Unplowed Ground: Cultivate Faithfulness

In the quiet spring of 2020, I took up gardening. I don’t have the kind of space required for plowing up a field, but I had enough room to add some raised beds, fill them with dirt, and start to see what will grow in my mostly shaded, usually watered, occasionally forgotten plot of land.

This kind of gardening is also called “no-till” gardening because you don’t have to plow! You put down weed-cloth, and then you add layers of fertile soil right on top of the earth that was already there. It’s pretty effective in small spaces.

But it stands in perfect contrast to the breaking up of the unplowed ground.

And in many ways, what we are seeking these days is a “no-till” method for our walks with the Lord:

Cover up that unplowed ground: forget the pain and frustration of earlier seasons; ignore what’s hurt us; deny what’s disappointed. Bury these dry, calloused, hardened hearts under layers of fresh soil and hope some sign of life springs up.

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work.

no-till gardening with the lord

We won’t be satisfied to build garden boxes that display what we can grow ourselves. The call of God is for us to till up the land in preparation to receive what only the Lord can do.

“Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness,” God tells us in Psalm 37:3. Live here and tend the land. Make yourself at home here and break up this unplowed ground.

My spiritual life has been significantly shaped by several women who are three and four decades ahead of me in life. They walk with Jesus in a way that I want to. They know Him and trust Him and rely on Him—not perfectly but sincerely. They do what He asks of them, and, perhaps more remarkably, they know what He’s asked of them.

I wonder what makes their relationships with Him so different? It’s not optimal circumstances or ease. It’s not that God has been more faithful to them than to others. They have known loss and heartache. They have buried ones they didn’t think they could live without. They have fought cancer. They have mourned church-splits. They have fought with their husbands and worried about their kids.

They have not gotten what they asked for, and they have gotten what they did not ask for.

Their fields look very much like the rest of ours. But they know something about the plow.

They know something about cultivating faithfulness and dwelling in the land most of us only know how to occupy.

I asked a question on Instagram the other day about why y’all think you feel more distant from the Lord in this season. The overwhelming majority said that it was because you “lack discipline” in seeking to spend time with Him. I would definitely put myself in that category.

But the thing is, I don’t think we lack discipline just because we are lazy. What if we lack it because we don’t see the value of something? What if we don’t see the worth?

What if we have learned the price of the plowing but forgotten its profit?

The older women I was talking about before? They know the value of the discipline.

For a lifetime, their hands have been on the plow, but their eyes have not been fixed on the dirt.

They have known the presence of the Faithful One right there in the middle of their dusty fields. They cry out to Him first when they are hurting or mourning or disappointed. They look to Him before they turn to others for provision. They weep and rejoice with their Dearest Friend who is the Creator God, the Faithful One. They are not earning something from God in their discipline. They are simply positioning themselves to encounter the One they have found worthy.

In their discipline, they have learned to recognize His voice. They have experienced His presence enough times that they trust Him even when they do not sense His nearness.

They have cultivated faithfulness.

Faithfulness doesn’t grow on trees. But perhaps it springs up from the lived-in land of hearts broken open before the Lord. Perhaps it’s cultivated by hands calloused from the plow—from row after row after row, day after day after day of turning back toward Jesus.

Faithfulness grows where we find God faithful.

May we anticipate His presence as we pick up the plow.

May the smell of fresh, upturned dirt bring fresh joy.

May we find His footprints in these long-forgotten fields.

daily disciplines:

The question for us today, then, is how do we do that? How, practically, do we cultivate faithfulness? How do we work this land in such a way that we are positioned to encounter the Lord, to trust Him more, to know Him better?

Over the next few weeks and months, I’m hoping to provide some ideas about how to really plow up this ground in the presence of the Lord. I want to share some practices that have helped me, and I want to interview some people who know the value of discipline because they know the intimacy with the Lord that is possible! It’s possible to hear from the Lord, to experience His presence, to know His nearness (not 100% of every day but often enough that it’s worth it to seek Him)!

But for now, what if we just practiced walking around this fallow ground and picking up the plow?

daily disciplines

Here are three practical things we can start today to incorporate a little more discipline into our lives:

  1. Decide to spend time daily seeking God. There’s nothing magic about a “quiet time,” and we’re not earning anything by spending time with Him. But spending intentional, set-aside time seeking Him does position us to recognize Him more quickly when He moves in our lives. This time can look different for all of us and it will look different for each of us on different days.
    If you need a place to start, set a Bible by your bed, and read through the gospel of Luke. Watch Jesus walk around this world.
    Read a chapter when you wake up or when you get in bed at night.
    If you miss a day, wake up and start again the next.

  2. Remind yourself of God’s faithfulness. Worship music helps me with this one. Is there a worship song from a time when you felt nearer to the Lord? Play it occasionally to remind your spirit of what you know to be true of your Faithful Father. (In case you can’t think of one, I’ll share mine — “Goodness of God” by Bethany Barnard.)

  3. Gather with other believers. I don’t care if it’s in church or in a small group or around the break room at lunch. Pick a day. Pick a time. Call a friend. Speak with others about what God is doing in your life. Pray for each other. Know each other’s families. Keep each other’s kids or pets or plants. We are not meant to till these fields alone. Keep showing up. Make it a priority instead of a last resort.

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