Tending the Garden of the Soul

Tending the Garden of the Soul | Sacred Pathways

The Interplay of Our Spiritual Temperaments

At least once a week, I’ll want to spend some time going on a prayer walk through the woods. On a regular basis, I’ll need to make sure I’m continuing to study. Perhaps I’ll need to download more teachings or order more books. Also, I should begin respecting my need for discipline and solitude.

I’m not suggesting that we feed our souls only what they want — and thus risk shrinking them. there is a time and a place for stretching into new experiences, but few of us want to experiment with a new, exotic meal every night. Once we’ve discovered what draws us into God’s presence, we can explore new areas of nourishment, knowing there’s always something tried and true to fall back on.

This gives us a long-term view of Christian spirituality. For example, I sometimes struggle with the demands of a very visible, people-oriented job. I frequently speak at banquets and conferences. If anything is going to make me feel run-down after a while, it’s being confined to a cramped hotel room and talking before large groups — particularly the “small talk” before and after, at which I never feel particularly adept.

Yet my job requires me to do this. It’s what God has called me to do now, so I need to make allowances for spiritual nourishment within this context. To keep my sanity, I have to schedule time to get outside when I’m on the road (not a problem at retreats but more difficult at conferences), and I almost always reject the idea of sleeping in someone’s house. I need — not just want — time alone, without any demands of propriety or politeness. Otherwise I’ll grow frustrated with my responsibilities, and I’ll not be able to fulfill my calling.

On a recent men’s retreat, I traveled to the location with three other men, talking all the way. I spoke that evening and twice on Saturday morning, but on Saturday afternoon, I slipped away by myself to catch a ten-mile run on a local battlefield. Some men had initially talked to me about joining me for the run, which I was open to, but when I said I planned to run about ten miles, they playfully responded, “We’ll pray for you. Have fun.” In the aftermath, I was grateful I could be alone that afternoon; being in the woods, praying on my own, sweating in the sun, talking with God. It was the perfect time of refreshment for me, giving me the needed boost for the rest of the weekend. Some Christians get recharged by getting together and talking about what has happened or just kicking back and enjoying each other’s company. I prefer to be alone, to think and pray, and wind down slowly.

I used to struggle with this need, wondering if I was being selfish. However, now I know that if I serve God in a blazing two weeks, or a blazing ten years, and then become burned-out for long periods of time, I will not have been a good steward of my life.

I want to faithfully serve God for fifty or sixty or seventy years, which means I need to consider how I can be spiritually replenished.

On his deathbed a great Christian evangelist said, “God gave me a message and a horse to carry that message. I have beaten the horse to death, and now I can no longer carry the message.” The horse was his body, but it could also have been his soul.

I’ve met too many godly men and women who were burned-out before they entered their most productive years. Sometimes burnout led them to quit the ministry and never look back. Others have sought escape through illicit activity and brought scandal on the church of Christ. If God grants it, I want to be serving Him just as zealously in my sixties, seventies, and eighties as I am now. Twenty years from now, I don’t want to have gained vital and precious experience but have lost my motivation and joy.

If we tend our garden, we’ll have plenty of food with which to feed others. If we give our garden just cursory attention, we may have enough to feed just ourselves. If we completely neglect our garden, we’re going to be so hungry we’ll become “consumer” Christians, feeding off of others.

Discovering our spiritual temperament is a means by which we can achieve the desired ends — knowing God and obeying His call on our life. The Puritans called the Sabbath the “market day of the soul,” a special day to care for our inner world and to spend extra time relating to our God. The problem is that some of us try to take a shortcut and fulfill God’s call without receiving God’s nourishment. Disaster lies down that road.

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How Does Your Garden Look?

We were made to love God. Think about that for a minute: We were made to love God. Each of us stands before an open plot of land. God will scour Heaven and earth to provide us with what we need to plant and maintain a beautiful garden of love, intimacy, and fellowship with Him. Not a second of our existence passes without God thinking about how to turn our hearts toward Him. Not one single second.

The almost unbelievable joy is that you can enjoy a relationship with God that He will have with no one else. And God eagerly, passionately, yearns for that relationship to begin. God is just as eager to love and know you as He was to know Moses, David, and Mary.

You are no less precious to Him than were these heroes of the faith. But each one of these saints — Moses, David, and Mary — spent time cultivating and growing their relationship with God. Each one made knowing God the chief passion of their hearts.

Will you respond to this same invitation today?

Excerpted with permission from Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas, copyright Gary L. Thomas.

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Your Turn

As Jesus-followers we want to serve Him well and for as long as possible. To do that we need to tend to our spiritual nourishment and spend quality time alone in His presence. What a waste it would be to burn out! How are you refreshing your heart towards Jesus today? We want to hear! Come share with us on our blog. ~ Devotionals Daily

Gary L. Thomas

Gary Thomas is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and an adjunct faculty member teaching on spiritual formation at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of over a dozen books, including Sacred Marriage, Sacred Pathways, Pure Pleasure, Sacred Parenting, and the Gold Medallion Award-winning Authentic Faith.

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