The Growing of Faith Seeds
He [Jesus] also 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 grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Every once in a while I, like so many others I know, get the urge to dive into a diet and exercise routine determined to get in shape. I’m guessing most of you know the routine. In your excitement and determination you purge your house of junk food, set the alarm for an extra hour early, and generally give it all you have in a week’s worth of workouts. At the end of the week you get on the scale, excited to see what a great difference all your efforts have made only to discover you have lost a half of a pound. It’s not just underwhelming, it’s downright discouraging. Skipping dessert, eating all those vegetables, and getting up early just so doesn’t seem worth it in that moment, does it?
Getting in shape and developing healthy habits isn’t something which magically happens. It is a process which often requires a lot of hard work, self-control, and perseverance. It is a process which takes time and patience. Often times there are set backs and sometimes that set back is so significant that you have to re-set and start all over again. Sometimes your body cooperates and the weight seems to effortlessly fall off while other times you seem to do battle with your body to get it to cooperate.
Growing in our faith isn’t something which magically happens either. Last week we talked about planting seed as we looked at the parable of the 4 different types of soil. This week we are diving into Mark 4:26-29 as we look at what it means for that seed to take root and begin to grow in the Parable of the Growing Seed. In Mark’s Gospel, it follows shortly after the last week’s parable in a series of parables where Jesus uses the imagery of planting seeds and their growth to teach about the kingdom of God.
In the Parable of the Growing Seed, we see a farmer who has to acknowledge that, at a certain point, we can’t force a seed to grow and produce grain. At a certain point, it doesn’t matter if he continues to watch over the seed or if he falls asleep. At a certain point he can do no more to prepare the soil. At a certain point, he has to step back and let nature take its course.
Today’s farmers know a lot more about how a seed germinates, sprouts, and grows into a full plant which produces grain. Science has brought us a deep understanding of the importance of the right amount of water and the right depth to which plant a seed to give it the best chance possible of growing into a harvestable crop. We have learned, and continue to learn, about fertilizers to enhance a plant’s growth and pesticides to protect crops from pests which would otherwise prevent them from producing grain. We have learned better ways to care for the soil to ensure it will continue to be a good place for seeds to be planted well into the future.
Yet, despite all this learning, we still can’t force a seed to sprout and grow if it simply isn’t meant to do so. Despite all the research and development, every farmer still watches the weather knowing that rain, wind, and hail can quickly destroy even the best looking crops. Every farmer knows that, no matter how hard they work, at a certain point they have to step back and let nature take its course. Most years, it pays off and there is a harvest.
So what does this have to do with our faith?
I’m reminded of a story a youth pastor I once worked with would tell. In his youth, he was inspired to save as many of his friends and family as possible. To that end, he once cornered a younger student and wouldn’t let them walk away until they agreed to pray to receive Jesus into their heart. At the time, his 13 year old self felt rather proud for making sure this other student was saved. Looking back, he can admit that all he probably did was scare the kid into never attending youth group at his church and maybe any other church.
We can’t force another person to believe any more than we can force a seed to sprout and grow. We can do our part to prepare the soil by showing them Christ’s love, grace, mercy, and compassion. We can expose them to the truth of who God is and walk alongside them in learning more about the things of faith. We can invite them to concerts, programs, camp, and even church so they can hear others talk about Jesus. But we cannot make the decision to follow Christ for anyone but ourselves.
At a certain point, we have to let the Holy Spirit work in the hearts of our family and friends who don’t know Jesus. At a certain point we have to acknowledge that we aren’t asking them to choose us, or our arguments, or our theology. We are asking them to choose Jesus. We can know all the “right” answers in the world to their doubts and questions, we can do all the right things, but we cannot make the choice for them.
Just like the farmer can never know for sure exactly which seeds will turn out to be duds which, even in the best of growing conditions, will not sprout and grow to produce a crop, there will always be an element of mystery and faith when it comes to the seeds of faith we are called to plant. Some of those seeds we will get to see grow into a beautiful faith which in turn sows seeds into the hearts of even more people as they share their faith. Some of the seeds we sow will grow into a beautiful faith but we won’t get to see the end result. We will have to trust that God will provide others to walk alongside those hearts as their faith grows.
Some of the seeds we sow simply won’t sprout and grow. Those are the hardest ones for me. Because I have to walk away hoping and praying that someone else will be able to plant a seed of faith which takes root and grows in their life. Those seeds which I see taking root and growing, the people who I know will have access to a solid faith community to continue to walk alongside them as they discover more and more about who Jesus really is, are so much easier to know that God is working in their lives. But the ones who aren’t flourishing, who don’t have a strong connection to a faith community which will help them continue to grow, those are so much harder to view with the same amount of trust.
Ultimately, like the farmer plants each spring with no guarantee of a crop, I have to follow the call God has placed in my heart to sow seeds of faith and trust that, in His time, they will sprout and take root, growing into a beautiful faith which points people to Jesus. Where is God calling you to sow the seeds of faith He has given you?
- How are those seeds you planted last week doing? What have you been learning about the process of seeds sprouting and growing into a full plant? How does that knowledge help you understand the process of growing in your faith?
- What seeds have you been part of planted or tending to that you have seen grow into a beautiful faith? What seeds are you trusting and praying God will work with in his timing?
- Who has been part of planting seeds of faith in your life? Of those people, who would likely never guess they are part of your faith story? Consider reaching out to them to tell them the difference they made in your life.