Recently my wife and I visited Friedensau Adventist University, located within an hour’s drive from Berlin, Germany. It’s one of the many post-secondary schools operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church that provide ministerial training as well as classes in other areas.
On the well-kept campus we visited the attractive Bible garden, which features a selection of the 110 plants, trees, flowers, vegetables, and herbs mentioned in the Bible. Most of us have no doubt read the texts that mention these, but it’s a special experience to see so many of them in one place. Though they represent a period long after God’s Garden of Eden disappeared, they nevertheless remind us of His creative power and love of beauty.
As we walked through the garden, it reminded me that God has another garden—a garden of people. Specifically I am thinking of a garden filled with those called to be ministers—pastors, administrators, professors, chaplains, or other ministry roles. What does God see in this “garden of ministers?”
God sees some ministers as valuable “apples of gold in settings of silver” (Prov. 25:11*). Such value comes, not from the positions we hold, but rather from the roles we fulfill. In fact, some of us make the mistake of determining our worth by our position. God does not do that. Some of the most valuable ministers are those who are faithful to their calling but are unknown outside of their immediate area of responsibility.
Other ministers “spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams” (Isa. 44:4). Perhaps during this year you have experienced a renewal in your ministry. Or perhaps you have helped a colleague experience such a renewal. In either case, new joy has entered your life.
However, reason for concern does exist within the garden. After a few words of introduction, the prophet Joel paints a discouraging picture of judgment upon the land and the people. He ends the section with these bleak words:
The vine is dried up
and the fig tree is withered;
the pomegranate, the palm and
the apple tree—
all the trees of the field—are
dried up. Surely the joy of mankind
is withered away (Joel 1:12).
Tragically, these verses may describe the ministry of some. Ministry may have “withered away,” and they find little hope in their future. Some do not see any reason to continue their ministry because the joy of ministry has withered away. What a tragic condition.
A garden of hope
But there is hope. In the same garden we find vines and the hope associated with them. Jesus’ words “ ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener’ ” (John 15:1) give us the needed hope. We are under God’s care with no need to despair. All of us—even those who have little hope—will find life from the One who is the Vine of life.
December marks the end of the year in most countries. We may find this a good time to review our lives, for just as a gardener must assess the condition of the garden and just as God reviews His garden—His garden of ministers—we need to assess ourselves. Those who find that pride has become an obstacle can turn to the Servant of servants—Jesus Christ. Those who are discouraged can take this opportunity to renew their life in the Lord. Those who have lost their focus can start following Jesus—the One who was always focused on His mission. Those who have been wronged can listen to the words of One who never hurts us. Those who are ready to give up can spend time with the One who will help them find direction for their ministry. Those whose prayer life has withered away can call upon the One who can repair that dried up connection.
With December as an opportunity for recommitment, we who minister to others often ask them to recommit their lives. I am suggesting that this may be a good time for us to recommit our lives to the One who invites us to “ ‘remain in me, and I will remain in you’ ” (John 15:4). What a wonderful way to end a year and to look forward to the future that is in God’s hands.
There is hope for God’s garden. That’s the assurance from the Master gardener.
* All Scripture texts from NIV.