Just Add Manure
I lived and pastored in an agricultural town for 5 years, and from that time I can speak clearly on one thing:
There are different schools of thought on manure as fertilizer, though. Some say horse manure doesn't break down fast enough, that chicken manure is too strong and generates too much heat, and that pig manure...well, pig manure is the most fowl substance in the created order as far as I'm concerned but I'm sure there's a theory for its use in gardening out there somewhere.
The truth is, even with all the benefits of manure as a fertilizer, manure alone does not cause plants to grow. Water alone does not cause plants to grow, nor sun, nor weeding... It is the coming together of all of these elements that cause seeds to grow.
Moving from plants to the human soul isn't all that difficult. The soil of our life, when we are broken apart and tilled up by the Spirit of God is ready to receive this unbelievable seed. The seed is as small as a mustard seed, nearly imperceptible until it starts to grow. The parable of the sower communicates at least this - a seed well received in the beautiful violence of our souls tilled up and broken will grow with reckless abandon.
Here we can learn a simple and beautiful lesson about the sometimes controversial idea of "spiritual disciplines" or "soul training":
Spiritual disciplines are not the soil. They are not the seed. The are not the water or the sun or even the manure. Spiritual disciplines are the participation between us - the apprentice gardeners - and the Father who is a master at spiritual horticulture. We come together in a partnership to prepare the soil so that growth - 30, 60, or 100 times over - is not only possible but probable.
We allow God to feed our soil, making space for the nutrients to dive deeply to the roots. We even open ourselves to the manure - the trials, testing, and faith-stretching realities - that are everywhere in our life and that leave their mark on us in so many ways. At that point, we are helpless to the outcomes.
Growth is not earned in this equation, growth is a result of grace. No amount of fertilizer or weeding will overcome a drought. It is God's grace that brings the growth, and our cultivation makes a way for grace to flow freely into the soil of our souls.
Today, you have a task. To sink your hands wrist-deep into the soil of your soul, turning over the rich warm blackness and seeing the depths where roots will reach for nourishment from the only one who commands the water down and the sun through and yes, even the manure within.
How are you cultivating that soil today? Where are you missing nutrients? What soul training exercises are you trying in order to open up your soul to God's grace today?