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Draw near: Be the Gardener of my soul

Lynne Baab • Tuesday June 21 2022

Draw near: Be the Gardener of my soul

“Spirit of the Living God, be the Gardener of my soul. For so long I have been waiting, silent and still—experiencing a winter of the soul. But now in the strong name of Jesus Christ, I dare to ask:

     Clear away the dead growth of the past,
     Break up the hard clods of custom and routine,
     Stir in the rich compost of vision and challenge,
     Bury deep in my soul the implanted Word,
     Cultivate and water and tend my heart,
     Until new life buds and opens and flowers. Amen.”
          —Richard Foster, Prayers from the Heart

Richard Foster’s prayer draws on so many agricultural metaphors from the Bible. When I first read this prayer, I immediately thought of the vine and the branches in John 15:1-7 where the Gardener prunes the vines and clears away the dead branches. I also thought of Jeremiah’s two baskets of figs, one ripe and one rotten. Jeremiah 24 describes the outcomes for the good and bad figs, and of course we hope and pray that God will cultivate and prune the branches of our lives so that we can bear good fruit.

This prayer enabled me to spend some enjoyable time thinking about other powerful word pictures in the Bible that could be worked into a prayer. What about writing a prayer based on the sky? The four opening verses of Psalm 104 describe God as “wrapped in light as with a garment.” God “rides on the wings of the wind” and the winds are God’s messengers. Psalm 84:1 describes God as a sun and shield. In Revelation 22:16, Jesus calls himself “the bright morning star.”

In John 8:12, in a dispute with the Pharisees, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” We can see so much darkness in our world. Sadly, I can see so much darkness in my own heart. These images of light and dark, the winds as messengers from God, God as a sun and shield, and Jesus as the bright morning start provide multiple images for our prayers. I’m not going to write out a prayer using these word pictures. I’m going to invite you to write your own prayer or pray some of these pictures.

Another fun set of pictures to use in prayer comes from animals. I was thinking about the loyalty of so many dogs, who greet their owners with overflowing joy after an absence of only a few minutes, and the way so many mother mammals care for their babies. A kangaroo’s pouch is a great picture for the protection and nurture we long for from God. Then I thought of the donkey that brought Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Like that donkey, we too carry Jesus’ presence into the world. We can pray to be loyal like dogs and faithful like that donkey, bringing Jesus’ love, priorities and presence into the daily settings of our lives every day.

I remembered that Balaam’s donkey sees an angel (Number 22:21-39), so I did a search for donkeys in the Bible. I learned that in the Hebrew Scriptures, numerous kings and prophets ride on donkeys. Some writers find it significant that one story mentions a donkey carrying bread (1 Samuel 16:20), foreshadowing the Bread of Life coming into Jerusalem on a donkey. A prayer for faithfulness might expand on some of these pictures of donkeys who carried precious cargo, and who saw things humans didn’t see.

I really love words that paint pictures, and I love the way those pictures can help us stretch our imaginations for what to pray for. I hope you have fun building on the word pictures I have written about here, or thinking of your own, as you pray.

Gardener God, you tend us like careful plants, doing the fertilizing, mulching and pruning that enables us to bring forth fruit. You also ride on the wings of the wind, and you shine in every light big and small. You created cats and dogs who show us fun pictures of extravagant love, and you allowed donkeys to carry precious cargo. You gave us imaginations so that we can picture these things even when we aren’t seeing them. Help us to engage our imaginations in our prayers. Give us joy and fruitfulness as we pray in pictures. Amen.

Some posts in my earlier series on creative prayer that relate to nature:

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