Sometimes when you scatter seeds, some of those seeds fall on the sidewalk and they get washed away and eaten by birds. Some of those seeds fall in the rocks, and they grow for a short while, but they don’t have good roots, so they wither and die in the heat. Other seeds fall among weeds, and just when they start to take off, the weeds choke out the life from each seed. And finally, some seed falls on good soil where it grows, and is nurtured by the gardener, and produces a bountiful crop.
Anyway. That’s about everything I know about seeds. I buy all my food from King Soopers and Chipotle. I’m like the last person to take gardening advice from. But if you’ve ever been in Church, you probably have heard Jesus’ analogy before, and how he said this is what God’s kingdom is like.
I’ve been doing ministry a while, 10 years or so. And 6 years of it has been to watch the same group of 6th grade boys grow up and become an amazing group of senior men.
And now, I don’t need Jesus’ explanation for his parable. When he says that sometimes the seed grows with joy and excitement but is choked out by the weeds, I know exactly what he means. I think of this one specific student who was so excited about what God was doing in his life, he received the message with great joy. But everytime he came home and told his mom, she choked it out of him. “God can’t use you.” “You need to get your life cleaned up before God will do that in your life.” “You need to ease up on all of this God stuff.” I swear these are the sorts of things she told him, as he quoted to me. The seed grew quickly—it was received with tremendous joy—but the seed was choked out by the weeds around it. This is no anonymous seed. That seed has a name and a face, and I grieve what could have been.
For the seed that grew for a short while, I think about all the students who started following God. Like toddlers learning to walk, they toddled in their faith. They tested their new legs. And it was wobbly, but it was beginning to work. Then something happened. They fell on their butt then decided that standing up again would be too hard. Something happened that knocked the wind in their sails and their problem looked so much bigger than their newfound and small faith, so they abandoned God for something else. The other variant of this I’ve seen often, especially with middle school students, is that the whole Jesus thing is a big fad. It lasts for a while, until another fad comes in and takes its place. This seed has a name. I can picture the faces of all the students I know and care about who had faith for a little while, but then they withered away at the first opportunity.
The final category are the seeds that fell on good soil and produced a crop that was a hundred times what was planted. This is what we’re going for. This is what I signed up for. And six years in … do I have it? I thought I’d be sure by now. But I have no idea. I have students I hope are good soil, and I hope they persevere, and I hope they become everything God has intended for them.
But, man, it beats me if that’s the case. Every student who has withered because their roots were too shallow or because weeds choked them started out as someone I thought could be good soil. So it’s not entirely out of the question that the good soil students could turn out to have their seeds eaten by birds, or destroyed by outside circumstances. Will their faith stand the test of senior year? And if it does, what about college?
But God has also been teaching me, that’s not my deal. I can’t control what happens with the seed, all I can do is sow. All I can do is be faithful. We hope and pray all the seed makes it, and the seed that begins to grow, we nurture it the best way we know how. And God holds us responsible for being faithful at that, and not for outcomes. Because though some of us plant seeds, and some of us water them, it is God who makes them grow. (1 Corinthians 3)
And I keep going back to some of my favorite Biblical characters, such as Jeremiah and Paul. Did they ever think they were successful? Did they receive the banner crop for their constant faithfulness? No. They died hoping their lives mattered. And God used their faithfulness in ways they never could have imagined. It’s not because they had the best seed, or watered the right things, or knew anything about farming.
But it was because they were faithful. They did what God called them to do, and God did what God does. And that doesn’t lead to apparent success, glamour or a gold watch and a nice retirement.
Two years ago this week I had the unbelievable and completely undeserved privilege to pray three students into the kingdom at camp. Reading my journal from that week has been so encouraging to me.
I have no idea what will happen in their lives and to their faith.
But I am confident that generations will be better because they live and because they love Jesus.
I lead with a fire in my bones because I can’t contain the message that God has given to me. (Jeremiah 20:9)
I fight to stay more in love with Jesus every day. I push myself to do nothing but to finish well and stay faithful—confident that God knows what He is doing. And I rest. Because when God’s got it, all you have to do is be obedient.
Being obedient to God is the hardest thing to do. It is so hard and difficult to do there is only one thing that’s harder:
Not doing it.
I have one more year to make this count. One more opportunity to get it right. One more year to be faithful. I thought about coasting, resting after 6 long and hard and awesome and draining years of student ministry. That now is the time to rest and enjoy what we’ve built.
Heaven forbid it! The other day I read what Paul thought of such matters: “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)