“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
James 4:17 (NIV)
God’s First Test: Would I Sin?
When we lived in a high rise in Koreatown in Los Angeles, I had a beautiful balcony garden. It was high-maintenance and big, especially for a city apartment. I loved my lush urban oasis – and I loved caring for it – very much.
During this time, I accepted a position as an academic department chair. This was a major leap in responsibility from adjunct professor, and I was hungry to prove myself worthy. So, I worked hard.
Let me rephrase that: I overworked myself.
I rearranged my young sons’ drop-off and pick-up schedules according to my longer commute. I brought my work home and paid for wash-n-fold laundry service to buy myself time from the basement laundry room 17 floors down. I focused my skimpy free time on the boys and my two older kids in Chicago.
No more loving my balcony garden.
But I Didn’t Think It Was Sinful!
I should’ve known things were bad when I started making daily decisions to not go onto the balcony, even to water my thirsty plants when I “ought to.” I kept convincing myself I’d water them later – when I “had a chance.” I felt so time-crunched, I kept putting off – and putting off again – those “chances” even though I knew I was harming my plants.
I mean, we all know what happens when you don’t water your plants, right?
Yep, they die.
Which mine did.
This balcony-wide death wasn’t accidental, wasn’t a mistake. It wasn’t from a lack of knowledge or lack of a green thumb. It was slaughter.
It was an active kill from my active choices to:
not fill the watering can,
not slide the door open,
not step out among my cherished charges, and
not give them the water they so desperately needed.
All despite knowing that, duh, Coco, plants need water to live.
Therefore, to not water those plants was sin for me. Because I knew better.
And to lose them all, in one fell swoop, was a crushing – and fitting – consequence.
God’s Re-Test: A Gift to Do What I Ought To Do
A couple years later, when we moved to Downtown Los Angeles, we signed the lease sight-unseen because we loved the building and the management, and the floor plan fit our growing-up family so perfectly. But the floor plan did not include a balcony, which had always been de riguer for me.
I humbly figured my gardening punishment was locked in for all time. I didn’t want to accept it. But I didn’t see a choice. I figured that’s what “tough love” is, right?
So, I swallowed my sad, garden-less future and packed for the move.
On the day we picked up our keys to move in, the manager said he had a surprise. I graciously thought it might be a newly installed stove or microwave. He excitedly opened the door to our new digs, and he led us through the living room to… a back door. My mind raced as I recalled the floor plan that had shown an electric fireplace in that spot.
Totally confused, I thought, “Why did they remove the fireplace? I was going to put a few little plants there in sad homage. Am I stepping into some other dimension or something?”
When he opened that door and invited me onto MY MASSIVE NEW BALCONY THAT WAS 4X BIGGER THAN THE ONE I’D TRASHED, I wept with gratitude.
I built a new garden in this very generous gift that God had bestowed upon a very undeserving me. I stuck with hard-to-kill succulents. Still, I take care to never decide that “it’s OK” to not do what I ought to do – which is, water them.
Because that would be sin for me.
- What is a responsibility that you know is yours, but that you’ve been actively choosing to put off – or flat-out not do?
2. How can you change up your decisions and your “convincing yourself” – your justifications for your choice to “not do” this thing – so you can avert disastrous results from this sin?
3. Where in your mind, heart and soul can you tuck this lesson away, so the painful consequences will remind you to not fall into that trap again?
3b. Or might you choose to hold this lesson squarely in front of you instead of tucking it away?
4. Maybe, just maybe, what is the surprise second chance God has given you? What is the fresh-and-new but similar situation (your “balcony”) plus the all-new but similar responsibilities (your “plants”)?
4b. Even if these new responsibilities are more manageable for you (I mean, my succulents are more manageable for me), will you still step up and fulfill them…
and do the good you ought to do?
If you’d like to immerse yourself in the real-life garden sights and soothing rainy sounds of a slightly shorter version of this storytelling devotional – that concludes with “watering” you with a prayer – please check out the episode entitled “Are You Also Guilty of This Gardening Sin | James 4:17” on my YouTube channel, which also called “GraceBod”!