Jesus said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how…”
My experience with planting seeds lately has been with grass seed. On the basis of hope for green pastures, I’ve thrown a lot of it in the last four years. Sometimes it falls in places where it just sits on top of the ground. I’ve watered it regularly – but unless I cover it with straw, the sun dries it out pretty quickly and no germination happens. A higher percent of seed grows when I make an effort to break up the top layer of dirt a little bit so the seed gets just under the skin of the earth.
When I take the time to do all the right things, I feel pretty confident that the seed will grow. Even though I do what’s recommended to insure the best environment for growth, I’m also impatient to see some progress.
It reminds me of the story of the father who helped his little girl fill a paper cup with topsoil. She poked a hole in the soil with her finger, dropped in the seeds of a cherry tomato plant into the hole. They covered the seeds, and put the cup on the kitchen windowsill. Then she said, “Is it a tomato yet?” He assured her it was going to take a while, she runs off to play. A few minutes later, the little girl runs back inside, climbs on a stool, strains to look into the cup. “Is there a tomato yet?” Dad says, “No, not yet. We have to wait for a while.”
A week passed by. And another week. One day, she climbed up on her stool and looked in the paper cup. “Daddy, come here! There’s a tomato plant. When did it grow?” Her father said, “It grew when you stopped worrying about it.”
When Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God, He was talking about the influence of God in our lives. The influence of God grows under the direction of the Spirit and at the Spirit’s pace. It’s not controlled by the pastor, the Sunday school teacher, the parent, the big sister – no matter how hard they work at it.
How do we scatter the seeds of the kingdom? Everything we do as Christians is like a seed that falls into the cracks and crevices of people’s hearts. Some seeds take root. Others don’t. We don’t always see the seed fall or how the Spirit begins to work in a person. The changes seem so slow and subtle. But one day, we look back and notice that new life has begun to sprout forth. We have little to do with what is happening inside a person – it is the work of the Spirit that brings new life, and eventually, fruit.
Ultimately Jesus’ parable tells us it is God’s responsibility to cause the seeds we scatter to grow in a person. The apostle Paul once said of his ministry, “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7). That’s a frustrating thing about faith and religion. I’d like to have more control over what other people do or think when it comes to their faith. I want God’s influence to grow fast but I can’t force the growth. That’s why the life of Christian faith is a life of trust…trust that God’s timing is perfect and that all things work together for good for those who love God.
It seemed silly that every year I’d be out throwing grass seed in the same areas of my yard, trying to get the bare spots to fill in. Last year I said, “This isn’t worth it. It costs too much money and takes too much time to add fertilizer and more seed, for too little results.”
I followed through with that notion and my yard is full of ugly weeds this year. No grass, all weeds. It takes time, money, and hope if you want to lie down in green pastures consistently.
So next spring, I’ll be out in my yard again, adding fertilizer and throwing more seed – knowing that hope for growth (and the work that goes with hope) brings greater rewards than throwing in the towel. Now I have to look at the mess until a new season arrives. Hope is now what makes me convicted to work at developing my green pastures.
How or why or when that seed will grow is not in our hands. That’s not our worry. Our job is to hope and to scatter more seeds.