This is something I've been kicking around for a few days in my head, and you may have seen it in before in comments on other sites. But here it is.
My mother had a garden when I was in high school. It only lasted one year, but we ate fresh green onions and cherry tomatoes, so she was very proud of it.
That summer, I was given weed duty. I had to go pull weeds on a semi-regular basis. Remember, this is Texas in July. It got hot. It was bad enough with the lawn. The weeds were just too much. At least that's how it felt. I hated doing it. I still hate weeding. Annoys me. That's one of the benefits of apartment life, I find.
This past weekend, I heard a speaker talk about how our actions are often the result of our beliefs, and that our beliefs are born of our thoughts. The process being, a thought left alone is cemented as belief, and beliefs over time produce action.
This got me thinking about weeds. When weeds are small, they're easy to pull. They're not strong enough to take root, and they haven't really attacked the healthy plant. However, the longer you leave a weed alone, the firmer it anchors itself, and the more it starts to threaten the health of the nearby plants. Then, if you really let it go, it becomes one of those scary killer weeds with the bristly stalk that's about the diameter of a quarter, and that sucker not only takes a lot of effort to dislodge, but it ends up ripping a huge hole in your garden, uprooting the healthy plants nearby (the ones that it hasn't already drained the life out of).
You can see where I'm going with this, right? Well, I never claimed to be particularly original.
Negative thoughts, sinful and tempting thoughts, wrong perceptions or attitudes, wrong views of self or others or God--these are our weeds. And we can either pull them early and easily, or we can pull them late, and risk ripping up whatever good things are developing in our lives.
Here's what occurred to me: there's a trade-off involved. The smaller the weed, the easier to pull, but you have to work twice as hard to catch them early. If you're lazier, you wait much longer before addressing the issue, but you risk more difficulty and damage. You also risk only pulling up the top part of the weed, and leaving the root there to sprout later and do more damage (in other words, addressing the behaviors but not the cause).
So if we are to root out the sin in our lives, the negativity, the fear and hatred and anger that creep up, we have to do so by constantly being on the lookout. By rejecting these thoughts, and making them captive to Christ, by replacing lies and untruth with Truth. This is a constant process, not something we do in waves, every few weeks or months.
And that's the hard part. Not knowing what the weeds are. Not knowing what to do. Just putting in the time and effort and diligence to do it.
That's where I'm at right now. I don't spend enough time pulling weeds.
UPDATE: You know, as I reread this, I was struck with how incredibly works-based and graceless it sounded.
So here's the other side of the coin: I'm not going to be able to pull all the weeds fast enough. I'm just not. I'm not that good. I'm not that strong. There are going to be times when I will work so hard at tending to the "weeds" I see, that I forget to water and feed the good plants that are growing. When I will run myself into the ground trying to do so much, that I don't allow growth to occur at all.
Okay, okay, enough analogy...
The garden--my heart, my mind--is God's. It is covered by His grace. And when I falter and fail (which is hourly), His grace is sufficient in my weakness.
No one can make themselves perfect through an act of will or determination. Ben Franklin couldn't do it. I can't do it. You can't do it. We are broken. Always were, always are. Even at our best, we're still broken and in need of salvation.
What I think I was getting at is that there still has to be some effort on my end of it. Pursuing the knowledge of and relationship with the Holy God means that I can give no place in my life to falsehood and evil. I have to "take thoughts captive"--that's not just a passive idea; it implies that I am hunting them down, doesn't it?
So the weeding analogy isn't about becoming perfect by my own strength--it's about constantly submitting myself to Christ, and daily putting to death my own sinful nature and agenda for the sake of His righteousness. Weeding in that context means finding every thought, every notion, that runs counter to the work of Christ in my life, and applying Scripture to it, so that the destructive can die and the life-giving can grow.
The danger is that we can become so works-focused in how we see the Christian journey that we think that our garden is for the purpose of killing weeds instead of growing fruit. That's the real purpose: growth. Relationship. The Destroyer sows weeds in our life to try to stop that growth. Our job is to guard the work of God in our lives, to cultivate disciplines and habits that produce growth, so that we may experience life with God as best as we can on earth.
I don't want you to be confused or discouraged by the first half of this post. I may end up pulling it down completely, because it started saying something I didn't really intend for it to.
But the fact is, we all have a weed problem. Works is not the answer. Lack of works is not the answer. Following Christ is the answer. And following Christ means combining obedience with faith, works with grace, so that we don't swing to either extreme and miss the point.