You’ve Gotta Sow First

If your ministry is not ready for consumption here than it’s not ready for export (there).

That was a quote from a missionary speaker at Urbana in explaining why our testimony and ability to share the gospel has to be matured here before we can take it to the missions field. It was pretty surprising to hear that since often times it’s taught that God can, and does, use anybody anywhere to further His Kingdom. But the sentiment does make sense. In terms of missions, what makes you think that if you’re not confident in your faith and walk or right in your relationship with God here, where things are relatively comfortable and controlled, that you’d magically be successful in an unfamiliar foreign place with many more stressors working against you?

The same idea rings true outside of missions – simply in our daily lives. Think about any other situation that you want to be in where you are finding that things aren’t working out yet; ministry, job, relationship. Why might that be? What can you do to get there? (If you’ve been reading this blog, this idea may sound familiar (See “Seal It For Thy Courts Above“) and it kind of is.) Let’s look at the parable of the sower and the seeds found in Matthew 13:1-8.

A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.

It’s probably one of the most well-known parables in the Bible. Why is this parable told so much? Because it’s so simple and relevant! We’ve got to take what God has given us (knowledge, wisdom, skills, desires) and hone them repeatedly while we are on His path to something greater in our lives. There is no magic formula for how much you have to do before you’re “ready”. I believe it’s simply a matter of making sure your soil is deep and nutritious, that you take the rain, you take the tilling, and you wait and pray – and you’ll grow – day by day – into the place God has graciously called you to in His perfect plan. One day you’ll look back and be amazed at God’s grace and how far you came from that original little seed to the blossoming plant you are today – and you’ll realize, “Wow, God’s been working.. I’m on my way!”

Jesus thinks this parable is so important that He actually goes so far as to explain each aspect of the parable – something He didn’t do with every parable. I think He REALLY wanted the disciples to get the concept so that they would truly understand themselves and be able to live that out in their ministries!

Here’s Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:18-23:

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

How often do we want to get right to the beautiful flower or productive crop? We want to skip over the tiring, uncomfortable, difficult, and often slow times of tilling of the soil, the planting of the seed, letting the roots strengthen, allowing the RAIN to permeate our soil, and accepting the death of some of the stems. If we want a harvest we plan in advance and plant the seeds now. You could buy a fake plant from the store – but it isn’t alive… It’s just for show – no life is going to come from that. Being involved in the growth process allows us to better understand the endgame. It allows us to reproduce the crop and teach others after us. The world wants to rip us apart – it wants to poke us with thorns – it wants to dry us out. We must continually remain steadfast in our growth and relationship with God – not becoming complacent in the good times. A growing life of faith deeply rooted in God in the good times provides the best chance for faith to work in the difficult times. It gives us the best chance of not succumbing to the choking of the thorns – the world.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

Practical Life Application

What does growing while waiting practically look like in your life? Well, I think it’s different for everyone and you shouldn’t dwell too much on the details and making sure you’re “doing it right”. Just do something! Here are some of my quick thoughts on 4 categories of things we might be “waiting for”. (Books are written on all of these subjects so take it for what it is…)

Relationships (Dating):

  • Prayer
  • Don’t “kiss dating goodbye”.
  • Reflect back (but don’t dwell). What worked before? What didn’t?
  • Don’t make a list of silly qualities
  • If you don’t want to date just for the sake of dating than know what your serious “deal breakers” are before dating
  • Don’t get hung up on the details before you even get the first date – get to know the person before worrying – then decide.
  • Stay pure while you’re waiting
  • Get a mentor/accountability friend (someone who you’re totally comfortable being completely transparent with)
  • Set boundaries for yourself/partner BEFORE you get in the relationship
  • Have a mixed (male/female) group of friends – but watch out for the uncomfortable friend-zone area and stay away from “friends-with-benefits”. But don’t pass over the potential of a relationship with a friend – if you’re friends, you already have a foundation…
  • Don’t chase everything that gives you attention (don’t rush)
  • While you’re waiting, work on yourself! Get right with God – be in a deep relationship with Him.
  • Make yourself the person that the person you’re looking for is looking for.

Ministry:

  • Prayer
  • Study the scripture, listen to sermons, go to church(es), write your thoughts
  • Start/lead/join a small group or 2
  • Look for opprotunities to serve in your church
  • Get a mentor
  • Get out in the world – practice
  • Keep in mind, Jesus didn’t begin His ministry until He was “about 30” (according to Luke 3:23)
    (I’m saying that with a bit of humor. People under 30 have lots of offer.)

Job:

  • Prayer
  • Work hard wherever you are in whatever you’re doing
  • Be grateful for what you have while you have it
  • Build those skills! Don’t stop learning.
  • Try and stretch yourself
  • Look for ministry opportunities!
  • Weigh the pros and cons of leaving/moving/accepting a job. Not all movement is good. Look further down the road.

Missions:

  • Prayer
  • Grow in your faith/relationship w/ God
  • Hone your skills that you’d use in the field
  • Do what you’d do “over there” here – locally
  • Volunteer
  • Get a mentor. Seek wise counsel.
  • Get out of debt and simplify your life. Learn to live with little.

It’s not a coincidence that prayer is the first in all of those categories. People have written books on the importance and power of prayer. But seriously, it’s important to take your honest requests to God and hear what He has to say. Maintaining an honest prayer life with God while you’re waiting should carry into your situation when you finally receive it.

Live out Philippians 4:6-7:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

-JPalm
Ephesians 2:8
When I could only see the floor,
You made my window a door,
So when they say they don’t believe,
I hope that they see You in me