Repotting plants: a spiritual exercise of growing

– Andy Wade –

He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.  But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. Luke 5:36-38

repottingThis verse was swirling through my head as I re-potted plant starts today. For many of my plants, it’s important to start the seeds in smaller containers so you can monitor the temperature and moisture more easily. But as these plants grow, if it’s still too early to set them out into the garden, they need to be re-potted so the roots don’t knot up and the plants become sick.

In Jesus’ day there was a lot of confusion about what he was up to. What about this Messiah they’d been waiting for? How would he fit into the religious system they had nurtured for so many centuries? In this parable, Jesus seems to be telling them that the old is not irrelevant, but the Kingdom of God among them requires a whole new container for the things God is about to do.

root.boundAs I re-potted my plants, I thought about the fact that the roots sprang from the same seed. In the beginning there was a growing, a developing, that was going on. Without a good start, the gardener has to start over from scratch. But with a good start, she can soon set her sights on the future, the purpose of the plant which is to produce “fruit”.

As the plant grows, it would be silly to keep it confined in the small container it was started in. Attempting to keep the plant cramped into such a small box would certainly lead to diminished growth, weakening the young shoot and crippling it from reaching its full potential, possibly even killing it altogether.

What seems obvious as a gardener is not always so obvious when it comes to the spiritual life. I like “old wine” (see Luke’s version in 5:39), when a new movement of God comes around I’m quite content to try to squeeze it into the old, tiny pot and go merrily on my way. But by failing to look closely at the underlying assumptions associated with that old pot, I’m likely discarding without a second thought the move into new things that God is offering.

I began to wonder how many times I’ve given up on something I thought was of God but got frustrated with because it just wasn’t working out. Maybe God was calling me to step into a completely different container. Maybe what God had planned was just too big to fit into my puny assumptions. Maybe God was calling me into a little soul-soil disruption so that my roots could be un-bound and fit into a new work that was bigger than I could ask or even imagine (Eph. 3:20).

We live in times of constant change. When it comes to consuming, we’ve bought into the lie of “New and Improved”, purchasing new things before the old ones have worn out and salivating over the next new gadget to make our lives “better”. But when it comes to our faith, we often hold a death-grip on the past, refusing to let go until our hands finally tire from wrestling with God.

Change for change’s sake is not the point. But what if we were as eager to participate in the new things of God as we are for the next iPhone, movie squeal, great deal on…? Perhaps we should hold on to our old tech a bit longer and embrace God’s creative future more quickly. As I reflected on all of this I came up with a few plants that may well need to be repotted:

  • Discipleship (often called Christian education)
  • Evangelism (often divorced from a holistic call to proclaim the good news to the whole creation)
  • Works of justice and compassion (too often separated from telling the source of the good news or, alternatively, just a tool to “get people saved”.)
  • Mission (often divorced from discipleship, evangelism, and justice/compassion ministries, and all too often being re-branded as “missional” and re-potted into the same pot it came out of)

What do you think? Are there places in your life or faith community that have become “root-bound” because they’ve been left in old pots that are too small?

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