As a child in the sixties almost everyone I knew had a vegetable garden. Gardens were a lot of work and Dad always assigned some garden chores to me. Dad always took care of the more difficult labor of clearing new plots and tilling the ground. The weeding and hoeing tasks usually fell on me. I was also called on when the harvest time came. Picking green beans, corn and tomatoes wasn’t that bad, but things like squash and okra with their prickly vines and stalks always left my hands and arms itching. Although I did enjoy the fruits of our labor garden chores were not really wasn’t what a young boy wanted to do. Especially since there were nearby woods to explore not to mention all the creatures to find and catch out the creeks. You know an eight year old boy just has to have a pet salamander or crawdad that he caught himself.
When I was a little older we moved to a small farm and gardening chores became much more intense. You would think that move would strike dread in the eyes of young boy with all the extra labor involved. But instead I found a new attraction for the ancient vocation when I was allowed to drive the tractor. Nothing could compare to being in control of such a powerful machine to change the shape and texture of the earth itself. Aah the delightful smell of morning dew and diesel fuel. The aroma of fresh plowed earth in spring or fields of summer cut hay still stirs up fond memories of a simpler time. It also reminds me of the life lessons that the never-ending hard work taught me. Painstaking preparation is essential for a life-sustaining harvest.
Jesus used our age old knowledge of gardening and farming when he recited the parable of the sower, (see Matthew chapter 13 and Luke chapter 8). He compared seeds to the word of God. We can understand that only the seeds sown in good ground, that ground which has been painstakingly prepared, can produce a bountiful harvest. Jesus gave three more scenarios in which the seed cannot produce any harvest at all. Those seeds seemingly were just wasted. But we know from the book of Isaiah, chapter 55 that God said His word would not return void but would accomplish His purpose and would indeed prosper.
How can we say seeds prosper if there is no harvest? Let’s look again at Matthew chapter 13 verse 4. The Bible tells us that “some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up”. This one is easy. The purpose of those seeds was to provide nourishment for the birds. Birds might even be considered detrimental to the harvest but they are also part of God’s creation and serve their own purpose. Aren’t we instructed to feed our enemies? If we are preaching, teaching, or simply telling God’s word like we’re supposed to be doing then it will be spilling out to all those around us. Just because His word doesn’t always find a lodging place in the heart doesn’t mean it won’t find a place in the mind. Who knows when some circumstance or situation will come that will bring that word back to remembrance and finish it’s purpose? The Father knows.
Verses five and six tells us about the seeds that fell in stony ground and though they sprouted up they were unable to take root so they died. Then in verse seven we read about the seeds that fell among thorns which took away all the nourishment the seeds needed to survive. These two scenarios I believe Jesus intended us to see how we can make a difference, with His help of course. If we want a bigger harvest on the farm that generally means we have to clear some land. It means hard work. Trees might need to be cut and stumps dug out. Shrubs and thorny bushes might need to be cut down and rooted out. Rocks might need to be broken up and carried out. The land is then plowed and harrowed to create the best possible environment for bringing forth and nourishing life from the seeds.
If our prayer is as it should be, to enlarge God’s kingdom by bringing in a greater harvest, then we need to follow the lessons Jesus taught us in His parables. Just as I was given simple tasks as a young boy in the garden, new Christians have opportunities to work and learn within the body of Christ and have a part in the benefits of an eternal harvest. Like the old farmer with his storm weathered wiry frame setting his mind and putting his hand to the task of expanding his fields in order to provide a lifetime of sustaining work for his ever-increasing family, the mature Christian must set his mind to expanding the reach of the gospel of Christ. A rugged expanse of sinful brier bushes and hardened stony hearts lie all around us waiting to be rooted out and cultivated into fertile fields bringing forth a bountiful harvest for our King. As the old saying goes, it will take blood, sweat, and tears to complete the job successfully. Jesus provided the blood when he sacrificed His life for ours on an old rugged cross. The Holy Spirit gives us the strength to work which will likely make us sweat. And God says that one day He will wipe away all our tears.
So my brothers and sisters in Christ, I challenge you with this question. Are you ready to climb up on the tractor and plow some ground? Remember, painstaking preparation is essential for a life-sustaining harvest.