August 23, 2004
Encouragement for Today

Friends Like a Garden 
Van Walton - Member of Speaker Team, Director of Spanish Ministries

Key verse:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1 (NRS)


Devotion:

The other day a group of gardening girlfriends gathered to refurbish a friend's yard after a season of neglect due to family illness.  I went over to do hard labor but, as I bent over vines gone wild and scattered twigs, I understood there were lessons to be learned while I knelt in the garden.  Yes, sweat was pouring from my brow, my hands were dirty, and my knees were being tested, but I was also learning how to be a real friend.

It may seem that a real friend is the one who jumps in to help by preparing a meal, caring for a child, picking up the mail, or vacuuming a neglected floor. The question I began to consider as I dug deep into dirt was, "How do I measure up, when it comes to true friendship, not just the surface stuff, but matters that motivate the heart?"

As I pulled, tidied, trimmed, snipped, dug, and planted I realized that true friends get on their knees together agreeing to participate in some dirty work if they expect to grow in godliness and attract others to our Lord's kingdom.   So what is the dirty work?   

Each one of us was given a task. Some trimmed vines and bushes.  Others gathered misplaced limbs or raked up piles of leaves. Everywhere out-of-control weeds needed to be yanked out of the ground. The most enjoyable chore was to mix fresh dirt with nutrients and fertilizer, planting lilies and daisies.  The job that made the greatest statement in the yard was the one of creating the borders. A lot of raking, digging and trimming clearly defined the flower beds and pointed out the clean cut walkways while the borders set apart the highlights of the landscape.

Friendships are a lot like gardening. We need to dig deep to understand one another. Sometimes it is important to weed out seemingly unimportant habits that, when they take control, might destroy or distort a relationship. Gossip and grumbling must be removed immediately or they can consume entire communities.  The toughest responsibility in healthy relationships is that of creating and maintaining boundaries. Neglect the borders and we risk losing respect for one another. Ignore the fine lines and it becomes easier and easier to take advantage of good nature and generosity. A strong personality like a hearty vine can creep into the life of a friend and wind its way around to manipulate and eventually choke her.

A yard with its flowers, borders, walks, steps, paths, decks, fences, bushes, trees, and benches must be tended or it becomes unmanageable. It is the same with friendships.  I have become too comfortable allowing weeds to take root in conversations.  Rather than pulling the weeds out as soon as they were noticed I have allowed gossip and grumbling to become the theme of my conversation. On other occasions, I have remained silent, enabling my neighbor to carry on about material possessions that have become her key to happiness. I know there is a constructive way I could have reached out and helped to dig up that which would bring death, but I just stood by, preferring to stay clean rather than helping her remove the ugly non productive stalks in her life.

Before we left, we swept away the dirt, exposing inviting walkways. We raked the leaves, uncovering vibrant ground cover. We blew off the debris leaving a hospitable and fresh landscape.  We were content with our labor. More so, I was confident that I had learned a life-long lesson. Just as a garden needs to be tended, so do relationships. I want to keep a steady watch over the people I love, making sure the boundaries are respected, but more importantly, keeping the undesirable from taking over.  And I want them to do the same for me. That's what friendship and gardening are all about.


My prayer for today:

Creator God, You worked in the garden and said it was good.  I want to mature in Your garden, growing in godliness, establishing healthy relationships. When my sister approaches me to trim out the excess, remove the dead, or pull up the trivial remind me to accept the discipline with gratitude, knowing that the landscape of my life will be a fresh oasis for those seeking rest from the wilderness of life.


Application steps

Keep a short account of your relationships.

Evaluate your time spent with friends. Is it constructive or destructive? Explain.


Reflection points

How do I define friendship?

Does my social life fall within my relationship with Christ or outside of my devotion to Him?

Is it important to me that my friends have a commitment to the Lord?

How do I perform a cleanup in my "garden"?

How willing am I to hold my friendships to a high and holy standard of behavior? 


Power verses

And a wise friend's timely reprimand is like a gold ring slipped on your finger. Proverbs 25:12 (The Message)

Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another. Proverbs 27:17 (NRS)

Be alert. If you see your friend doing wrong, correct him. If he responds, forgive him. Luke 17:3 (The Message)

We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, and be patient with all men.  See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men. 2 Thessalonians 5:14-15 (NAS)

Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works...  Hebrews 10:24 (RSV)


Additional resources

P31 Woman Magazine
http://www.gospelcom.net/p31/resources/p31woman.html

The Art of Helping by Lauren Littauer Briggs
http://www.gospelcom.net/p31/resources/helping.html

Leading Women to the Heart of God by Lysa TerKeurst
http://www.gospelcom.net/p31/resources/leadingwomen.html

How to Have Healthy Relationships Tape Set by Mary Southerland
http://www.gospelcom.net/p31/resources/healthyset.html