Do you enjoy growing a garden? If not, do you enjoy seeing beauty in nature like a tree at the height of autumn?
If I’m honest, I do not enjoy gardening. I have allergies, and I almost always have to stop early due to some kind of allergic reaction.
But I have one tree that I take great pride in, which I planted in my yard. We found a sapling growing where it didn’t belong and decided to strategically plant it. Now, it’s become a strong tree, able to withstand severe Kansas winds. Soon, it will provide significant shade for decades to come.
When it comes to replacing toxic thoughts, the process is similar to gardening. It involves not only pulling up the toxic weeds (er, thoughts) but also replacing them with new trees composed of good thoughts.
A friend of mine calls his tree the tree of righteousness. I’m going to suggest that we plant and cultivate a tree of thankfulness in our minds and hearts.
The importance of planting a new tree
In Matthew 12, Jesus describes what happens when a demon is cast out and the person has not filled his mind and heart with God. He says,
“Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before” (Mt. 12:45 NLT).
If we work diligently to pull the toxic weeds and trees in our lives but don’t take time to plant healthy trees in their place, we run the danger of having our lives being overrun by more noxious weeds.
The sunflower is the Kansas state flower, but many farmers consider it a despicable weed. We planted one by our fence one year. We delighted in its glory but were dismayed by how it kept growing and taking over our neighbor’s yard. It took us years to prevent it from growing back.
WARNING: Make sure you’re planting a tree of thankfulness and not something that looks like gratitude. Sometimes arrogance and false humility can mask themselves as gratefulness.
How to Plant a Tree of Thankfulness
Just like gardeners can start with a seed or a sapling, we also can start with a seed of faith or find a small sapling of faith that has been ignored. In either case, there are just a few simple steps to plant a tree of thankfulness.
#1: Prepare the soil. This includes removing all remnants of the weed and fertilizing the soil. Mentally, this happens through rehearsing new beliefs. Spiritually, this starts with daily prayers specifically feeding the new beliefs. Invite the Spirit to be the lead Gardener.
#2: Water the tree. New trees require daily watering and fertilizer. For physical trees, it’s recommended to water daily for at least two weeks and then three times per week for another three months. For mental and spiritual trees, I think Dr. Leaf’s advice of 21 days of daily watering is preferred.
#3: Provide support structures. A new tree requires stakes so that it will grow straight and become strong enough to withstand strong winds. These can be needed for a couple of years. Likewise, in our early days of planting new thoughts and beliefs, we need strong support. This can be friends, pastors, and/or counselors. But don’t think you can do this alone.
4 Ways to Cultivate a Tree of Thankfulness
Once the tree is planted and established, it’s time to help it grow and thrive. The first 21 days may be the most critical, but it typically takes three months before a tree has established a strong enough root system to survive. It may require two to three years before it can survive without ongoing care. The same is true for our minds.
Here are four ways to cultivate your tree of thankfulness.
#1: Feeding Your Mind with the Word
God’s Word is the source of ultimate truth, yet we live in a day where thousands of books, blog posts, podcasts, and other forms of education are published daily. As good as all these things can be (and please keep reading and listening to mine!), our new thought trees—if I can call them that—need the best food possible. God’s Word has all the nutrients we will ever truly need.
#2: Being Filled with the Holy Spirit
Paul tells the Ephesians, “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 5:18 NLT). The Greek word filled could be translated “keep on being filled.” The prophet Jeremiah said we’re like leaky cisterns. While we have been born again and given new hearts, the battle between the old and new man makes it as if we have leaks in our hearts. So daily we pray for the ongoing filling of the Holy Spirit and inviting him to grow and feed our new trees, fighting off the spiders who might try to devour them.
On Day 51 of this challenge, I mentioned trying to bring an aspen tree home from Colorado. What I didn’t share is that a spider killed it before it got strong enough. Like that spider, negative thoughts and attacks of the enemy constantly seek to destroy our new trees of thankfulness.
#3: Deepening Your Walk with God
James 4:8 says, “Come close to God, and God will come close to you.” As we draw close to God, we gain perspective. We find negative thoughts lose their appeal, and we slowly learn to think like Jesus or as Paul put it, “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5 NLT). That mindset is filled with humility and a willingness to sacrifice for others. Truly grateful people always come across as humble.
#4: Building Strong Relationships
Like sequoia trees, we were not meant to live our faith alone. Remember Tom Hanks in Cast Away? He slowly started doing some pretty crazy things—like making friends with a volleyball—to try to cope. But life isn’t like a Hollywood movie; we don’t always get rescued when we try to do life alone.
Just as God dwells in perfect unity as a triune God, we were made for relationships. God saw that man was lonely, and he created woman to be his helpmate. Jesus trained the disciples by sending them out in pairs and provided intense training for the inner circles of three and twelve disciples.
The Fruit of a Tree of Thankfulness
So what kinds of fruit will a tree of thankfulness bear? In addition to the fruits of the Spirit (see Gal. 5:22–23), I believe you will see additional benefits like decreased anxiety, increasing humility, overflowing worship, deepening prayer, and growing relationships.
Go plant a physical tree to care for as you plant a tree of thankfulness in your life. If you have kids or a spouse, do this together. If not, find a friend who will join you.
Father, I praise you as the Master Gardener. You started creation in a garden, and I can’t wait to see the garden you’re preparing in heaven! I pray you will remove the negative thoughts and sin patterns from my life to make way for the fruits of the Spirit you want to cultivate in me. Teach me to think more like you and to be forever grateful. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.