Sowing and Reaping
A wise man considers the personal impact of his “tools,” the technology and machinery upon which he depends. Do they encourage deep or shallow thinking? Do they do all your thinking for you? Do they offer ease for the sake of ease, thus encouraging laziness? Do they train the soul to idolize convenience, thus making it averse to hard work and stifling creativity? Are they easy to abuse, such as obscuring our dependence upon the Lord? Gone, for example, are the days of struggling to find one’s way in a strange city. Admittedly, modern technology is extremely useful for navigation. Yet, there is a definite spiritual impact of never feeling lost and vulnerable, of having to ask for directions or needing patience and cleverness to find one’s destination. All done now, all done for you, with the click of a button; no waiting or ingenuity required. This is one bad lesson our tools often teach us: no need to wait for anything. We are giddy creatures. Once we find an easy solution in one area, we tend to expect one everywhere. Yet, apply this lesson to work, finances, health, relationships, parenting, and learning, and you begin to see some of the reasons for our present troubles.
There is not a program or handy little button for life. It will be lived: fallen, messy, challenging, painful, feeling very lost at times, with fluctuating seasons of joy and sadness, strength and weakness, courage and embarrassment. You may clean out some of the closets of your life, streamline certain tasks, and find a better way of doing things. Still, we live in God’s world, and within it he has implanted an inconvenient dynamic that the Bible calls “sowing and reaping.” This means there is a divinely intended, unavoidable delay between the effort you put into something meaningful and the fruits you receive from the effort. It means the Lord wants us to walk by faith in his promises, learn patience, and live for the future. It means he wills for us to labor in expectation of his blessing but perhaps without ever receiving it ourselves, only seeing it at a distance: like Joseph commanding the Israelites to return his bones to Canaan or Abraham “rejoicing to see Christ’s day.” The Lord often if not usually reserves the fruit for future reapers. But unless there is sowing, no fruit will appear for the reapers to harvest. Consider a quiet meeting that took place on the banks of the Jordan River. It occurred almost two thousand years ago. John was preaching there. Two men were deeply drawn to his words: John, son of Zebedee, and Andrew, son of Jonah. John suddenly pointed and proclaimed: “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). The two disciples heard John and followed Jesus. He turned and saw them following, saying to them, “What are you seeking?” John and Andrew asked in return, “Where do you dwell?” Jesus invited them to the house in which he was staying. They remained with him that day. Nothing is said of what he told them. Unlike today’s “tell all” Christian literature, Jesus’ quiet dealings in the souls of men are often too personal for public consumption. Too much talking here quenches the Spirit and trivializes the Savior’s work in us. It is enough for us to know that his penetrating, divine words convinced these two that this was indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world. The next day, Andrew “first went and found his brother, Peter,” who upon meeting Jesus, became his ardent disciple. From these small seeds, the foundations were laid for the Christian church. Our Lord wants us to think in terms of sowing and reaping: of his word spoken and planted in personal relationships, in the church’s public ministry of the word, in families and workplaces, in obscure moments and “chance” encounters. Later, he told his disciples: “Do you not say, there are yet four months, and then comes the harvest? Behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white already unto harvest. And he that reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit unto life eternal: that both he that sows and he that reaps may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, one sows, and another reaps. I sent you to reap that whereon you bestowed no labor; other men labored, and you have entered into their labors” (John 4:35-38). He was encouraging them to seize the opportunity that presented itself with the Samaritans, who were at that moment coming to him to hear the words of life. This was a reaping moment. He was also telling them to see themselves as part of a work that was bigger than they: a work that had been going on for centuries and would continue long after they departed to their reward. They were about to reap what others had sown, often with tears, longing to see the laden fields that literally rose up before the disciples’ eyes; they would also sow what others would one day reap (Acts 8:5-6; 9:31). The sowers and reapers are vitally connected. God has connected them, and he is the Lord of the harvest (Matt. 9:38). He calls the sowers to be faithful, trusting he will bring a rich harvest, even if they are not the reapers. He calls the reapers to fulfill the hope of the sowers, to thrust in the gospel sickle. Though separated by millennia and language, all sowers and reapers are one in Christ the Head. Think of the church. Let us say, though our assessments are always fallible, that there does not appear to be much fruit on the horizon, that the fields have more winter deadness than summer verdure. What are we to do? Well, we can try to alter the gospel: artificial ways to get quick growth and instant fruit. Or, we can roll up our sleeves and begin sowing for the future. There is only one heritage seed that will bring lasting fruit and glorify God: “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage forever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart” (Ps. 119:111). God’s pure word is the only healthy seed. We sow it by believing it ourselves, by holding every morsel from God’s mouth as treasure from heaven. We sow this seed in the good old paths of faithfulness: discipleship, preaching, catechism. We maintain the old confessions not out of tradition but out of conviction that they are accurate and safe statements of God’s sacred truth. If necessary, we bear the heat of the day, seasons of drought and blight. We keep our eyes on the Lord of the harvest. He is faithful. We cannot say when he will bring the refreshing rains, the Holy Spirit’s fire and grace from heaven, but we are called to prepare the fields for the rain by good tilling, good seed, and good weeding. Here is a question each generation must ask: will the way we are holding to God’s word, speaking of his love and grace, training our children, and pressing the claims of Christ upon men bring forth good fruit? If the future harvest is a reflection of the present sowing, what kind of future are we preparing for the reapers God will send? To take another example closer to home, think of your marriage and children, or if you are single, your future family, as a field. You can tell what kind of fruit it will bear by the seed you are sowing now. Admittedly, there is much that frustrates us about ourselves and our families, makes us fearful, and tempts us to look for easy, push-button solutions. Sow good seed, God’s holy word. Keep sowing it. Continue believing, fervently praying God’s promises, and trusting God’s power, wisdom, and faithfulness. Maintain zealous family worship and biblical discipline. Water your family with love, gentleness, and kindness. Angry, impatient, and rough treatment of our tender plants – our spouses and children – will damage them. Yes, there are dry seasons in our family, times of struggle, disease, and rebellion. We despair, again being tempted to look for something more than God’s good seed, promise, and power. Fix your eye on the Lord of the harvest. He says: “In due season, you will reap a harvest if you do not faint” (Gal. 6:9). It may be much later in life, when your children are adults, or after your spouse has been severely humbled. The good seed will prevail. The faithful God never forgets where one small seed of his holy word has been planted and painstakingly nurtured by faith. We cannot control the harvest, hasten it, or modify it. Man may plant and water, but God alone gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:7). He will give it. He has promised that of the “increase of Christ’s government and peace there will never be an end” (Isa. 9:6-7). Our Lord is the vine. Faith in him ensures that we shall be “neither barren nor unfruitful in his knowledge” (2 Pet. 1:8). We do not know when the showers of blessing will fall, only that they will, in God’s own time and way. His promises strengthen our faith to sow faithfully, especially in dry times when his truth has fallen on hard times, when our own hearts are sluggish, and when everything we see with our eyes says that the old ways, the old seed is no longer fertile. The problem, however, is not with God’s seed but with our unbelief. Jesus will not do many mighty works if we do not believe (Matt. 13:58). Sow for the future, in faith that this world is God’s field. His word will prevail. Those who “sow in tears shall reap in joy” (Ps. 126:5).