It is my wife, not I, who is the gardener in our household. However, I do take a little bit of interest in all her hard work, and one of the things that I have noticed is that there can be quite a lot of variety in the packaging of seeds and plants. (I realise it is a bit sad that I am more interested in the packets than what is in them but there you go – we are all different.)
Sometimes when we have been given seeds by a friend, or we have bought seed potatoes from the market, they have been handed to us in a very basic packet, perhaps no more than an old paper bag. Even seeds bought online from a specialist grower can arrive in a plain envelope with only a brief description printed on it. Seeds from a supermarket or garden centre however, are often presented in high quality packets with full colour photographs of what we might end up with in our little garden plot.
One thing we have learned, is that the quality of the flowers or vegetables we grow is not dependent upon the quality of the presentation on the outside of the packet, but upon the quality of the seed inside.
In recent months, I have been looking at a number of local church websites. Quite a lot of them set out a vision of what they hope their church will look like in the near future. If their achievements match their aspirations then Northampton is certainly in for a glorious, even spectacular, period of Christian growth. There could be thousands of new converts, great youth work, authentic expressions of community and possibly revival.
However, just as this year’s harvest in the garden has not been dependent upon the pictures on the seed packets, but on the quality of the seed within them and the ground they were planted in, so too the spiritual harvest we see may bear little relationship to the visions set out on the websites.
It can be good to have great aspirations, but aspiration is not the same as faith, and aspirations alone do not produce fruit and life. The seed and the ground are the keys. Good seed, planted in good soil will produce good fruit.
One of the reasons I browse the local church websites is that we pray for every church in our town on a regular basis (all 150 of them) but I do find it hard to know how to pray for a church that promotes an image of itself, that is at best slightly exaggerated and at worst plainly untrue. We Christians, of all people, should make sure that what is inside the packet does what it says on the outside of the packet.