Fertilizer and Roots

Recently, Bonnie and I were planting some new bushes for our front yard.  She probably won’t agree that they are bushes, and maybe she’s right, but planting plants seems redundant.  So, they’re bushes.

I confess, I don’t have a green thumb.  Mine is the color of ignorance, whatever color that might be.  Purple maybe?  Regardless, the planting process was a learning opportunity for me.

First, I learned that the hole needs to be much larger than I expected.  The bushes came in small pots.  I figured a hole the size of the pot would make sense.  Instead, the hole was to be twice as deep and nearly three times as wide as the pot.  Made no sense to me.  But I can dig holes, so I did.

Once the holes were dug to specification, (I’m a conservative, so I used a tape measure to make certain I was precisely following the rules) pretty much all the dirt I’d just dug up was immediately put back in the hole.  This was not what I’d expected.  I’d assumed we’d be lovingly surrounding the new bushes with fertilizer.  Not so.

That’s when I learned the second thing—new bushes shouldn’t be fertilized for the first few years.  What absurdity was this?  This was too much for me to blindly accept.  Obviously, someone was playing a joke on us.  Fertilizer makes plants grow.  New bushes need to grow.  Therefore, new bushes need fertilizer.  This wasn’t rocket surgery to figure out.

“Why shouldn’t we use fertilizer?” I asked, barely restraining myself from a full-on protest.

Turns out, fertilizer does exactly what I thought it does.  It makes plants grow and have beautiful leaves.  And that’s the problem.  It makes the bushes look healthy.  For new bushes, the appearance is deceptive.  When the bush should be focused on desperately spreading out a network of roots, the fertilizer seemingly hands the bush everything it needs so the roots stay put.  It’s all about roots.  That’s why the hole was so big.  We were breaking up the ground to make it easier for the roots to grow and infiltrate the soil.

Resist the urge to fertilize new bushes so that they will have strong and healthy roots rather than simply appearing to be strong and healthy.

Isn’t this what Jesus taught us about the rocky soil in the parable of the Sower and the seed (Mt. 13:5)?  The seed that falls on the rocky soil springs up quickly (almost like it was surrounded with fertilizer).  At first, this would seem like a good thing.  But what was happening below the surface reveals the real weakness.  There are no roots.  So, when the sun beats down, the plant withers and dies. 

Jesus explained the meaning.  “The one on whom the seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receive it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away” (Mt. 13:20-21).

The temptation for new Christians is to be more focused on how we appear.  We want to look like mature Christians as soon as we come up from the water of baptism.  Don’t get me wrong, being a mature Christian is great.  It’s our goal.  But we don’t start there and we don’t get there by pretending to be mature.  What we need is to focus on the roots.  We need to focus on a deep faith in God and His word.  The more we study and accept what God has said and the more we rely on Him for all we need—the more we’ve dug deep roots and are ready for what challenges will inevitably come our way.

New Christians (and weak Christians as well) should spend less time worrying about what others think about them and more time digging into the basics of Christianity.  You could focus on attending worship service and dressing nicely.  You can focus on easily observed behavior such as avoiding swear words.  That’s got to be good, right?  But if our first focus is on behavior rather than Jesus and His word, we’ve got everything backwards.  If, at your very core, you are ignorant of God’s word, and not all that convinced of what is true and how certain God’s promises are.  Well then, you are all appearance and no roots.  And when life gets hard (which it will), that simply won’t be enough.

Focus on your roots.  If you do, maturity and spiritual health will follow.