Monthly Archives: October 2008

God's Flourishing Houseplants

Blind Faith (No. 44, 2008)
Long-range forecasts of freezing overnight temperatures set important seasonal transformations in motion around our house last week. Since the danger of frost passed last Spring, our landscape has been enhanced by a variety of plants that spend winter months indoors. Many of the plants have staked habitual claim on their locations outside. They provide bursts of color, or soften hard lines of brick and concrete, or add texture and depth to the areas that have become their outdoor homes. The outdoor season helps the plants, too. Exposure to revivifying natural sunlight, rain showers, and refreshing breezes always makes the plants grow larger and stronger, with more vivid colors and more profuse blossoms. The world outside our house is better and more beautiful for having the plants there. But the time has come for the plants to return inside. Few can survive in freezing weather. They need the protection afforded them in the warmth inside the house, and the regular watering and other care they will receive at Sherron?s hands. Their renewed vitality gained living outside now will become blessed gifts of life and beauty indoors. Most of the plants have their habitual homes inside, just as they do outside. A 25-year-old ficus tree moves from our front porch into the living room. It lends its 7 ½ foot height to white Christmas lights, in season, and otherwise fills the living room with glorious green life. Another of our favorite plants, a 5 foot tall croton, enlivens the den. Croton provides a fiesta of color, greatly enhanced by its time in the sunlight outdoors. Broad leaves dazzle with shades of crimson, yellow, pink, and green, with contrasting veins and speckles of the other colors. A peace lily greets people in the entry hall. A rubber tree plant probably is the most mobile houseplant (not due to moving by any silly old ant ? if you recall the Captain Kangaroo song), but in high hopes of finding its best place in the sun. Specimens of bougainvillea, hibiscus, Moses-in-the-cradle, ferns, a philodendron that traces its lineage (dare I say, its roots) to Sherron?s grandmother, and more fill our house with verdant roomscapes. Having the plants inside the house for the winter is a special joy we look forward to at this time each year. God has blessed me with vivid visual memory and imagination to picture the gifts of color and life the plants bring inside with them. Corners of rooms that would be deep in gloomy darkness during the shortened daylight hours of winter now teem with foliage that bespeaks the wonder, hope, and joy of God?s creation. We get both the blessing of enjoying the diverse beauty God has created, and the lessons of being co-workers with God in caring for his creation. The Bible uses the metaphor of God sustaining plant life to remind us how completely we are dependant upon God?s grace and care to sustain our lives. Plants can be fragile, if exposed to adverse environmental conditions. In the same way, our lives are weak and vulnerable, far from the vitality that is God?s very nature. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: ?All people are like grass, and all their beauty is like a flower in the field. {7} Grass dries up, and flowers wither when the Lord’s breath blows on them. Yes, people are like grass. {8} Grass dries up, and flowers wither, but the word of our God will last forever.? (Isaiah 40:6b-8 GWT) Our human inclination is to assume that we can weather any adversity on our own, but we only delude ourselves. Just as a houseplant left outdoors in freezing weather would perish without our caring intervention, we stand in absolute need of God?s eternal salvation. Isaiah might have had a psalm in mind as he delivered God?s message of care: ?Human life is as short-lived as grass. It blossoms like a flower in the field. {16} When the wind blows over the flower, it disappears, and there is no longer any sign of it. {17} But from everlasting to everlasting, the Lord’s mercy is on those who fear him. His righteousness belongs to their children and grandchildren, {18} to those who are faithful to his promise, to those who remember to follow his guiding principles.? (Psalm 103:15-18 GWT) God sustains us by his saving grace, and provides environments that allow us to grow in faithfulness and joyous gifts of service and life. People who live by faith in God are likened to thriving houseplants in God?s Temple. Because of God?s action on behalf of his faithful followers, we can prosper in bearing the kind of fruit God has created us to bear, and to bring the blessing of God?s kind of life wherever we are planted. A psalm states: ?The godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. {13} For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. {14} Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. {15} They will declare, ?The LORD is just! He is my rock! There is nothing but goodness in him!?” (Psalm 92:12-15 NLT) Mixing the metaphor with Jesus? assurance that we are branches growing from himself, we can know confidently that we thrive only as we remain in relationship with him. Jesus said, “I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who live in me while I live in them will produce a lot of fruit. But you can’t produce anything without me.? (John 15:5 GWT) Whether we are within the safe confines of God?s house, or growing out in the world, we are enlivened by Jesus to offer the fruits of life, faith, hope, and love to an otherwise gloomy and dying world. Did you get your plants safely inside before the onset of freezing weather? As you enjoy their gifts of life in your roomscapes, remember how fragile your life is in the hostile environment outside God?s love and grace. Remember that God loves you and offers you life-sustaining grace through Jesus Christ. How are you showing the beauty of God?s creative love and grace wherever you are planted? How can you be a co-worker with God to cause his creation to flourish? Give thanks to God for his sustaining care every time you water your houseplants this winter, and pray that God will send you out to share his love and life in the world in due season.
J. Edward Culpepper, Ph.D.