The Parable of the Sower
13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Our society is built on avoidance. We have ATMs to avoid having to go into a bank, we have drive-throughs to avoid going into restaurants, and we have online chat to avoid having to talk to a customer service rep (ok sometimes avoidance is really better). We have <insert social media of choice> to keep up with our “friends” without actually having to talk to them. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a drive through where people could come get saved? Think of the number of people who could be reached. Just air drop an ASM (that’s Automatic Salvation Machine, patent pending) into a remote village in China and watch the harvest pour in. Maybe dispense a bible and $20 if they hit accept? If only it worked that way.
I was studying Matthew 13 this week and for as long as I can remember, I’ve always thought and been taught that this parable was about preparing our hearts so that we have good soil and the seed can grow and that’s definitely one side of the story. I’ve never really looked at this parable through the eyes of the sower. What is it about those soils that make them unsuitable to receive Christ? What can I do to help prepare the soil so that the seeds I’m casting reach good soil? Should I focus on just one small patch of soil to make sure there is a harvest?
The seed on the path Jesus tells us is when someone hears the message but does not understand it. Whose fault is it that they did not understand? Were they presented the message in a way that related to them? Did the sower spend time with these people so that they could really understand how to present the message? I think about the “crazy” people we used to see in Memphis wearing those boards announcing “the end is near, repent of your sin, Jesus is coming”. I doubt they reached many people and wonder if they can even be considered sowers but they obviously didn’t spend much time identifying their target market and molding their message so that it would be understood.
Those with rocky soil and thorns in their soil are receptive to the message but if you give them the message and leave them among the rocks and thorns of this world what hope do they have? Ill prepared hit and run missionaries and poorly planned mission projects are like the sowers whose seed lands in these soils. They spend time identifying their target; they sculpt just the right message (maybe). The message is received and lives are changed then the missionaries or teams move on to the next unsuspecting patch of soil. The sowers are left as infants in their faith, still surrounded by all the worldly thorns that were there before they heard the message. Do you think that seed is going to grow?
I realized after returning from Honduras that I wasn’t there to sow seeds. It’s virtually impossible to sow seeds in a week. The ones who are ever present, constantly building relationships with the people, the ones in the field, those are the ones who can sow seeds that will grow. Maybe I helped prepare the soil a little but I believe the real reason God wanted me to go to Honduras was to open my eyes to just how wrong I’ve been doing “mission” work and let me see how it needs to be done. Don’t get me wrong, I believe we must support those who are building relationships. They need the support of short term missions and support teams at home.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 13 there will be no harvest if the soil is not good. In fact you can end up doing more harm than good which is why short term missions have such a bad image. Random teams of people diverge on an unsuspecting village whose soil is not prepared. They blast theirmessage to people who don’t understand it and then they pack up and leave those who may have accepted Christ to figure it out on their own. There is no harvest there and you may have left the soil in worse shape than you found it.
I’m definitely not implying that all short term trips are bad. A lot of them are. If the trip is taken in support of a local ministry or a local church that is in place and ready to accept your help then it can be beneficial for all parties involved. Care must be taken to ensure you leave the ground more prepared and more nurtured than the day you arrived. The same can be said for any ministry whether it be local or global. The image we project and the way we treat those we are trying to reach says more than the words we speak.
The avoidance lifestyle has suited me well. I’ve always enjoyed being alone. I spend 90% of my day at work on a computer alone. I’ve looked for ways to avoid as many people as possible and let only a handful of people really know me. I’ve always had a heart for mission work, I have a strong desire to help people but I like to do my helping from the shadows, in the background, unseen by those I’m helping. I always believed it was because I was humble (Katie stop laughing). I thought it was because I didn’t want attention on me or accolades for helping others (which I don’t). But I’ve realized over time that these were the excuses I was giving myself to hide the real reason. I didn’t want a relationship with people.
I have trust issues, I don’t like to be dependent on others, and I don’t want people too close to see my rocks and thorns; truth be told I just never liked being around people much. The trip to Honduras made me realize that you can’t have an effective ministry without first building relationships. I signed up for all the jobs that would let me avoid having too much interaction; construction, painting, repairs, etc. But as God worked on my heart that week I left wishing I had had just one day to sit down with some of the people and get to know them. I’m not saying what I was doing wasn’t needed and you definitely can’t form relationships and sow seeds in a week. I of all people, with all my anti-social tendencies and skepticism of others know you can’t build a meaningful relationship in a week if you are trying to reach the people with rocky, thorny soil. God showed me that if you want to sow seeds and reap a harvest you have to plow deep into the people you hope to reach. You have to help them clear the rocks and thorns from their soil BEFORE you cast the seeds. The fact that God now has me desiring to build relationships with others is miracle in itself (This is not an invitation for people to start invading my space. I’m building relationships on my own God’s time and he’s letting me take baby steps).
So how deep are you plowing? Are you taking the time to get to know the people you are “helping” or are you just scattering seeds all over the land? Are you doing hit and run ministry or are you taking the time to prepare the soil to make sure there will be a harvest? Does your church have a huge list of ministries but only scratch the surface with their plow or are you focused in on certain ministries so that you can take the time to plow deep and ensure a harvest?