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 ESV)
Despite being relatively young, a lot has changed even in my lifetime. When I was a kid, you went to the store and bought a cassette tape, and eventually a CD, if you wanted to own a certain song. I still remember riding around with my Trapper Keeper-like folder of CDs in my first car. Now, we simply pull out our phones and with a few touches of the screen the song we want is ours. I remember recording sporting events or special television programs on VHS, realizing there was always a chance that something would go wrong. Now I find the program on the menu, and hit the record button on the remote control. I may even find it using On Demand.
On Demand, the name of a program that gives us the shows we want when we want them, also accurately sums up a culture that has specialized in instant gratification. How easy it is to let our church culture and ministerial mindset drift into that same attitude which wants results now. The concise nature of Jesus’ parable of the seed growing even makes it easy for us to overlook the fact that in just a few sentences, Jesus has described a process that takes months.
So it is with the kingdom of God. We scatter the seed—on Sundays, Wednesdays, and most of the days in between. We scatter the seed by preaching, teaching, praying, and comforting. We scatter the seed and it grows, but only after many nights of sleep and many mornings of rising with uncertainty as to whether the seed we have scattered contains any life. We scatter the seed—and it grows, but we know not now.
How much easier it would be if we understood that there is often a considerable period of time between when we scatter the seed, and when we see those first signs of growth. Just as the farmer must demonstrate patience and faith in the providence of God to provide the rain, so must we as laborers in the kingdom possess patience and trust that God will nurture the unseen seed. When we adopt the impatient consumerism of the world and allow it to infiltrate our minds and hearts, we begin seeing ministry as a trip to the grocery store where the bread is purchased, rather than the vocation of farming where the grain is grown. Like that grain grown in the field, the fruits of ministry are produced . . . slowly . . . over a lengthy period of time and with much effort.
As ministers we work not for immediate results, but for the day when we awaken to find that the blade has sprung from the earth. We labor for that time when we see the potential of the seed bursting forth in the ear. We long for that day when we see an ear full of grain, when we know that somehow, in some way, the seed as brought forth fruit. And we know that it will happen, not because we are the best farmers, but because we are sowing a seed that contains the power of life, we are working with a word that will not return to its maker empty.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:10-11).