Spinning & Parsing
On any given day, some politician somewhere will step to a podium for a press briefing. There’ll be a clicking of cameras, and then a statement will be read that frames a situation or policy in the most favorable terms. A question will be asked. The answer will skirt the issue with words that are simply a rephrasing of the statement. The next question will result in the same linguistic song and dance. If the speaker is particularly gifted, their version will be accepted as truth, but is it really? We’ve become so indoctrinated by the bantering word-play, that straight talk is seen as harsh or somehow false in its presentation. Nuance is the rage that is in vogue and most respectable just now, but in all the splitting of hairs, truth always seems to be up for grabs, doesn’t it?
We humans always want to spin truth in our favor, which is why politics fascinates me. Right-wing nut-jobs and left-wing crack-pots can take the exact same facts—the exact same truth—and spin it, shape it or bend it to support their particular agenda. It’s amazing how much sway ideologues of all stripes have on our perspective.
Despite societal evidence to the contrary, truth is not up for grabs. It isn’t possessed by the person who shouts the loudest or by the one who does the best soft-shoe at a press conference. Truth doesn’t require anyone’s applause or approval to be truth.
There was once a carpenter turned rabbi who told stories riddled with truth about all aspects of the human experience. Jesus of Nazareth spoke timeless wisdom that carries weight for all who choose to see, hear, and apply it.
Consider his words in the following parable about growing and growth.
Mark 4:26-29 – NIV
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.”
God’s Part, Our Part
In our enlightened paradigm—with graphs, charts, plans, and projections—we say the growth factor as explained by Jesus cannot be that simple. It is truth that we often miss, ignore, run past or try to control to manufacture crops.
Our natural inclination is to complicate it and look for more things that we can do. Or our human nature rears up and decides that if God wants something done he can just do it himself, thank you very much. Even so, in our tender moments we learn that in all things spiritual there is God’s part and our part.
God’s part and our part. That’s the mysterious dynamic Paul was referring to when he instructed his friends at Philippi “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
God is always faithful doing his part, but when it comes to our responsibility, we are often faithless and fall short.
A Closer Look
This is what the kingdom of God is like. Jesus tells us directly what he’s talking about. We learn first and foremost that he is presenting a spiritual principle that is truth one hundred percent of the time. It cannot be spun or twisted to fit changing times, and because it is spiritual truth it ought to be applied across the spectrum of life. In fact, we grow and develop best when we make practical application of spiritual truth a priority.
Notice that in the telling of this story, Jesus didn’t say anything at all about soil preparation. Nothing is said about rainfall; nothing is said about sunshine; nothing is said about weed control; nothing is said about organic fertilizer. Some, who tend to spiritualize everything, seize on this to put the entire burden on God’s shoulders. They’ll wag a pointing finger at the Scripture to say, The man just sowed the seeds and God did all the work!
That, in my opinion, is manipulating the text to accommodate our human tendency toward laziness. Farmers, those who plant seeds, put forth great effort; farmers are likely some of the hardest workers on planet earth.
In the parable Jesus bypasses all the significant details and places the emphasis on the sowing, the growing and the reaping. We should not assume the man spent his days idly wiling away the hours. He was a farmer and he had work to do.
Sowers of seeds always have work to do. There’s plowing, fertilizing and weeding; there’s buying, selling, planning, and preparing for the harvest.
All this is understood and taken for granted in the context of the times in which Jesus lived. Words mean something, so in an agricultural setting of subsistence farming, the presumption would be that there was work to be done before the seeds were sown. The man in the story has his job to do and then, there’s God’s job. Humans must work in tandem with God because we have limitations. God provides the necessary rainfall because he is in control of the natural elements. And that is the exact point. From the moment he sows the seeds the man must let God be God. He must leave the sprouting, growing, pollinating, maturing to God. The man is only a worker who in the proper time sows and reaps. God holds the secret of life—God is in control.
We can debate, argue, or slice and dice that one until all the blue bleeds out of the sky, but reality transcends our feeble words: We can’t make it rain, we can’t create sunny days, we can’t force seeds to sprout and grow.
In sharing the story about a man sowing seeds, Jesus was actually spreading seeds in the hearts of people. In doing so, he illustrated that God is always in the business of planting seeds, which means he is also involved in the matter of soil preparation.
God cultivates our hearts for the plans and purposes he has for us. Even when we actively resist or close ourselves off from his powerful work in our heart, God persists.
For example, in his encounter with Abram—who is better known as Abraham—God sowed a seed in his heart: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
God did his part, and though there were several iffy moments, Abraham ultimately stayed the course of faithfulness. The seed flourished.
Hebrews tells us: “By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.”
Day By Day
What about our hearts? What seed has God planted in our hearts?
Maybe it’s a promise from his word to be taken seriously. Perhaps it’s a flat-out challenge to get out of our comfort zones. Or maybe it’s an impossible vision for what God wants to do in our midst. Remember that in all things spiritual, there are God’s tasks and our obligation. God is deliberately dependable. Are we doing our job? Are we effective farmers who plow, fertilize, weed, and sow seeds, and then trust him to be God?
“All by itself the soil produces grain. . .” If the process is right, then all by itself the soil will beget results. The seed takes root and begins to blossom, and according to Jesus, we don’t know how it happens. We must embrace the ancient truth of the parable. Instead, under the intoxicating influence of cultural norms, too often we engage in verbal gyrations to justify our lack of diligence or explain away crop failures. Our lives are in partnership with God. He is the creator, we are the creation. There is much we cannot do, so we must acknowledge our limitations. The One whose ways are not our ways will never abandon his post. Given that, this growth factor as defined by Jesus, becomes about our day by day faithfulness.
We must carefully tend our heart soil, while being determined farmers for the kingdom. Our assignment is to do our part as we allow God to be God.