God Brings Growth
August 24, 2013 | Brian Bill
Because I’m not real handy, I often have no clue how certain things work. I have some visuals up on the stage to show what I’m stumped about.
Let’s start with this microwave. I know you plug it in and punch some numbers and it cooks your food but I have no idea how it works. I did learn that it was invented after someone walked by a radar tube and the chocolate bar in his pocket suddenly melted.
I have no insight into how this iPad works either. I have no clue how this sermon can go through this wireless microphone, be recorded on the computer in the back, uploaded to iTunes and then download in seconds to this device so I can play it as a sleep-aid tonight when I have a hard time falling asleep.
Like a hero returning from battle, the Twinkie is back! Now that a new company is making them, they are still essentially indestructible but instead of lasting 25 days they now have a shelf-life of 45 days!
Invented in the 1930s, these delectable delicacies have 39 different ingredients, with two of the flavors coming from petroleum.
Would anyone like one? I bought them back in 1978 but I think they’re still good – if it’s a bit stale just deep-fry it…or put it in the microwave. You’ll be glad to know that the new Twinkie has fewer calories…but that’s because it’s smaller than the old one!
Last week we looked at four different soils on which the seed is sown. Since seed sowing in souls can be discouraging and disheartening, today we’re going to study a short story that is found only in the Gospel of Mark. It’s located right after the parable of the sower and its aim is to bring encouragement to us.
The parable of the sower demonstrates the importance of the quality of the soil. This parable shows the power of the seed itself. We could summarize it like this: When the seed takes root, there will be fruit. We might not know how God works, but we know that He is working.
Let’s listen to this very practical parable from Mark 4:26-29: “And He said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’”
I see two main encouragements in this passage.
1. We can sow but we can’t make the seed grow (26-27).
One of our tasks as Christ-followers is to sow the seed of the Word of God: “as if a man should scatter seed on the ground…” That is our responsibility and according to Spurgeon, “Holy seed sowing should be adopted as our highest pursuit.” We must get the seed of God’s Word into the souls of people because if Jesus is to be known, the seed must be sown!
After the ground is prepared and cultivated and fertilized, the seed is sown but the sower can’t make the growth happen. He doesn’t dig up the seed to see if germination has taken place. He may water and remove weeds but he doesn’t touch the seed. We can sow but we can’t make the seed sprout. No matter if the farmer is sleeping or doing something else, the growth of the seed is in God’s hands: “and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow…” The farmer goes through his daily routines without exerting any extra energy into the plant to make it sprout.
This past weekend some friends from Pontiac surprised us by coming to the second service. We went out for lunch afterwards and had a blast catching up with them. Wes is a farmer and I asked him how his crops were doing. He smiled and said, “I’ve done everything I can do. Now I just wait. It’s all up to God now.”
When good seed goes into good soil, good things happen. When the seed takes root, there will be fruit.
Friends, we don’t have to understand how things work in order for them to work. I don’t know how this microwave or iPad or Twinkie work, but that doesn’t stop them from working. According to the last phrase in verse 27, things grow but “he himself does not know how.” In Greek, the word order is quite lively: “How, he does not know.”
Ecclesiastes 11:5 reminds us that the way God works is not always understandable: “As you do not know what is the way of the wind, or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, so you do not know the works of God who makes everything.” That verse, and many others, reminds me that God is growing life in the wombs of mothers all over the world right now…and those lives need to be protected. I celebrate the work of the Pregnancy Resource Centers in the Quad Cities and our family looks forward to joining in on the Walk for Life on September 21st. You can sponsor some walkers out in the lobby after the service.
I sometimes hear people say that they don’t share Jesus with people because they think they don’t know enough. Listen: Our part is to sow; God’s part is to make it grow. After establishing the necessity of the new birth, Jesus told Nicodemus that there’s a sense of mystery about the Spirit in John 3:7-8: “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” If someone were to ask you to explain exactly how the new birth works, you’d probably struggle a bit. If anyone does ask you this, tell him or her that once they experience it, then they’ll know what it is.
What’s true in an agricultural setting is true in the spiritual world. We can sow but we can’t make the seed grow. The beginning is often insignificant. What we see next is that spiritual progress is often imperceptible.
2. Growth is slow but it will eventually show (28-29).
In verse 28 we see that something spontaneous happens when the seed is put into the soil: “For the earth yields crops by itself…” The phrase “all by itself” in Greek is where we get the word “automatic.” It’s the idea of being self-acting or without visible cause. The only other time this word is used is in Acts 12:10 where we read about the iron gate “which opened to them of its own accord.”
We cannot make seed grow; we can’t even explain how it grows. This statement describes the organic growth that explodes underground leading to impressive growth above. Just like the seed germinates out of sight, so too, the seed of the gospel begins to grow before it will show.
Martin Luther was spot on when he said, “After I preach my sermon on Sunday…I return home…and I just let the gospel run its course.” When someone was converted, he would give them two items – a Bible and a hymnal and would say, “Let them loose and like fire they will spread on their own.”
I read recently that a seed that was buried in an Egyptian tomb was found thousands of years later and when it was planted in the ground, it grew! Why? Because there is life in the seed. I love what 1 Peter 1:23 says about the seed of the Word of God: “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.”
While germination is spontaneous, growth is always gradual. Look at verse 28: “First the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head.” Check out this time-lapse presentation of how corn germinates and grows.
Watching that video makes me marvel even more at the miracle of growth. An ancient Jewish prayer goes like this: “Blessed are you, O God, King of the world, who brings forth bread from the earth.”
I don’t know much about how corn grows, but here are some “fast facts” about how faith grows.
Fast Facts about Spiritual Growth
- It’s normal to not see immediate results from evangelism. Many Christians have given up on witnessing simply because they’ve made an effort and didn’t see any results. Remember that you may simply be the first in a long line of seed-sowers before the person is saved. Because the Word is powerful and productive, we need to be patient. The great missionary Hudson Taylor once said that there are three qualifications for missionaries: “patience, patience, and patience.”
- It’s normal for a Christian to grow. To say it another way, if you’re not growing, then something is wrong.
- Germination is spontaneous but growth is not instantaneous. While some of us want to have “microwave” faith where everything happens quickly, the truth of the matter is that growth takes time.
- Growth is not always easy to measure. Kingdom growth is often detected only at certain stages because we can’t always see change in our lives from day to day. But, when compared to what you used to be there should be change and visible fruit. I like the words to the Brandon Heath song called, “I’m Not Who I Was.” They go like this: “I wish you could see me now; I wish I could show you how; I’m not who I was.” 2 Peter 3:18: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
- Be gracious with those who still need to grow. As Celebrate Recovery reminds us, there are hurts, habits and hang-ups that can derail us. New Christians need our love and support as they figure out how to live for Christ. It’s often messy, isn’t it? Some habits and sins take a long time to overcome.
Once again my farmer friend Wes told me something about farming that has great application to faith formation. He practices no-till planting, which means the old corn stalks are not plowed under before the soybeans are sown. He told me that it’s best for a farmer to go away for a couple weeks when the beans start coming up because it looks messy and ugly. As the beans poke through the old chaff the stalks seem like they’re taking over. He said it’s hard to look at. But, with time, the beans do fine and the fields turn green. That’s a great picture of new believers, isn’t it? When the seed of new life sprouts, the old chaff and leftovers from a life lived apart from Christ seem dominant. But with time and the gentle discipleship of older believers, the plant sprouts and matures.
- Be intentional about your own growth. We grow when we want to grow. Or to say it another way: You are as close to God as you want to be. Maturity does not come from eating “Spiritual Twinkies.” If you want to grow, you’ll need to be intentional about it. Read your Bible every day. Pray. Serve. Attend and participate in Sunday services. Join a Life Group or a Sunday morning ABF this fall. Share your faith. Love your neighbors. Find an accountability partner. Get rid of sin in your life. Change your friends. Practice the spiritual disciplines.
- We need to help others grow but ultimately it’s God who brings growth. Have you ever tried to help a person grow but because their heart wasn’t into it, nothing happened? While I enjoy mentoring and discipling others, I take great comfort in the fact that God is the one who brings growth.
I can’t make people grow but I can direct them to God who will grow them
Listen to 1 Corinthians 3:6-7: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” It’s God’s providence, not the farmer’s power that makes grain grow. Likewise, I can’t make people grow but I can direct them to God who will grow them.
- Sow the seed in your children and wait patiently for it to sprout. Psalm 126:5-6: “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”
Verse 29 shows us that sowing eventually leads to harvesting because when the seed takes root, there will be fruit – “But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” We sow, God is in charge of “grow” and then we get to focus on what will show.
If you’re weary of sowing the seed and tired of all the weeds, then you might want to memorize Galatians 6:9: “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
One pastor hit it on the head when he writes: “You can’t see what God is doing – working behind the scenes and beneath the soil of hearts – to bring souls to Himself.”
I love harvest time but I’m sure farmers love it even more! That’s why they plant in the first place. Our girls get a kick out of me because sometimes I feel sad when all the corn plants are cut down. Everything just seems so brown and desolate. But then I remember that the golden nuggets are in the bins or on the way to the elevator. And that puts a smile on my face…and on the farmer’s.
An insignificant beginning leads to imperceptible progress, which results in immeasurable success. That’s how it’s always been in God’s plant kingdom and that’s how it is in his “people kingdom” as well. We don’t have to know it all before we sow to all because when the seed takes root, there will be fruit.
The Word at Work in the World
We don’t spend near enough time celebrating what God’s Word is doing around the world. In spite of all the bad news that we hear, God is on the move and His harvest is coming in! Let’s be honest. Sometimes we can feel like the world is winning, but actually the Word is winning!
Check out the words of Jesus in John 4:35: “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!”
God does His work silently, slowly and yet he does it surely!
Friends, the harvest is here! It’s inevitable! It’s exciting! God does His work silently, slowly and yet he does it surely! Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” By the way, we’re wrapping up this series next week with a parable that focuses on the second coming of Christ. We’re calling it “Being Ready.”
Some years ago, Dr. Richard Halverson, formerly the chaplain of the U.S. Senate and the pastor of a large church in Washington, D.C., was once asked this question: “Dr. Halverson, where is your church?” He glanced at his watch and replied, “Well, it’s three o’clock in Washington, D.C. The church I pastor is all over the city. It’s driving buses, serving meals in restaurants, having discussions in the Pentagon, deliberating in congress…periodically, we get together at a building on Fourth Street, but we don’t spend much time there. We’re mostly in the city.”
Friends, where is Edgewood Baptist Church located? It’s all over the world today through our missionaries and through your sponsorship of children through ministries like Compassion. Edgewood is scattered through the Quad Cities and beyond. Our church is also at Deere and at Alcoa and at the Arsenal and at schools and at offices and hospitals and factories and at restaurants and on football fields and in parks and in schools and in homes and in neighborhoods…and periodically we get together on 38th Street in Rock Island!
Listen to these stirring words preached by Ray Stedman over 40 years ago (www.pbc.org): “There is the process…which is going on secretly underneath all the confusion and the hoorah and hoopla of the world, beneath all the political chicanery and maneuverings of governments, within and above and beyond and beneath and around all the structures of society, this seed is growing secretly. God is producing his great and final harvest and it will all come to pass exactly as he says…God has not failed, and the church has not failed. It cannot fail…seed is growing unto harvest, exactly as the Lord Jesus said. It will increase as you allow that seed to be planted in your own heart and God will give the increase.”
Isaiah 61:11: “For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.”
I’m not sure how all these things work (point to items) and I’m not exactly sure how new life happens…but I know it does. What I do know with certainty is this: the seed of the Word works in accordance with how surrendered we are. Are you ready to surrender all? Will you say, “Lord, I need you?”