Watching Things Grow (Part 1)

After a great trip home, I am back in Nicaragua. I am excited to see what God has planned for me over the next month.

As I considered what to write about this morning, a few things came to mind, but none more prominently than growth. This could be because we are currently watching seven-hundred plus papaya plants grow at the farm in Vera Cruz or the fact that the rainy season has brought incredible growth in much of the vegetation in Nicaragua. It also could be more on the spiritual side with the recent launch of our discipleship class for the adolescents and young adults in El Canyon or the discipleship group we are starting in the next week for those of us who are directly involved in leading these projects. More than anything, however, I believe it is my continued realization that I need to continue to grow, both as a person and as a follower of Christ. So how is it, then, that growth happens?

I think the best way to understand growth is to go back to agriculture and to examine how plants grow. If you think about it, a tree going from a seed to a small seedling to a large, fruit producing plant is a pretty incredible thing. For me, this brings to mind the parable Jesus told in Matthew 13 about the mustard seed and its similarity to the kingdom of God; that just a small seed could lead to something bigger than we could imagine. What is remarkable to me is that even the fruit that comes from a plant is typically much larger than the seed it came from. So how does this whole growth thing happen? In the agriculture world, you typically begin by preparing the soil and planting the seed or a seedling if the plant has already been propagated. An important piece of this step is ensuring that you are planting the seed in nutrient rich soil. This is because even with fertilization it can be hard to grow healthy plants if the soil is not advantageous for growth. We ran into this problem in the greenhouse in Vera Cruz. After many crops of various vegetables, the soil was almost completely deficient of nutrients. To address this, we decided to bring in new soil that had not been planted in and to use organic material to further infuse nitrogen and other nutrients into the soil. Instead of replacing the soil, we could have gone through a process of regenerating the soil that was in the greenhouse, but this is a longer process and would have put us behind schedule. After the soil is prepared and the seeds or seedlings are planted, water, sunlight and food are required to continue the growing process. In the case of the papayas, we have an irrigation system that provides water when it doesn’t rain, and Junior and his staff apply fertilizer to ensure the plants are being fed properly. As far as sunlight, this typically isn’t an issue in Nicaragua. Beyond these basic steps, you have to monitor the plants for disease and insect problems as well as weed the beds to keep the plants you are growing from being choked out by unwanted visitors. With the papayas, it has been interesting to see how the weeds grow more vigorously closer to the papaya plants because that is where the soil is most conducive to growth. All of these steps are incredibly important for the growing process, but in the end can we really make the plants get bigger?

I would argue the answer to this question is no. One of the hardest, but most important parts of growing something is being patient and waiting for the growth. We can do everything properly and take every necessary step in the growing process, but if the plant isn’t created to grow, nothing will happen. The truth is, only God can make things grow. Sometimes this is a hard realization to accept because it requires us to step back and trust in something other than ourselves. If we don’t do this, however, we may assume that nothing is happening when we don’t see abundant growth right away and rip out a plant just when it is getting ready to shoot up. In some ways, watching a plant grow is a great way to build trust in God and to understand how we as people grow.

Much like a papaya plant, there are many steps we can take in the growing process when it comes to life and especially our relationship with Christ. We can learn more about God and who he calls us to be by reading the Bible. We can go to church and fellowship with other Christ Followers to encourage us along the way. We can pray and ask God to continue to grow us into the person He created us to be. We can serve by helping others and showing them the love of Christ. All of these activities are important parts of the growing process and key to growing our relationship with Christ, but do they really make us grow? Much like in agriculture, I would say no. In the end, we have to trust that God will be faithful to His part of the process, which is making things grow. Paul eludes to this in 1 Corinthians 3:6 when he says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow” (I Corinthians 3:6 NIV 84). This is certainly not to say that our part in the growing process isn’t important, but without God making us grow we will never produce the fruit that can come from these spiritual disciplines. Much like plants, we have to wait and be patient for God to His part.

So what does this growth process look like? I will explore that and how I have seen this played out during my time in Nicaragua more in next week’s post.

– James Belt

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