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Cultivate: A Word Study

I have a fascination with words and their meanings. This partly comes from being a writer and figuring out how to tell a tale using language that most people understand, but can also hold meaning to the overall story, the characters, or even just for myself.


But it also stems from my relationship with God. I don’t hear God’s audible voice, but He does speak to me. It’s hard to explain how, but He does it through writing. I sit down with my journal, and I pray. As I pray, I get a word or a phrase that pops into my head. No more, just the start of a sentence. When I write that word or phrase down, I get the rest of the sentence. And so, I’ll write, getting one or two words at a time until this flow of words stops.


I’m sure many people will think it’s just my imagination, and that’s fine. My point here is not to convince anyone that God speaks to me.


Once I have this piece of writing, I’m often curious about certain word choices that were used and I’ll go look up their meaning, or find Bible verses that contain that word to see if it adds anything to what I’ve written down.


At the beginning of this year, I sat down and asked the Lord what he wanted to say to me about 2023. One of the things he said to me was, “Cultivate our relationship the way you want to. You’ve desired to cultivate a relationship with me that’s deeper than anything you’ve experienced yet. Make that a priority this year. Take me back to the garden. From the looks of it, you’ll be spending a lot of time there this year. Take me with you. Let me speak to you there as I have in the past.” And right after this he told me to do a word study on the word “cultivate”. So I did.


According to dictionary.com it has these meanings:

1. To prepare and work on (land) in order to raise crops; till.

2. To use a cultivator on. (or what we commonly know as a tiller)

3. To promote or improve the growth of (a plant, crop, etc.) by labor and attention.

4. To produce by culture;

5. To cultivate a strain of bacteria (aka grow)

6. To develop or improve by education or training; train; refine:

7. To cultivate a singing voice.

8. To promote the growth or development of (an art, science, etc.); foster.


Maybe you don’t know me well enough to see why simply looking at this list of definitions is enough to make me all kinds of excited, but I’ll explain that later because there’s more.

The etymology of the word is this:


From Medieval Latin cultivates, past participle of cultivare “to cultivate,” from Late Latin cultivus “Tilled,” from Latin cultus “Care, labor; cultivation,” from past participle of colere “to cultivate, to till; to inhabit; to practice, respect; tend, guard,” from PIE root *kwel-(1) “revolve, move round; sojourn, dwell.”


In a figurative sense of “improve by labor or study, devote one’s attention to” is from 1680’s. Meaning “court the acquaintance of (someone) is by 1707.


So, by specifically using the word “cultivate” the Lord is giving me multiple images of what this means. He shows me, using modern gardening language, (a thing I love to do, a thing I understand because I love to garden) that he wants me to tend and grow our relationship the way I tend and grow the plants in my garden.


But there is also this other idea of it being labor intensive. Being purposeful in training. Which also goes back to the garden. Caring for a large garden like mine takes labor, takes effort, takes intentional time every day to go out and pull weeds, water, mulch, deadhead and other tasks. But being purposeful in training applies to so many other things. For me it goes back to all the brain science stuff I’ve learned. It takes effort, time, and training to develop new habits and to create new pathways in the brain, which is exactly what I’m going to need to do to change my daily habits so I can put more time and energy into my relationship with God.


And on top of all that, there is the medieval meaning to revolve, sojourn, and dwell. A complete picture of what God wants me to do this year to build our relationship so I can experience him in deeper ways I haven’t yet experienced him.


Tend, take care of, focus on, put time and effort into this relationship. Dwell in him, revolve around his presence. To sojourn – which means to reside temporarily – adds yet another layer. It could be easy for me believe I have to spend hours and hours studying my Bible every day. Spending a lot of time praying every day, but I don’t. I simply need to make our relationship a higher priority than some other things, like social media, playing games on my phone or computer, watching television, or reading books.


And this is just one example of finding deeper meaning behind simple words. Have you ever looked into the deeper meaning of word or phrase? What did you find?

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