Whilst I’d known it was likely on its way for some time, its arrival was no less heart-sinking. There it was in black and white: confirmation that my time as an allotment plot holder had come to an end.
It was always going to be ambitious, but having waited so long to be offered a plot, I didn’t want to say no when the offer originally came through so I tried to fit everything in to an already-packed-week. I juggled here and I span plates there, but over time, the reality became unavoidable: I didn’t have enough time. That meant that planned trips to the allotment were squeezed out by other, less indulgent-feeling activities and opportunities to tend the land were missed.
Initially it didn’t seem too bad – a missed session here and a frantic bit of digging to catch up there papered over the cracks, but over time the allotment began to win. It wasn’t sustainable to offer less than was required and hope it would all be alright.
Thinking about my allotment fail, I was reminded of a more poignant lesson which we find in Proverbs.
We’re introduced to a character, The Sluggard, in Proverbs 6. His tendency, it seems, is to fritter time away and generally be lazy – non-diligent – when it comes to doing what’s needed. His ‘mañana, mañana’ attitude stores up trouble for him.
In Proverbs 24:30-34, we encounter him again. This time, the author observes that his passivity, distractedness and failure to tend to things that were needful had led to thorns and weeds popping up all over his vineyard.
The author is using the Sluggard metaphorically to make this point: As in life, so in our spiritual lives, repeated failure to ‘tend the garden’ leads to an overgrown mess.
The Protestant work ethic has much to answer for in terms of unhealthy approach to aspects of labour for some people, but others suffer ‘Sluggard Syndrome’ and it’s crippling to their spiritual vitality.
A missed devotional here, a cancelled meet-up to pray with friends there and an overslept meeting thrown in for good measure and before long the ground can be covered in weeds.
It would be easy to read this and come under a legalistic ‘thou must do this’, as if the devotional activities we engage in were there on a list to be ticked off. That’s not the case, but we do need to be reminded of the need for diligence, consistency… faithfulness in the spiritual disciplines if we are to be, as per Proverbs 24, ‘healthy vineyards’.
God has ordered it so that our spiritual health links to our devotional life. Are you feeling dry? Like God has abandoned you? Like He’s not making Himself known to you? Maybe the symptoms link to your quality and priority of time in God’s Word, in prayer, in worship or in fasting.
Maybe the neglect of those things, little by little, explains the shape you find yourself in.
Notice how things evolve for the Sluggard. His vineyard isn’t beset with weeds ‘all of a sudden’; it follows patterns of drift and of neglect formed over time. A little folding of the hands following on from a little sleep and slumber. On repeat.
Vitality yields to lacklustre; sharp gives way to blunt. Delighted, joyful song is replaced with a yawn. The pursuit of right living as a disciple of Jesus just seems a little too much like hard work.
One of the subtle things about this ‘slow fade’ is how insidious it is. The busyness of life, the demands of a to-do list, a fractured relationship in church, children’s activities and a thousand other small things conspire to pull you away from tending your vineyard.
Maybe as you read this, the Sluggard’s vineyard feels like an accurate description of your life right now. There was no ‘moment’ to pinpoint, just a slow drift. A ‘little-by-little’ stepping back from the nourishing His Word and His presence provide. If so, there’s good news! As Mat often reminds us: There’s always grace!
What crept into being over time can, in a moment of repentance, begin to see change. Old habits needn’t die hard. God’s invitation to the devotion-neglecting, distracted, weary vineyard keeper – to you and to me – is to come, return to Him and to allow His Word to revive our souls and His Spirit to refresh us.
The letter through the door may have put paid to my allotment-eering, but in the grace of God, no matter the state of your vineyard today, there’s a way back. Friend, tend to your vineyard whilst there’s still opportunity.
Enjoy this song by Rend Collective as you rediscover the joy of your first love through the means He's graciously made available.