Have you ever invested yourself into something with the expectation of immediate results? Instant gratification has become a norm in our tech-driven society, but in all practicality I think we all know that putting our time and energy into various efforts rarely results in seeing immediate change and impact. Just ask the one-week-wonder fitness enthusiast who fails to complete a marathon after only a few days of hitting the gym. Or maybe the frustrated romantic whose bouquet of flowers and handful of notes hasn't generated a soul-mate relationship overnight. Ok, so maybe those are exaggerated examples. But still, at some level we tend to fall for an illusion of quick change and easily become forgetful that the best changes happen over time.
The progress we're interested in is the result of a process duly invested in.
And this is especially true of the spiritual change we hope to see in our hearts and the hearts of those we care for. I was reminded of this last week when my kids & I opened up to an oft-forgotten parable of Jesus. Mark records it for us in Mark 4:26-29.
The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.
It's a simple parable, but its relevance runs deep and wide, especially for those of us who long for spiritual growth and transformation in our own lives, or the lives of our loved ones and even our churches. In this post, let me share just two reminders God brought to my heart through Jesus' teaching here.
Farmers work hard...but know their hard work is limited.
Though it might appear that all the farmer does in this story is haplessly scatter seed around his fields, it's easy enough to read between the lines and imagine the back-breaking work this farmer has done to even be at the stage of sowing seed. Farmers work hard to break up soil and then ready it through all kinds of methods, machines, and yes, even manure. They plan carefully to plant at the right times, to water in the right amounts, and the list goes on. But even the best of them know that no matter how much effort they put in to provide optimal conditions, they could never work hard enough to generate the very capacity for growth that is tucked away inside those teeny seeds. The potential for maturity and harvest all wrapped up in a seed is something that no farmer could ever fully fathom let alone engineer. That's the Creator's business. What the farmer is ultimately after is something only God can grant.
And when it comes to the spiritual fruit we long for in our lives or others', we need to be reminded that though we may work hard to provide optimal conditions for spiritual growth, what we're really after is something only God can produce. We can put in effort to live out the gift of salvation in our lives with all the "fear and trembling" we can muster, but really it's "God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13, NKJV).
Farmers, then, know how to rest and be patient.
Because farmers know their hard work is limited, they can afford to rest. They don't need to stay up all through the night to manipulate every single second that the seed is in the soil. And when they know they've done all they can do, farmers are patient with the process. Maybe all they see for days or weeks is the barren soil they've buried their seed in. But they're not fretting over it the absence of visible change. They're simply waiting the process out. Even when farmers see the signs of life sprouting up through the ground, they still have the patience to wait for a blade to turn into head and the head to fully ripen into mature grain before they ever get their harvesting tools out.
When we start getting anxious over the lack of spiritual fruit in our lives or our ministries, let's take heart and be patient with the process. Like a patient farmer, let's hang tight with the the assurance that the Holy Spirit will bring about the full ripening that we long for in our personal lives and in our church ministries especially as we prepare for His soon return (cf. James 5:7). So whether we're planting a church in a community or planting truth in someone's heart, we can thank God in advance for the maturity He'll bring about in His time and way.