Growing faith

We know how important faith is. Those who believe in Jesus Christ are saved and have eternal life.

But what is faith?

The Bible says that faith is to know the Lord, to love him with my whole heart and to trust in him. Faith does not mean that I understand everything in the Bible, that I have all the answers of life, that I am always strong, never doubt or do only good things all the time. No, it is rather a case of me recognising my dependence on God.
Faith is something that I receive – it is a gift of grace. Faith means to live in a relationship with Jesus. He is the King of our lives. This relationship starts small, like a mustard seed, but grows to become a fruit-bearing tree (Matthew 13:31-32, 17:20, Mark 4:30-32, Luke 13:18-19).
The Bible often explains faith through the image of a grain of seed falling on fertile soil where it germinates, grows and develops into a plant that is tended to and even cut back and that finally yields fruit.

Where does faith begin?

When a grain of seed that looks completely dead falls (John 12:24) onto the soil and it germinates, it is a miracle. How this is possible we cannot say! We can only stand in awe before the big mystery of the existence of life itself. It is the same where faith is concerned – it is a gift for which we can only thank and praise God.
Faith begins where the grain of seed of God’s Word falls on the fertile soil of my heart.
Seeds must first fall on good soil before they can germinate and grow.
I can pray and ask that the Holy Spirit will prepare my heart like good, fertile soil so that the seed of faith can germinate, grow and yield a crop.
This is because, through faith, I now know for sure that what the Bible says about God and his Son, Jesus Christ, is true! His gift of life and redemption is for me!

How does faith grow?

In Psalm 1:1-3 and Jeremiah 17:7-8 we read about a tree that grows next to a stream of water. How do I let the seed of faith grow inside me?

  • I can feed it with the Word of God, through listening to it, learning from it, reflecting on it and by obediently doing it.
  • When I make time to become still before God and learn to live with him in an intimate relationship he makes my faith grow.
  • I can also let my faith grow by listening to the Word and by worshipping and praising God together with other people.
  • Other people, like ministers, can help me to let my faith grow (1 Corinthians 3:6, 9:10-11).
  • If I open my heart to the whisperings of the Spirit and my eyes to see the Lord’s works around me – the wonder of his creation, his goodness and care in my life – my faith grows.
    And if I allow the Spirit to pull up the weeds – bad thoughts and actions in my life – wanting to stifle and choke my faith, it grows.
  • The most important is that I remain close to the Lord, like a branch that has been grafted onto the vine (John 15:1-8). He will then feed me with the sap that makes growth, joy and life possible.

Faith bears fruit!

When our faith grows it also bears fruit in our lives. It is by our fruit that our faith will be recognised (Matthew 7:16-27, 12:33, Luke 6:43-45). Without faith we are like a fruitless tree (Matthew 21: 18-22, Mark 11:12-14, 20-24) or a tree that does not produce good fruit (Matthew 3:10). Galatians 5:19-21 makes a list of bad fruit: immorality, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, anger, dissension, drunkenness, orgies. Such a tree will be pulled up by the roots (Matthew 15:13) or cut down (Luke 3:9). And yet there is grace; if we ask sincerely the Lord always gives us another chance to bear fruit (Luke 13:6-9).

What then is the kind of fruit that faith bears?

We bear the fruit that shows we belong to the Lord (Matthew 3:8).
True faith bears a lot of fruit; fruit that brings joy and love, lasting fruit that gladdens the Father’s heart and that glorifies him (John 15:5-17).
Galatians 5:22-23 also lists the good fruit that faith bears: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are the fruits with which the Holy Spirit blesses our lives because we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The most surprising is that the more generously we share these fruits, the more they will become (2 Corinthians 9:6, 8-10).
The most wonderful fruit of faith is:
when we die, we will be raised and we will live again. On Christ’s return one day, we will likewise rise with new bodies and live with God, forever! Like a grain of seed germinating and becoming a new plant again!

Prayer for growing faith

Lord, I cannot believe out of myself. Please give me faith. Sow the seed of faith in my heart. Prepare also the soil of my heart beforehand through your Spirit so that it can allow the wonder of life and growth to happen. Let your seed germinate, grow and become strong. Help me not to stunt the plant’s growth or to let it wither. Let me feed and tend to it with devotion. O Lord, you who give life and growth, grant that my faith will grow to bear fruit, much fruit, lasting fruit, fruit that I can share with others, fruit that will gladden your heart and glorify your Name. Give me the fruits of the Spirit: peace and joy, good works and love.
Amen.

Create a “faith garden” and express your faith

Faith is not only a religious issue. The fruit of our faith is also visible in how we live every day at work, in relationship with people and with nature.
One practical way to live out your faith is to make a vegetable patch in your backyard or at your school or church. Such a garden can teach you about how faith grows. It can provide food to you and to others who are in need. And it opens one’s eyes to the wonder: all knowledge, wisdom and life come from the Lord Almighty, the Creator of all things, who cares for and maintains everything (Isaiah 28:23-29).
Here is how to create a “faith garden.” By all means do this together with others.

How do you prepare the soil?

  • The tools that you need are a shovel, gardening fork, rake and watering can. If you do not have a watering can, you can pierce holes into the bottom of a plastic bottle and use it as a watering can.
  • Choose a place where the soil is soft and deep and where there is sun for most of the day. It should not be too close to walls or fences, and the soil should be as even and as deep as possible.
    If you can, make sure that there is a tap or a dam nearby. Vegetables need plenty of water.
  • It is sometimes convenient to hedge in one’s garden to keep out animals and people. You can use wire or string and stakes.
  • Now measure out your beds. The size will depend on how much space you have at your disposal. A bed should not be broader than one large stride (or 1 meter). If it is too broad, you will not be able to reach into the middle of the bed to pull up weeds or to harvest. Leave enough space between and around the beds for you to move in between.
  • Where the soil is not deep enough, you can fill the beds by adding the top layer of soil of the paths in between the beds to the soil of the shallow beds.
  • Now thoroughly turn the soil of the beds, at least one shovel-blade (30-45cm) deep. Remove all stones and unwanted plants, such as grass and weeds.
  • Now you can sprinkle compost over the bed and gently work it into the soil with a gardening fork (15cm deep). It is important that the compost is dark in colour, this shows that it is ready to be used. Do not use too much fresh chicken litter or manure. The manure must already be dry and a couple of months old.
  • Level the beds using a rake and water the soil well. Let it lie for about a week before sowing the seeds or planting the seedlings.

When do I plant what?

Vegetables can be divided into two groups:

  • The first group is vegetables which are sown or planted during warm months (September). These vegetables are sensitive to frost. Tomatoes, green beans, pumpkins, watermelons, cucumbers, melons, sweetcorn, chillies, potatoes and sweet potatoes are examples of summer vegetables.
  • The second group is vegetables which are sown or planted during the colder times of the year (March-April). This includes cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, carrots, beetroot, lettuce and onions. In areas where frost is prevalent, all vegetables must be well-established before the cold months arrive (June-July).

How do you plant your garden?

  • You can sow vegetable seeds directly into the beds in rows. Beetroot and carrots are only sown directly. When you sow in rows, it is easier to care for the beds later on.
  • Do not plant the seeds too deep. The smaller the seed, the shallower it needs to be planted. The larger the seed, the deeper you must plant it. Seeds should not be planted deeper than four times the diameter of the seed. Lettuce- or carrot seeds are planted 0,2cm deep, peas 1cm deep, maize 2cm deep and green beans 2.5cm deep.
  • You can use a matchstick as measurement. One matchstick is approximately 4cm long.
  • During the first week, you can cover the rows with fine straw to keep the soil moist. In colder times, it will keep the temperature of the soil warm and in warm times, it will keep the soil cool.
  • t helps the seeds to germinate. It is, however, important that you remove the straw as soon as the seedlings appear above the ground.
  • Vegetables like tomatoes, cabbage, spinach and lettuce can first be sown in containers, empty plastic bottles or empty egg trays.
  • Place the containers in a sheltered place where it is neither too cold nor too warm. This will allow the seeds to germinate well. Keep the seedlings wet. As soon as the seedlings have 3 or 4 leaves, you can plant them in the prepared bed.
  • Do not plant the seedlings too deep. Plant them at the same depth which they were in the container. Firm the soil around the seedlings.
  • Where the seed is sown too densely, you may thin out the seedlings until there is sufficient space between them.
  • Your hands may be an important instrument measuring the distance between the seedlings or between the rows in your bed.
  • On the seed packet, you will find the distances between the rows and the distances between the vegetables in the rows. Beetroot, carrots and onions are planted close to one another in the rows (5-10cm) and the rows are close together (20-30cm). Cabbage, spinach, lettuce and green beans are planted further apart in the rows (15-30cm) and the rows are further apart (30-60cm). Pumpkins, watermelons and cucumbers are planted the furthest apart in the rows (30-90cm) and the rows are far apart (1-1,5m).
    Water the bed well after sowing or planting seedlings. Always keep the soil moist, without drowning the seedlings.

How do you take care of your garden?

  • Hoe the weeds or pull them up regularly without hurting the plants. This is especially important when seed is sown directly into the bed. The seedlings cannot compete for water and nutrients with the weeds and they will struggle to grow.
  • Catch and kill bugs, slugs and snails as far as possible by hand. You can use soapy water or extracts from plants with strong smells (such as garlic) to spray or pour over plants to protect them against harmful insects, worms and bugs.
  • Plants must be watered regularly. If the plants look withered they are getting too little water, and if you give them too much water they will drown, especially during cooler periods.

Some good advice:

  • It is very convenient if one can make more than one bed. Plant a new bed about six weeks after the previous one; then you will have vegetables to eat continuously.
    It is good practice to alternate or change the kind of vegetables you plant in a specific bed every season.
  • There are three groups of plants that can be alternated. Alternate between these groups every year.
  • The first group is the plants whose roots we eat such as carrots, onions, beetroot and potatoes.
  • The second group is the plants with fruit above the soil or of which we eat the leaves such as tomatoes, spinach or cabbage.
  • The third group is the plants with pods such as beans and peas. Beans and peas put back nitrogen into the soil which is good for other plants too.
  • If you want to use a fertiliser, you can work 2:3:2(22) or 2:3:4(24) into the soil a couple of days before you plant. Use four match boxes of fertiliser for every large stride or 1m (for every 1m2). Lightly work the fertiliser in before you water the bed. Approximately 3 to 4 weeks after you have planted, you can use the fertiliser CAN some distance away from the plants (5-10cm). Use one level match box of CAN for every large stride, or 1m, in the row. Wash it into the soil with water.
  • It is not necessary to turn over the soil every time you have harvested your vegetables. Work in compost and manure superficially. Leave dead plant material on the bed. It is nature’s way of forming a protective blanket over the soil in which a number of wonderful organisms, good bugs and earth worms can work to keep the soil soft and fertile. Then you only make a trench or holes in which to plant the new plants.
  • It is also important to make compost throughout the year. Make a heap of fruit and vegetable peels, scraps of plant material, egg shells and bones somewhere in a far corner of the garden. Keep it moist. Turn it every week. It must get air and light (heat). Mix in a little manure, bone-meal and soil. It is important to return good nutrients to the soil. After a couple of months the compost will be ready and one can start with a new compost heap.

Enjoy your garden!
It is fun to make a garden and it brings beauty and joy. It helps us stay healthy.
It takes preparation, constant care and dedication.
The best of a garden is when you can harvest and eat your own fruit or vegetables. And of course it is nice to share it in thanksgiving with others.
A garden of faith helps us understand and reminds us of how wonderful the Lord had made everything, of how he takes care of everything and also of us.
Then we cannot but give thankful praise to the Lord.

You can put a notice in your garden with the following prayer on it:
“Lord, let my faith grow and bear fruit!”

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