I’m an enthusiastic composter. I’ve got several compost bins. There’s a neat plastic, box-shaped one that sits at the back of the house and takes all the veg peelings as well as garden waste. There are several on our allotment, including a big one put together rather crudely from old pallets; and for my recent birthday I was given a rotating compost bin. I’m very excited to see how that’ll work.
I love it when I get that rich, dark, crumbly compost out of the bottom of the bin.
Compost isn’t that glamorous, but I find some lessons in it. Jesus so often looked to gardening and farming and nature for pictures through which to teach us, so I feel quite unapologetic about using compost as my teacher.
Here are a couple of thoughts:
First, I know that I can’t keep on growing stuff on my allotment, taking goodness out of the soil, without putting goodness back. I’ll exhaust the soil. I don’t want to put industrially-produced chemicals into my soil, so I’m working hard at making more compost and feeding goodness back that way. I was really pleased when I was working on the allotment to see how full the soil was with worms. I think that’s a good sign.
In the same way, I know I need to feed goodness into my life spiritually. I need to spend time in God’s word, and in prayer and in fellowship with other followers of Jesus and in worship. If I don’t, I can try hard to give out – serving God, trying to make a difference for good, but I’ll get exhausted like the soil. I’ll get less fruitful.
Paul encourages the Christians at Thessalonica (in his second letter) to hold fast to the teachings (2:15). He assures them of God’s love for them (2:16). He prays that their hearts are encouraged and he asks them to pray for him (3.1) (It’s a two-way thing). All this so that they can be strengthened in every good deed and word (2:17) (because our faith is one that works itself out in practical action for love and peace and justice in our world). This is all about putting the goodness in so that their lives can be fruitful and give the goodness out.
My second thought about composting is this: the ingredients are stuff we could so easily dismiss as rubbish or stuff to throw away because it’s useless (dead flowers/vegetable waste/grass cuttings/weeds/old loo rolls, even). Yet in that compost bin it’s transformed into something life-giving and good.
Dave Bookless, who started A Rocha UK over 20 years ago now, called his autobiography “God doesn’t do waste”. It’s a thought-provoking title. Sometimes there’s stuff in our life story that we think is useless, that has been rubbish, that we could so easily think is just waste. But if God is as good and powerful as I believe he is, he can transform that waste into something worthwhile and it can be from the rubbish bits of our lives that God produces the fruitfulness.
Paul asks the Thessalonians to pray for him and his team that they may be delivered from wicked and evil people. He faced opposition, imprisonment, and lots of frustrations in his efforts to spread the Good News. But God could turn it round for good and he did. Joseph recognised that something in the way God turned round the harm done to him by his brothers and others to do good and save many lives (Genesis 50:20).
Paul had some health problems. He prayed that God would take them away, but God didn’t (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). A few years ago I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. It’s a bit of a bummer. I’d rather be without it. But I want to learn, like Paul did, that God’s grace is sufficient for me; that his strength is made perfect in my weakness and that it’s not a waste.
So let me encourage you to take a bit of time to think about how you can keep feeding goodness back into your life so that your life can be fruitful for God. And think maybe in a new way about the stuff in your life that looks like rubbish or waste, and ask God to show you how he can transform that into something life-giving and good.
This reflection was written by Andy Jowitt , A Rocha UK’s Volunteer Community Engagement Officer at our Foxearth Meadows Nature Reserve in north Essex (January 2022).