The image of a well-watered garden to describe the satisfaction of the Christian’s life in God is not an end in itself. God’s plan is for us to grow and become mature; Paul tells us, ‘So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.’ (Eph 4:11-13) There is a grace and elegance to unity and maturity which reflects God’s nature. When a group of people from different backgrounds, different nationalities, different temperaments and different jobs all join together in worship and love, we see that there is a unifying force greater than ourselves. God joins us together; God knits us together. That’s what it means to be part of a local church and God wants the local church to be the place to which sinners are brought to see what being part of God’s family looks like, here on earth.
God is the one who waters our souls and makes us fruitful, but the prophets remind us of the part we have to play. Isaiah 58 reminds us that there has to be repentance on our part. The people of God have always been good at acting the part, but God looks beyond our actions to our hearts. He talks about needing more than outward fasting to please Him, about loosing the chains of injustice and sharing our food with the hungry and our clothes with the naked (Is 58:6-7). Jesus talked about this in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, when the King says, ‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matt 25:35-36) Whenever we serve others in this way, we serve God. Whenever we do the things God commands, we please Him and open the door for Him to come into our lives in new ways. Isaiah is blunt and eminently practical. He tells God’s people what to do: ‘do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk… spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed’ (Is 58:9-10). John is equally blunt in his letters: ‘we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.’ (1 John 3:16-18) It’s not rocket science which is required; it’s simple, faithful, ongoing obedience.
If we are to be that well-watered garden, like a tree planted by streams of water (see Ps 1:1-3), yielding fruit in season and not withering at any time, then we have to be people who have set our faces to Jesus and who delight in Him. We have to turn our backs on our old ways and the ways of sin and be those whose delight is in God’s word and God’s ways.