The Century Plant: a lesson in God’s natural design for Multiplication

I have not posted for a while as I’ve been recently tending to areas in my life that I need to grow in.   It’s been a time of self-examination.  And in this time, I’ve realized that I have much to learn still about life in Christ and its relationship to apostolic mission.   In particular, I realized that a lot of what gets passed off as good apostolic church planting stuff is actually just human wisdom and strategy that does not have as much reproducible power as we think it does; in fact, the only reason we pay attention to it is because it worked with good results once before in a specific context.  What often gets overlooked is the small and unexpected things that truly do have spiritual power in God’s natural order.

One example of one such “small” thing that illustrates what I’ve been currently wrestling with is the local Arizona “century plant.”  Here is a picture that my friend, Kenneth, took and doctored up a bit with Lightroom. As we’ve taken people out on wilderness hikes, my friend, Dezi, has always been quick to point these out as an example of the lessons found in God’s organic nature.  They are all over our part of Eastern Arizona.  They spring up quickly, get tall, then keel over, and die.

The locals incorrectly translated the Apache word for these plants, which literally translated as something like “100 plants.”  They were called that by the Apaches because these “100 plants” would grow tall quickly, then die and uproot itself in the process.  In the dying and uprooting, it would spread its seeds and multiply a “100” fold.  In short, multiplication happens through its upheaval and death.  So “century plant” — which wrongly focuses “100” on a chronological time period — is really off the mark in communicating the true nature of these plants that, like Dandelions, live for a short duration and multiply a hundred-fold.

So there in this insignificant-seeming plant, God shows us an important spiritual reality: the necessary place death plays in multiplication.   Now, I can intellectually agree with the need for Jesus to die on the cross for multiplication to happen for the world or for martyrdom to happen for multiplication to happen in gospel-hostile soil, but I’ve not historically thought as much about this death needing to happen in ME!  That’s uncomfortable, costly … and too close to home!   It’s much more comfortable talking about objective  strategies and methods that can be easily tried  — like a new tool of the day you discover at the hardware store.  But there’s a difference between finding/trying tools and BEING the tool itself! One is clean and doesn’t hurt. The other guarantees suffering and abuse.  But there it is still: the truth of the century plant remains: death IN ME is an integral part of the multiplication process.

This is what God has lately been doing in me: uprooting and reminding me that I need to get bigger by getting smaller.  God has been showing me the need for my own spiritual death and the need to debase rather than exalt myself — which unfortunately I’m better at than I want to admit.  It’s too easy for me to prop myself up with the things the world cherishes: talent, technique, expertise, gifting, experience, and position — or, perhaps more to the point, the appearance of these.  Through community that loved me enough to confront me and also forgive me, I’ve been reminded of this in my own life.  Interestingly, God continues to bring up Scripture passages that speak of an inner dying: e.g., Philippians 2, John 14, Galatians 2, Mark 14’s anointing of Jesus and last supper words).  I guess Jesus has been making sure I get the message.  : )

It has been a humbling and painful experience to realize how much of the false and sinful man I had been allowing to grow in me.  But the more I allow this person to “grow taller,” the less the Spirit controls me, and the less I walk in God’s natural design for spirituality, community and mission.  As much as I’d like to believe that my personal transformation is not intimately tied to my personal engagement in mission, the fact is that they are closely tied together in the way God has designed the world.  Or to put it another way, who I am is more important than what I know, more important than what I have done, and more important that what I can do.  I’m not sure why it’s so easy to default on those other three things instead of tending to my personal character, but I know it happens. Thankfully, the Lord loves me enough to reinforce this in my life — even though it has been painful.

I have no stories of multiplication to pass on — just one of my continual need to die first.  I’ll take on faith that God will do the other stuff  if and when He wants to.   So I pass on what I’ve lately come to see in greater truth: I need to die more if I want to see God move in the way I desire.


SN – Just got this off Mike Jentes and Neil Cole’s Tweetdeck, and I think it speaks to the point:

“Men are looking for better methods. God is looking for better men.” –E. M. Bounds



4 comments to The Century Plant: a lesson in God’s natural design for Multiplication

  • kristy

    This so resonates with what God wants to teach me. It is in growing smaller that he can become brighter and bigger. Releasing his Spirit to completely take over my life is so scary! I know there are things I need to die to and let go of. I am holding on still.
    Jesus help Mike and I to let go, to die to self and to let you be in total charge of our lives. Thank you for Mike and Leslie and all that you are teaching them. You are teaching us through them.

  • Thank you, Kristy! I’ll pray for you the things I’m praying for myself as well.

  • J. Michael

    I am really interested in your process in deciding to go to Arizona and do what you are doing.

  • Will email you, J. Michael.

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