The Great Awakening
I’m back from vacation and looking forward to catching up on my posts. I had a wonderful holiday and I’m very thankful to the church for allowing me to be able to spend time with my family taking a break. I hope you are all able to do the same this summer.
Planting & Growing
My family is growing things this year. We went out to the store and bought seeds and little plants, each one of us has their own planter on the deck, and we’ve started a little garden in the back yard. There’s no rhyme or reason for what we planted. I’m growing hot peppers, Anita has flowers, Ethan has garlic onions and spearmint, Edison has carrots, Erica has corn, and Eowyn is growing cucumber.
Our plan was simple: take the seeds and plants, stick them in some dirt, and hope for the best. It’s been going pretty good, actually, and we are excited to see if there will be anything we can eat in a couple months.
Now, I said “I’m growing hot peppers…” but that’s not quite accurate is it? I bought the pepper plant, I bought the soil, I chose the planter, and I stuck it in the dirt – but I’m not “growing” it, am I? No, that’s something don’t really have much control over.
I can do my best to choose the right soil – which is something I’ve learned is important since we planted a Venus Fly Trap in regular potting soil and almost killed it because it needs to be in sand and peat-moss – and I can do my best to give it the right light and spacing and all the rest, but what I can’t do is make the plant grow. That’s up to forces beyond my control.
Parable of the Growing Seed
Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like that.
“And he said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’” (Mark 4:26-29)
We’re still in the Gospel of Mark and if you remember our context, Jesus was having a shore-side teaching time where He told the Parable of the Sower (or the Parable of the Four Soils). He then took a few people from the group somewhere else and explained the parable to them – and told them a few more parables.
This parable, called “The Parable of the Growing Seed” is similar to The Parable of the Sower, but instead of putting emphasis on the soil (that is, the person hearing the Word of God), Jesus puts the emphasis on the power and mystery captured in the seed itself.
In the Parable of the Sower, the seed is scattered, and Jesus tells us that our response to the message will be dependent on the condition of our heart. Here, Jesus zooms in beyond the soil to the seed itself, reminding us that the Kingdom of God, the Spirit of God, and the Word of God is not dependent on us to make it active, but has its own power. It’s not about the goodness of the soil, it’s about all of the power and potential that is within the seed. Good soil, by itself, produces nothing – it needs good seed.
And this has two important applications in Evangelism and Spiritual Development.
First, let’s talk about the implications on evangelism – which is simply Christians sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. Sometimes we get confused thinking that the reason someone gets saved – or doesn’t – has to do with something we’ve done or not done.
Jesus makes it clear that sharing the gospel and saving souls is not about now clever or winsome we are in telling the story, how savvy, simple or spectacular our delivery is, or how deeply it touches the emotions. The delivery has far, far less to do with it than we think. History has shown us that revival does not come because of something people do, or a new form of technology, but simply because God chooses to work in the hearts of Christian leaders and laity.
During the Great Awakening at the beginning of the 18th Century, preachers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield looked at the dry Christianity and dying churches around them and their hearts broke. They prayed and sought God, and they started to gain a new understanding the Gospel and God’s Redemptive Plan. And so, instead of simply continuing on through the rituals and ceremonies they were so used to and hoping God would do something about it, they broke from their traditions and changed the way they spoke to people about God.
Instead of writing and reading long, dense, theological discourses where they would argue the finer points of scriptural interpretation – which was the standard way of preaching then – they started to try to help people see that the deep theology of their sermons wasn’t meant simply to be held in their minds, but had a deep effect on their souls. They changed from teaching people about God to telling them why it was so important that they needed to know Jesus as their Saviour and Lord.
Their sermons now stressed the importance of commitment, repentance, and fleeing temptation, and feeling the change that comes when a Christian makes gives one’s life to Jesus. It wasn’t about getting overwhelmed with emotions (something that both Edwards and Whitfield denounced) but having one’s heart overtaken by a love for God and His Word.
And that love isn’t something that we generate within ourselves. Which is what Jesus’ parable is all about. We can scatter the seed – tell others our personal testimony of faith, share deep theology, give emotional alter calls or appeal to their intellect – but it is not within our power or ability to change hearts or “get people saved” – that is strictly God’s province. We have the responsibility and privilege of sharing God’s truth and “scattering the seed on the ground”, but the “sprouting and growth” of the kingdom takes time and happens in a mysterious way in which we “know not how”.
There will be times that we share our faith, and the person looks close to giving their life to Jesus, but it never seems to happen – and we are driven crazy as to how they can hear the message but never commit. And there are other times when someone comes up and tells us that our life and faith has influenced someone so deeply that they become a disciple of Jesus – and we had never even shared the gospel with them. That’s God at work, using the seeds we are scattering, and growing them in His own mysterious way.
A second point we can get from this parable is about God’s timing in our spiritual development. Jesus says, “The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
We’ve talked about this before, so I won’t belabour the point except to say, don’t be surprised when things aren’t happening the way you want them to, in the time you want them to. Let me pull out a few applications here.
First, Jesus says, “The earth produces by itself…” which is another reminder that spiritual development, whether that be our own, our friends, our church’s or our nations, isn’t something we are in charge of. We may desperately want to make it happen, but we simply can’t. We can’t make ourselves instantly mature, get rid of all our sinful temptations, make ourselves pray all the time and love bible study and being around Christians. We can’t put our hearts in God’s microwave, set it to 30 seconds, and have it come out ready for worship, super-forgiving, amazingly generous, and able to hear his voice with perfect clarity. It just won’t happen.
We are all on a journey, and there are stages. Like a plant, we all grow according to the soil we are in, dependant on gifts that come down from the heavens (the rain and the sun for plants and grace and mercy for us), and over a period of time. Don’t beat yourself up because you’re not perfect yet. Keep striving, keep repenting, keep depending on God, keep drinking in His grace, keep asking for His mercy, and trust that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
Second, Jesus says, “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” He is teaching us about being patient and remembering that things happen in stages. The story of salvation happened in stages. From Adam to Abraham, Moses to David, Isaiah to Mary and Joseph, and all the people in between, God took thousands of years to bring the world to the right time when Jesus was appointed to come (Galatians 4:4; Romans 5:6). It took over three decades for Jesus to grow, live, die and be resurrected. It took time for the apostles to spread the church in their part of the world, and it’s taken two thousand years to have it touch each nation. And we are now living in the time before the end when God is having patience with us (2 Peter 3:9) giving people time to come to repentance.
So if there a couple things we can take from this parable, let the first be an encouragement to not despair if there are times when it looks like God is inactive or far away. He is not. His schedule is not our schedule, and throughout the scriptures we are encouraged to be patient as we wait for God (Gal 5:22; Psalm 27:14; 37:7; Lamentations 3:25; Isaiah 40:31). That patience shows that we trust him (Prov 3:5-6).
And the second take away can be that our time of waiting is not a time where we sit and do nothing, but one where we are active in prayer, good deeds and sharing the gospel with others (Matthew 25), scattering the seed wherever we can. Soon enough, “when the grain is ripe” God will come and “put in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”