlation to soil in our spiritual life in Matthew 13 with the parable of the sower. I think it’s good to consider whether or not we have one of these foundational heart issues in our own faith. Do you lack understanding that makes you vulnerable to the enemy’s lies? Are your roots shallow, making you vulnerable to the heat of life’s problems that may scorch and wither your faith? Do you have any distractions or thorny pursuits in life that could choke out your faith? If so, you can “amend the soil.” Gain understanding of God, grow your spiritual roots, remove distractions. This could mean adding some spiritual disciplines to your life like Bible study, Bible memorization, prayer, service, fellowship, fasting, gratitude, worship, silence. Spiritual fruit will come when we plant ourselves in the rich soil of faith-boosting habits especially early in our faith journey. This will give us a fighting chance to weather the spiritual storms and take root.

A prayer for good soil: Father, I want to thrive and grow stronger in my faith. Lead me in preparing rich soil for Your work in my life and protect me from busyness or temptations that distract me from You. Keep me sensitive to the leading of Your Spirit as You protect and cultivate my heart for Your purposes. Amen.


The very first task I have after planting is watering. If I’m not ready to commit to watering daily, I need to wait to plant. If even a day goes by in Texas without watering, my plants will shrivel. This year, I planted three stevia plants and failed to water the next day, and I lost two of them! Every day after that, I tried to revive them, but it was too late. They were declared dead on the scene and removed a week later.

As water is vital for the life of plants, so is the Word of God for the heart of believers. John 1:14 tells us, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” referring to Jesus. So when we read and internalize the Word of God, we connect to Christ Himself. And Jesus said in John 7:37,If anyone is thirsty let him come to Me and drink.” Drink deeply from the Word and your heart will be satisfied. Psalm 119 describes God’s Word as a counselor, a lamp to guide us, the heart’s delight, our source of hope, life and strength.

Consider this verse, “If your instructions hadn’t sustained me with joy, I would have died in my misery” (Psalm 119:92). We need God’s Word consistently to refill our dry and shriveling hearts (Jeremiah 31:25). If I go one day without a good connection with the Lord and His Word, I lose a bit of hope and sensitivity to God’s Spirit in me. I’m more irritable, tempted to sin, and spiritually sluggish. Without repeated exposure and knowledge of the Bible, we can forget the Truth and veer from God. We are still flesh and our flesh is naturally wicked. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” Our very heart’s delight is available to us! Let us store the Word in our hearts, put it before our eyes, listen, learn, dig deep and receive the Lord’s fresh water day by day.

A prayer for water: Lord, my soul is thirsty for more of you. Fill me with hope and delight by Your Word. Use it to counsel and strengthen me, to light my path and lead me. Help me fight distractions and make the time to get Your Word planted in my heart and mind. Amen.

Companion Planting

Not long after planting my garden each year, it seems, a new form of pestilence lurks on my precious plant babies. Just when I think I’m ready for the standoff, the next year it’s a different opponent and I have to go back to research and pick up new weapons of war. First it was the fourlined bug, then spider mites, then aphids, then mealy bugs and slugs. I can’t wait to garden in heaven where I’ll never see another aphid again! I digress. Like pests and disease, our sin can be unexpected and creep up on us if we’re not careful. Sin eats away at the vine of my faith, my joy, my peace. If left untreated, it can spoil the spiritual fruit I once had in my life. And, until we reach our eternal home with God, we’re never immune to it. In Genesis 4, the Lord says to Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” Mastery requires preparation and practice.

One way I prepare myself for the onslaught of pesky temptations is to surround myself with Jesus-loving friends who can receive my confession and walk with me in my battle against it (1 John 1:9). In the garden, this is called “companion planting.” Did you know that if you plant a French marigold next to a tomato or garlic near your squash, it will repel destructive insects? Alternately, a milkweed plant near your tomatoes will attract butterflies and bees that can pollinate them and enhance their fruitfulness. “Companion planting” is like a confessional and committed faith community that attracts what you need to thrive and repels what will hurt you. The people we put around us can either invite sin or repel it as we do life together. If I need encouragement to read my Bible or make sacrifices for the sake of gospel, I need to surround myself with like-minded believers who can encourage these traits in me. Like Hebrews suggests, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

I’ve been in a Bible Study with about 10 other women for a couple of years now and we have become close from a deep study of God’s Word together, but also by shouldering each other’s burdens. We confess sin and listen with compassion. We put up a fight with prayer and fasting and encourage each other with Bible verses or worship songs. We offer safe listening ears and follow-up to help protect one another, usually through a very active text thread! When we plant ourselves in a community that practices the ways of God, our hearts will flourish. Remember how the early church flourished in Acts 2: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” And in James 5:16,Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” We’re not alone in our fight against sin and brokenness. We tell each other the truth, especially in the face of lies and threats from the enemy. And we pollinate, or encourage, holy habits to multiply God’s work in each other.

A prayer for companions: Father, make me a strong and willing companion for those around me who need support with sin or life issues, who need a friend or a meal. Set me in community to strengthen and protect my faith and use me to grow and protect the faith of others. Amen.


Another beautiful aspect of companion planting is the collaboration of nearby plants to aid in each other’s growth and produce more quality nutrients together than apart. One example is the “3 sisters”: corn, beans and squash. The corn grows tall so the beans can climb on it and not get choked out by the squash, the beans add much needed nitrogen into the soil, and the large squash leaves create shade, which helps retain soil moisture and prevents weeds for all three. Each plant has different features which aid in better growth and fruit long term for all the plants. Doesn’t this sound like the body of Christ? We all use our spiritual gifts to work together in order to produce fruit for God’s kingdom.

I am a good support person, but I’m not a great starter. My friend Millie is a starter. She is gifted in visionary movement building/church planting, and I am more gifted with in-the-moment, on-the-ground ministry with people (wisdom and teaching if we’re talking spiritual gifts). I want to be a part of Christ’s exciting Kingdom work, but I need something to climb on (the bean plant in this scenario). So I try to do life in close proximity with those starting movements that impact our world with the gospel. And it’s so fun when everyone is operating out of their gifts! We are healthier and happier for it and we produce a lot more fruit than when we are alone. No one has to wilt from the sun or flail and wander or get crowded out. When the body of Christ is operating in a healthy way, there is a place for everyone to serve and contribute. We are given specific gifts, so that the body of Christ can be built up in unity of faith, the knowledge of the Son of God, become mature, attaining the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13).

A prayer for spiritual gifts: Lord, reveal to me what gift You’ve given me to share with the body of Christ. Where are You leading me to offer my skills to support, to lead, to care for your Church and your mission? Use my life to support Your work in unity with my brothers and sisters that You might be made known and be glorified in our world. Amen.


One of the hardest things for me to do in the garden, besides the back-breaking spreading of mulch, is prune or thin my plants. I love my plants. I pet my plants. I post photos of them on Instagram. I clean them up and walk among them daily to observe and care for them. I know their weaknesses, their quirks, and their star qualities, and to cut part of them off is painful. But I know they will flourish and produce better fruit if I do. So for the sake of a healthier plant, I prune. At the beginning of spring everything gets a big cut. If I don’t thin my irises, they won’t bloom because they’re not getting enough air or nutrients. My begonia will get leggy and look sick. The wisteria literally climbs into my gutters if left to its own devices. Some things die in the winter and just need to be removed.

It’s part of the seasonal cycle, as it is with our spiritual life and habits. We must cut out habits, sins, people, or places that might divide our energies or keep us from growing more fully in Christ. If we’re not careful to keep a surrendered heart and seek God’s leading in what to prune from our lives, we could eventually become fruitless. You might ask, What habits are growing my faith and what habits are hurting it? Where have things gotten stagnant or overgrown? Is it social media, a hobby, kids’ activities, secret sin?

Maybe there is someone in my life who is consistently trying to pull me into activities that are tripping me up and aren’t honoring to the Lord. Perhaps for a time, that relationship needs a break to really focus on purifying my life in Christ. This doesn’t mean we abandon relationships with all people who aren’t living a godly life. Jesus spent a lot of his time with this crowd. But if the amount of time you spend with someone or the way you spend time is compromising your relationship with Christ, it’s worth evaluating whether or not the Lord would have you continue in that relationship (especially a dating relationship).

Our willingness to let God cut things out of our lives in order to produce more fruit us is what Jesus talked about in John 15. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful…Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” Our part is to remain in Christ. Simply trust Him and keep our hearts available to His shaping, and sometimes painful, pruning.

A prayer for pruning: Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)

As I write this, it is springtime and the garden is beginning to fill out. My peonies are in full bloom and the lemon tree fills my patio with a sweet scent. The herbs, flowers and veggies with their lush green foliage are the perfect playground for the butterflies and bees. I’m still looking daily on my parsley for the caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly and spraying for spider mites which seems to be the pest for this year. And now in this moment wherever we are, God, our gardener, is with us, ready to tend to our hearts. He walks with us, He lifts up our fledgling vines, and deadheads our sins with great care. He treats our wounds and wards off the enemies that eat away at us. The Lord is a patient gardener, and I hope we will be willing recipients of his good care, that we might flourish and bloom in the warmth of His glorious presence.

Note: For additional gardening tips, see the companion article, “Notes for Gardeners.”

About the Author

Libby Slaughter is Communications Director at Central Bible Church.