Late last year a coworker friend of mine randomly gifted me a tiny little plant with little yellow flower buds. It was the cutest little plant in this tiny planter. I named it “Buddy” (don’t judge me). Buddy was adorable–the little plant that could. You should know that I don’t really have a green thumb. In fact, I’m kind of a plant killer (again, don’t judge me). I try to keep them alive, because I honestly LOVE plants and nature, but God knows, I’m just no good at it!
Anyway, I watered Buddy every couple of days, but over time, he began to blend in to the general scenery of my desk space. I would forget to water it and slowly but surely, the little yellow flower buds that I loved so much began to dry up and wither.
One day my coworker noticed the state of Buddy and gave me a pretty good scolding about being careless about maintaining Buddy’s health and growth. This cute little plant with sweet little sunshine buds was now all skimpy green branches with not a bud in sight.
As I think of Buddy, it’s impossible not to draw the parallel between its growth and maintenance and the growth and maintenance of my own heart. You see, just like we need to tend to a plant by watering, pruning and sometimes replanting into deeper, richer soil in order to maintain its growth, we have to tend to the health of our heart to maintain the health and growth of our lives.
In my last post I talked about three characteristics we can be developing as we grow healthy, strong roots. Now, I’d like to share three things we can constantly be doing to maintain our healthy growth now and as we move forward into all that God has ahead for us.
1. Heart Checks: You can only gauge the health of your heart if you check it constantly. The Bible says that “from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34), and it also says in Proverbs 4:23 to guard our heart because everything we do flows from it. A healthy heart is paramount to healthy growth and healthy leadership.
Here are a few ways we can maintain a healthy heart: checking it with The Word (which is a mirror-James 1:22-25), having accountability in our lives (people who we trust to be honest with us and with whom we can be fully transparent, people who we are humble enough to take correction and direction from), and being teachable.
Here are a few questions we can ask ourselves to gauge the health of our hearts:
-How do I react to correction from my leader/boss?
-How do I handle conflict or confrontation with someone I’m leading or leading with?
-What have I been learning lately?
Teachable people are great leaders because teachable people learn and people who learn, grow. If you haven’t been learning lately, you’re probably not doing a good job of being teachable/growing.
5. Be a Branch. Being a branch is all about being rooted in relationship with God. He’s the vine and we’re the branch. We grow and we bear fruit only when we’re attached to him. There’s a twofold point I’d like two make here, so forgive me the multiple metaphors. We know that a branch without a life source (vine/tree) withers and dies–that’s why we must remain connected to Jesus, the Vine, thriving in his presence. Also, the branch doesn’t get to choose the type of fruit it produces. Follow me for a sec…a lemon tree produces lemons from its branches and an apple tree produces apples from its branches. Now, we’re all called to bear GOOD fruit, but the way we do it will look different. A lemon tree branch can’t say, “I’m tired of producing lemons, I’d like to produce apples now.” I’m being facetious about apples and lemons, but the Bible puts it this way:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 1 Corinthians 12:14-20 (read 12:12-31)
Understanding that there are different members of the body and we each have our role in the Body is absolutely crucial to healthy growth and healthy living. Why? Because God wants us to flourish in the unique ways that he’s prepared for us and in the gifting that he’s given each of us. Also, understanding this makes us effective leaders because we are able to identify and build up these unique things in those we lead. So be rooted in relationship with God through reading the Bible and prayer, but also identify, develop and exercise the unique gifts that he’s given you. Steward well what he’s given you so that you can grow and bear the good fruit he would have you produce in yourself and in others.
6. Savor the Seasons: We do this by learning the lessons in the space that we’re in now. I’m full of metaphors today, so here’s one more for the taking: I like to think of every life-season as an actual season (Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring). Each season has its own defining hallmarks. For example, what is Fall without Pumpkin-spice everything? Or hello late Spring aka strawberry season! Get where I’m going with this? I don’t expect to have good pumpkin bisque in the summer, because it isn’t the season for pumpkins. Savoring our seasons means getting out of our current season exactly what we should be getting out of it. As much as I wish we could skip ahead to Spring, we have to get through the Winter first.
The good news is that God doesn’t waste our seasons and there are lessons to be learned in the Spring as well as the Winter. Although every season may not be pleasant, don’t be quick in trying to move on because you will miss out on the benefits to be gleaned from where you are now.
Single? It’s a season (maybe one that will last your lifetime–hello, people with the gift of celibacy!). Financially tight? It’s a season that could very likely be the perfect time to pick up some financial planning materials and learn ways to steward whatever you do have, even better. Married with young children? It’s a season. They’ll grow and go to college and maybe have families of their own one day, but right now as you change diapers at 2 AM, what can you learn in this season? Interning at a law firm with your heart set on making partner one day? It’s a season, be faithful in it, be excellent in it. Your excellence in the small things will open doors for greater things!
Excellence isn’t about the task at hand. Excellence is a character trait and a state of mind–whatever we set our hands to, we should do well and as for the Lord. Whether small or large, glamorous or mundane, visible or behind the scenes, making the most of our seasons is part of stewarding our seasons well.
The Bible says there’s a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Regardless of the season we are in, let’s take time to glean and take time to grow. Not every season is a fruit bearing season, but every season has its designated purpose. Some seasons are for sowing, some are for sprouting and others are for reaping. Here are some questions we can be asking as we find ways to savor our season:
-God, what would you have me learn in this season?
-God, how can I steward this season well?
-God, how can I help/serve someone else in a season like mine?
Friends, growth is good, but growth without maintenance will not be long lasting, and like Buddy, our progress will quickly start to wither. The truth is, God is behind our growth. Growing is his heart and will for us. The deeper our roots, the fuller our branches are with his fruit. Your life matters because what God has in store for you will bless not only you, but those around you. So, we don’t have to try to do it all on our own, he’s got us! By consistently presenting our hearts to him for pruning and watering, by remaining attached to him like a branch to the Vine and by learning what he’d have us learn in every season we may be in, we can continue to grow and flourish into this bountiful future he has for us!