Words only have meaning in context. The word cultivate, like a gymnast, is flexible. We cultivate our gardens. We cultivate good or bad habits. We cultivate friendships. With just a little cultivation of the word on Google, we find that the Latin verb colere is the same root for culture and cult, as in religious cults. Thus, the word cultivate relates to cultural growth and the fostering of practices of worship.
I would like to talk about the word cultivate as it relates to the Christian life and the patterns or rhythms that should be natural to all believers. We can cultivate habits intended to bring about fruitfulness, goodness, and holiness in the end. As a pastor, I would like my church members to cultivate habits of Bible reading, of prayer, of remaining silent, and even habits of being “detached.”
One habit of holiness we need to cultivate more and more is memorizing scripture. It is one I have not cultivated as I should. Why is this important? Very simply because we can only think according to what is in our mind. If I read about tropical islands and see pictures of palm trees and beaches, I can think about such a place; I can even escape to such a place in my mind. What if we cultivate darker images? We carry these, too, in our minds. If we have Scripture in our mind we can think and act, and even feel more like Jesus—He is the Word made flesh. Theological reflection is made possible when Scripture is cultivated in our minds.
When I am able to recall a passage such as, “Have this mind in you, which was in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…” (Philippians 2:5-7); well, I usually stop the passage at this point. Even this short passage of Scripture bring me to a halt. It is overwhelming to think that the powerful and glorious Lord of the universe would take on servanthood. The idea of self-emptying humility for others is so counter-cultural (root colere) that I must pause and think of what this means for me today. Am I willing to stoop down, to empty myself for others? Do I treat my wife with such a servant mindset? What about my faculty and staff? I think about these things because the Word is in my mind, seeping into my heart. When you cultivate this perspective, well—that can change your life and all of your relationships.
I think this is the missing ingredient in much of Christianity today. Such holy habits will change your life, your relationships, your decision-making, how you live, and even how you die.
A few years back, I met the grandson of the great missionary leader, Dr. Donald McGavran and his wife, Mary. The two of them had been involved in education in India and were studying how churches grow. Toward the end of his life, his wife Mary was in the hospital living out her last days. Don McGavran’s grandson described their last days together. They would recite Psalms to each other they had memorized in Urdu.
When the memory is fading, the deep furrows that have been cultivated in the brain will remain. This happens when we cultivate a Scripture-focused mind on a daily basis. What we cultivate in our lives will determine the fruit we produce. It will determine our destiny.
What we cultivate determines who we become. I suggest that we cultivate holy habits.