God has such a great sense of humor, don’t you think?
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. While my parents spoke of our distant farming relatives, I was content with skyscrapers and concrete sidewalks and was turning out to be quite a city girl, through and through. Once I lived on my own, I could count on Jewel-Osco to always have carrots, apples, or even “locally sourced” sweet corn.
But then, I grew up, had a family of my own, and here we are… living in the untamed savannahs of Africa. We have been fortunate to discover that our family is quite adaptable and resilient – embracing all things foreign and new with ease. Eventually, however, we began to miss certain things, like cilantro and lettuce, which required mama to learn a new skill… FARMING!
In our 5 years here in Africa, I am proud to say I have acquired quite the “green thumb”- while not award-winning (yet), it is definitely getting the job done. I’ve had plenty of trial and error, have read more than my share on soil temperatures and germination rates, and have gleaned volumes from anyone who would share. Most surprising to me, however, has been how intimate my sun and sweat-stained times out here in the garden have been with the Lord.
Before my season here in Africa, I would have read right over the parable of the sower. It was always an appreciated story, but again, I didn’t have the context to really hear it. But now, oh dear friends, you can’t believe the lessons learned from this fellow farmer.
“While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.’ This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” Luke 8:4-8, 11&12
As a missionary, most people would assume that these were the “lost souls” my family and I had been sent here to minister to and “save”, and while I would offer a hesitant nod to that assumption, I’d argue that these same seeds are in your life too – possibly your next door neighbor, classmate, or cubicle comrade?
“Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.” The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.
I believe these are the seeds that many of us can identify with. After all, we are called to be in this world, but not of it (John 15:19); we are charged to not love the world or anything in the world (1 John 2:15).
But LORD, please, don’t you see all of the shiny things this world has to offer!
These are the very “riches and pleasures” that can consume our attention, feed our anxieties, and, if we aren’t careful, end up stifling our growth in Him. I appreciate how Peter encourages us in this:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light… Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” 1 Peter 2:9-11
As a people belonging to God, may we shepherd our seeds well and stay away from the thorns of this life.
“Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.”
With my pride swallowed and missionary card packed away, I have to share how convicted I was reading about these seeds…
You see, these seeds represent me in my current season of life. I am a beautiful child of God, who has received His word with joy, but now, in a time of testing, some of my weak roots are beginning to be exposed.
The magnitude of my “root rot” was revealed to me recently as a friend was sharing his stories and photos after a trip to Israel. The pictures were reminiscent of a grey Ireland actually, with stonewalls that separated one plot from another. It was what he shared next that literally caught my breath.
“As part of the experience, we visited a Galilean field and were invited to identify a rock within the plot, loosen it, and move it over to a boundary wall. The rocks varied in shape and size,” he explained, “but they all seemed relatively harmless from the 1-3 inches of exposed visibility. I found mine and began the tedious work of digging with my bare hands. As soon as I’d seem to have one edge freed, however, the rock’s surface would take another jagged turn into the depths of unexposed earth.
45 minutes later, with the tour bus packed, running, and waiting for me, I had finally loosened my stone and managed to heave it up to the earth’s surface. It took another 10 minutes, however, to roll it over to the boundary walls edge because I refused to accept any assistance – this was my rock to maneuver.”
The story of course sounded ridiculous. Who would spend an hour moving a dumb rock on vacation just give up already and go have some chilled water on the bus?
I immediately recognized this rock in his field, however. I had the same rock of unforgiveness in my heart.
I knew I had to do something. My rock of unforgiveness, while seemingly small and harmless from the exposed surface, had the potential to wither away my growth in Him. Without the necessary work of digging, excavation, and permanent removal, my unforgiveness would continue to compromise my pursuit and growth in Him.
I am happy to report I heeded the LORD’s advice and have been “doing the work.” While I am still elbow deep in the hard work of forgiveness and His beautiful sanctification, I am confident that this rock will be removed and added to the boundary wall soon.
“Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown… But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”
Praise the Lord for the promise of good seed, amen?! While I had to confess my current season of excavation, I have tasted and seen this good soil even in my own life. When my eyes are fixed on Him, and I have been loosened from the chains of sin or selfish gain, I have tasted and seen the good fruit that only He can cultivate.
So dear friends, let us stay the course. There may be seasons of thorns in your life, possibly even rocks, but we must remember that every season has a beginning and an end. Wherever we find ourselves today, may we seek His word, retain it, and persevere. After all, we must never lose sight of our seeds’ manufacturer.
“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” John 15:1&4