The Greatest Botanist On This Planet

I am really bad at lawns. I’m decent at lawn darts, horrible at lawn care. While I love the idea of a lush, green yard, I have never been able to cultivate a lawn worthy of admiration. I have owned three houses and with them, three yards. Within one calendar year of moving in to each new home, my grass has, without fail, been overrun with crabgrass, dandelions and clovery looking weeds. This wouldn’t be so frustrating were it not for the fact that I actually kind of try. I fertilize, I mow, I spray weeds…I try to keep it all looking pretty. But I fail.

My neighbor, on the other hand, works hard at his lawn care. He is always outside tending to his lawn: spot spraying weeds, digging up patches of crabgrass, sowing seed on bare patches, aerating and over-seeding. Not surprisingly, my neighbor has a yard worthy of envy. He is a super nice guy, but I assume he must quietly hate me because my clover weed things are always threatening to creep into his perfectly green fescue. Though no fence or barrier separates our lots, there is an unmistakable property line where my ugly, weedy grass ends and his fairway lawn begins. I still try, as evidenced by the $150 I just spent at Lowe’s on lawn care products, but I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that I am just not the kind of guy that is wired for working the land.

In the 2015 flick, The Martian, Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, a scientist who gets stranded on Mars when a sudden storm disrupts his team's departure plans. Left to fend for himself on the red and barren planet, Watney is forced to the limits of his own ingenuity and resourcefulness as he fights for survival. After numerous attempts, experiments, and contraptions, Watney eventually succeeds in growing potatoes out of the dead land. Recording his video log, Mark looks slyly at the camera and records, with a mixture of jest and earnestness, “I am the greatest botanist on this planet!” 

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a story about growing things that resonates closely with my grass-growing woes. For those unfamiliar, it goes like this: a sower drops seed on the ground, yet only a small percentage of the seed ever takes root and bears fruit. Unless the ground is fertile and free from weeds, pests, rocks, or other contaminants, the seed will never fully germinate. The challenge is this: be diligent in cultivating the kind of soil that will bear fruit. 

The message is not ultimately about grass or potatoes. It’s not really about botany at all: it’s about our hearts. The invitation from Jesus is to enter into the kind of life that truly blossoms. It’s an invitation and a challenge not to settle for mechanized motions of empty faith, but to dig deep into the soil of grace and truth, living richly, boldly, and sacrificially for the kingdom of heaven that is breaking through in and around us. Like my neighbor and Mark Watney have both discovered, the land will bear fruit if we put in the hard, tireless work of cultivating, protecting, and nurturing it. 

Even the worst soil can be brought back to life.

Chances are, the soil of your life is somewhere between the barren dust of the planet Mars and perfectly manicured pride of suburbia I see everyday when I walk out my front door and look to the right. Regardless of where you stand - or where you think you stand - the invitation and promise of life are just as real and available to you as they are to anyone. As Brandon Hatmaker writes in his latest book, A Mile Wide, and as the stranded Mark Watney demonstrates, “even the worst soil can be brought back to life.” We have the greatest Botanist in the universe who can and will work wonders in your heart. You and I have to want that; and, more often than we’d like to admit, we have to do the hard work of tending to the soil each and every day.


Dan is a pastor, writer, and speaker. He is the host of the Ordinary Faith Podcast and currently serves as a Campus Pastor for Southland Christian Church in Georgetown, KY.