Grass is amazing stuff.
I don’t know how much of the world’s native environments are grassland, but there are quite a lot of them. The American prairies, the African savannah, the Eurasian steppe… Not to mention the fact that almost all of our staple food crops are grasses.
I think there are things we can learn from grass.
1. Grass is small. Even bamboo, the largest member of the grass family, is a mere stick compared to a large oak tree. And most grasses make the bamboo look big. Its leaves are so thin and narrow that they’re practically indistinguishable from its stalk, and if you put a blade of grass down next to even a small oak tree, you’re unlikely to notice it.
This is the main lesson the Bible itself draws from grass. It’s easy to think we’re somebody pretty special, but who are we really? Compared to God, just grass. The first lesson of grass is “get over yourself”. It truly is not about you.
As a corollary to that, it’s easy to get super-impressed with other people, too. They look like great trees of bamboo next to our puny stems of field grass. But they’re still just grass. Maybe we need to redirect our attention and impressedness off of people and back to the Lord where it belongs. If He fills our vision, then we will neither be afraid of nor overly impressed with man.
2. Grass grows from the bottom. All plants have what is called a “growing tip”. If you’ve ever grown house plants, you’ll probably know that if you break or damage the central shoot it will adversely affect the growth of the whole plant. That’s because the central shoot is the growing tip. It is the main centre of growth for the entire plant, and without it, the plant cannot grow.
Unlike every other plant, the grass family have their growing tips right down at the bottom next to the roots. This means that when an animal such as a buffalo comes along and eats most of the body of the grass, it’s able to grow back, because the growing tip is unharmed.
What this means in functional terms is that grass is made for grazing. We’ll come to the implications of this in a minute, but right now let’s address the fact known to all gardeners, that if you mow it down, it grows right back.
Is there a lesson for us here concerning our times of adversity, to do the difficult thing of letting go of what we cling to and trusting the God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6) to enable us to grow back? Perhaps. Grass can face being cut down with equanimity. It’s designed to survive it.
Interestingly, Jesus uses the picture of wheat, a grass, to talk about His death and resurrection. “Unless a seed of wheat fall into the ground and die, it remains only a single seed.” This is slightly different, in that it’s talking about a seed becoming a plant rather than a plant growing back, but it’s related. In light of the Resurrection, we can trust God enough to be able to say, with David, “I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).
3. Grass is designed to be grazed. As I said above, one of the implications of the location of the grasses’ growing tips is that they are literally made for grazing.
Many of the world’s large animals are grazers, as are quite a few smaller ones: Buffalo, cattle, sheep, llamas, white rhinoceros, elephants, rabbits, musk oxen, antelope, voles, pandas (bamboo is a grass), many seed-eating birds, reindeer, zebras and wildebeest. And that’s just a partial list. Since we’re told that God is the Provider of food for animals as well as people, we can learn lessons from grass about God’s provision.
It’s easy to get focused on the size of our needs. A family of five including three growing children takes a lot of feeding. And there are always situations arising that rock us back from where we thought we were. Cars die. Family members get sick. People get laid off. Needs happen.
Our need may be a mammoth asking, but even mammoths were grazers. God’s very nature is to provide, and sometimes this comes not in a great oak of provision but in a field of grass.
4. Grass shows up everywhere it can’t. This is something I find truly amazing about grass. It’s an expert at colonising all sorts of marginal habitats. High in the mountains? Yeah. Beach sand, with little fresh water and constant exposure to the drying effects of salt? No problem. Inside the Arctic Circle up where the sun doesn’t rise for weeks on end? Bring it on. In a minuscule crack in the concrete? Watch this.
Grass not only grows in all of these situations, it teems. Working on the excavation end of construction, it never ceases to amaze me how we can strip away all of the topsoil to leave a thick, rock-hard Texas clay, bring an area to finished grade, then come back six months later to find it sprouting with grasses that no-one sowed.
Grass will grow in any tiny accumulation of dirt that gets lit and ocasionally gets dampened. It shows up in the most unlikely places. Wherever you put it, it’ll grow.
There are multiple lessons for us here. Tenacity. Perseverance. Willingness to try. Refusal to let other people’s failures dishearten us. But I think what I want to bring out of it is concerning evangelism.
It’s easy to look at people and think, “Oh, they’ll never become a Christian, because…” Fill in the blank. They’re a Muslim. They’re a hardcore atheist. They have been personally harmed by people claiming the name of Christ.
But grass shows up everywhere it can’t. You never know what chance remark is going to stick with someone. God is not going to let His word return to Him void.
Yeah, they may be a survivor of pastoral abuse. They may be a Muslim, with all of the misconceptions about what Christians believe that many of them have. They may be a self-proclaimed enemy of Christianity and of Christ. But they are not unreachable. We may need to think a little more carefully about how we approach them so that we are listened to rather than rejected, but grass shows up everywhere it can’t. Look at the Apostle Paul. Before he met Christ he was the 1st Century equivalent of the leader of the Taliban. If anyone was unreachable, it was the chief persecutor of the faith.
5. Grass doesn’t usually grow by itself. It’s really unusual to find just a single stalk of grass. Usually, it grows all together. It clumps, aggregates, teems. Where one grass is, there’s usually a multitude.
Not that you get a single species monoculture either, or at least, not outside of a crop field. Grass grows together with other plants, in amongst each other in a thoroughly mixed way. This makes the grass ecosystem stronger, less vulnerable to diseases and pests.
The lessons I want to draw from this are the twin lessons of fellowship and presence in the world.
We need both. I’ve seen followers of Christ try to go it alone without considering themselves part of a church, and it doesn’t normally work. Grass is designed to be together. Like a meadow, each individual plant supports its neighbours, and we truly are stronger together.
But the church isn’t designed to be an exclusive club either. Jesus didn’t pray that we would be taken out of the world, or even isolated from it (John 17:15). Just as it’s unhealthy for a meadow to be all one species of grass, so it’s unhealthy for Christians to all clump together in our Godly ghetto and refuse to have anything to do with anyone who thinks differently. We may be, as the bumper sticker proclaims, “not of this world”, but we are still in it, and we have a job to do here. It’s time we remembered that.
I could probably go on. As I alluded, there are other lessons one could also draw from the simple blade of grass. But grass is small, so perhaps I should not try to create some huge systematic teaching from it. I might get big-headed, which is the antithesis of grass.