Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. -Philippians 4:8-9
Ever since I bought my house four years ago, I have been fighting a losing battle against the weeds in the yard. Of course, it wasn’t all my fault. The yard was more weeds than grass when we moved in. Lucky for appearances, the front yard is mostly grass with some clover mixed in. I can live with that. It’s the back yard that’s a disaster.
It might clear up faster if I were willing to spray for weeds, but I don’t really like the idea, so I’m left with one option: back-aching labor, crawling around the yard yanking out dandelions, creeping charlie, and who knows what else. As hard as it is to get the weeds out, it is satisfying to pause, covered in dirt and sweat, and look back at a patch of open dirt that used to be weeds. Glorious. Weeds are gone, and surely the grass will thrive!
Last spring, I learned a hard lesson about weeding. The previous fall I had gotten large swaths of the yard cleared of all the undesirables. In the spring, I expected to see the grass growing lush and green. Instead, I saw a jumble of weeds. You see, I never planted any grass in the open dirt. Weeds, I saw, grew much faster than the grass. I realized that it wasn’t enough to get rid of what I didn’t want. I had to plant what I did want.
This is true for our lives, too. Whether you’re thinking of your habits, relationships, eating, time management: getting rid of what you don’t want is only the first step. Replacing it with what you want to have is critical.
As Christians, we have some great standards for what not to do, beginning with the Ten Commandments, for instance. Don’t steal or lie or harm or break promises. These rules give us boundaries to live within. And once we learn those boundaries, it’s pretty easy to recognize the weeds in our lives. You know them: gossiping, fibbing to make ourselves look good, getting jealous; the list goes on. These broken rules are as obtrusive as a yellow dandelion in a field of green grass. Even if we stay inside the boundaries perfectly, there’s a lot of choices left to make. We know what not to do, but what then should we do? Once we pull the weeds out of our lives, what will we plant?
Paul had some advice for the believers in Philippi. He wrote this letter while under house arrest for proclaiming the good news about Jesus, but even that couldn’t stop him from encouraging other followers of Jesus. He directed those believers to focus their minds on “whatever” is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, or praise-worthy.
Now, there are many things that fit that “whatever” category! Thinking about checking in with your friends or family is commendable. Thinking about asking for help when you’re overwhelmed is praise-worthy. Thinking about prayer for those who are sick and their caregivers is pure. Thinking about how to keep people healthy and meet their economic needs is just. Thinking about how you’re going to do your work well is true.
What weeds do you need to pull? What will you plant in their place? The Holy Spirit will help you grow.
Gardening God, help me pull my bad habits and sin out like weeds. Let me work alongside the Holy Spirit to plant what is good in its place. Amen.