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. All by itself the soil produces corn...” Mark 4:26-28
Somebody told me recently how a sermon of mine had affected him. He was actually able to remember the Bible passage and the main points. (Wahay!)
This was nice to hear, of course - sometimes we preachers are tempted to wonder if our words make any kind of impact at all. But the really striking thing is that the sermon he was talking about was preached - wait for it - about twenty-five years ago.
I don’t say this in order to boast or claim to be a special preacher - I’m sure the sermon was a pretty bog-standard sermon preached by a very bog-standard preacher. But it was certainly encouraging to feel that God’s word had taken root in that man’s heart and was, hopefully, still bearing fruit.
The key word there is encouraging. I think there may be various layers of meaning to Jesus’ little parable here in Mark 4, but surely one reason he told the story was in order to encourage his disciples regarding the work of “the kingdom of God”.
The man who sows the seed, he says, can’t see what’s happening to it once it’s buried in the ground. He hasn’t got a clue how the miracle of germination and growth happens. But the fact is that, whether he’s up and about his usual business, or fast asleep in his bed, something is happening: “All by itself (the Greek word is literally automatically) the soil produces corn...”
Have you been feeling a bit discouraged recently about your Christian witness and ministry? Perhaps you teach a Sunday School class, and the children really don’t seem interested. Perhaps you organised a special evangelistic event, and nobody much turned up. Perhaps that person at work you had been speaking to about Jesus made it clear that they just weren’t getting the message.
And you have been tempted to say “Why bother?” or “I’m wasting my time” or “I’m just no good at this”. Or all three.
Yes? Well, the message of this parable - just like the much longer Parable of the Sower, which we all know so much better - is designed to put a stop to such gloomy thoughts.
Of course we do have to face the fact that we may not have done very well whatever it was that we were aiming to do. Perhaps we need to have a think about our methods or our motives. But, make no mistake, if we did what we did genuinely and in faith and wanting to honour God by it, then we can be confident that it will one day bear fruit.
Who knows? - in twenty years time one of those children you teach may be standing up in church somewhere to testify how “I had a teacher who really drew me to Jesus”. That person at work may remember you as a genuine and Christlike witness, even though things didn’t click at the time.
The point is simple: Our business is to be active and to do our best in serving God - and then leave the rest to him. You can’t force it or make something happen. We’ve done our part - now trust God to do his.
Later in the New Testament this encouraging truth is linked to the work of the Holy Spirit. That mysterious, secret life-force that somehow causes the seed to grow is, in spiritual terms, the Spirit himself. And the great thing is that we simply never can tell when the Spirit may see fit to take our feeble and perhaps completely forgotten efforts and turn them into something powerful.
Paul speaks at length about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. It’s powerful, stirring stuff - nearly sixty verses of it. But he rounds off his chapter in a very matter-of-fact way that chimes in perfectly with the words of Jesus in the parable: “With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort” (The Message).
Christian, keep on keeping on!
Loving Father, please help me when I feel discouraged and useless. Put deep within my heart a conviction that “my labour is not in vain in the Lord”. Amen.