Mark 4:26-29: And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
How does the Kingdom of God come? Often in small ways; in hidden ways.
In her honest and compelling spiritual memoir, Girl Meets God, Lauren Winner chronicles her religious pilgrimage. She was born to a Jewish father and a Southern Baptist mother, but even after her parents divorced, her mother enrolled her in a Sabbath school at the Congregation Beth Israel – a Jewish synagogue – in Charlottesville, North Carolina. From a young age she was enraptured by Judaism and as a teenager Judaism became her consuming passion.
What makes Ms. Winner’s spiritual journey so interesting is that even as she was converting to Orthodox Judaism, she was beginning to become interested in Christianity. At Columbia University where she was attending, she took classes on the New Testament and spent much of her time researching the history of Protestant Christianity in the southern United States. She relates how she used to spend a good deal of time at a museum called The Cloisters which displayed medieval Christian art.
Ms. Winner writes, “My favorite spot at The Cloisters was a room downstairs called the Treasury. In glass cases were small fragile reliquaries and icons and prayer books. In one case was a tiny psalter and Book of Hours that had belonged to the Duchess of Normandy, all tempera and ink and gold leaf on vellum. It lay open to a picture of Christ’s arrest. I could barely read the Latin. Sometimes I would stand in front of that psalter for an hour. I wanted to hold it in my hand.”
Being raised in the synagogue gave Ms. Winner a foundation of faith in the God of Israel and his promises. Into this soil were planted the seeds of Christianity, though not in the ways – through church services or an evangelistic friend – that we might expect. Instead, it was her university courses and meditation on Christian art which were some of the seeds that eventually led to the flowering of Christian faith in Ms. Winner’s life.
As we bear witness to Jesus Christ, we must keep in mind that it does not lie within our power to cause the growth of the Kingdom of God. In the parable Jesus emphasized that the farmer did not know how the seed planted beneath the earth eventually grew into a mature plant. Somehow “the earth produced by itself” and then when the time was right, the farmer harvested his crop. This parable has much to teach us about the nature of our role as Christian witnesses.
First, the ignorance of the farmer as to how the seed grows and the reference to the earth producing by itself clearly point to God as the source of Kingdom growth. As the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6-7). Ms. Winner’s professors at Columbia University and the curators at The Cloisters museum may have had absolutely no idea that they were planting the seeds of Christian faith in her life. Yet, God worked powerfully through those influences to lead her to Jesus.
Second, the hiddenness of the seed in the earth and the mysteriousness of its growth process reminds us that there is much that is happening “beneath the surface” of people’s lives to which we do not have access. In Ms. Winner’s case, she wasn’t even completely aware of what was happening within herself. She writes that her boyfriend at that time, who was himself an Orthodox Jew, was very concerned about her intense interest in Christianity. She insisted to him that her interest in Christianity was “only intellectual,” but then later she confesses, “At the time, I thought Dov was overreacting. Now I think he could see something I could not see. He could see Jesus slowly goading me toward Him.” This fact that Christ works deep within people’s souls to draw them to himself has two important implications. The first is that in our evangelistic efforts we should always avoid all forms of manipulation. Attempting to pressure, guilt, or emotionally manipulate someone into Christianity is nothing less than an arrogant assumption to ourselves of a role that belongs only to the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who reveals Christ to the hearts and minds of unbelievers. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts them of their sin and calls them to Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who works in the deep places of the human heart. Attempting to do through our sinful means what only the Holy Spirit can do will only cause spiritual damage to others.
The second implication then is the importance of prayer for evangelism. We must trust that the “Lord of the harvest” (Mt. 9:38) knows what he is doing, and we must call on Him to work in a mighty way in the lives of people who need to come to follow Jesus. We can pray for the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin and reveal Christ to them. We can pray for God to remove the veil which Satan uses to blind the minds of unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:3-4). We can pray for God to destroy the strongholds of evil that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:4-5). We can pray for the Lord of the Harvest to send out his laborers to faithfully bear witness to Jesus in both word and deed (Mt. 9:37-38).
Finally, the farmer in the parable has two main roles: planting the seed and harvesting the crop. We plant the seeds of the kingdom by being good friends and good neighbors, by being open about our Christian faith and at the same time conducting ourselves with humility and integrity, by doing good works which point others to our Heavenly Father, and by sharing the good news about Christ’s love. This “seed-planting” is our primary responsibility. It is the way we bear witness to Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). “Harvesting,” then, means doing the wonderful work of accompanying people into the Kingdom. It means walking alongside people as they give their allegiance to Jesus, repent of their sins, confess their faith, are immersed into Christ, and begin living as his disciples. In order to have the opportunity to enjoy such harvests we must first be continually planting the seeds of the kingdom and praying for God to bring about their growth. We must also keep in mind that sometimes we will not see the harvest of the seeds we have planted, and that at other times we will reap the fruit of what others have sown. Further, in our personal lives and as a congregation we must be engaged with our neighbors and our community, welcoming and loving them, so that relationships are established which will provide the opportunities for the work of the gospel to be done.
Take time now to seek God. This brief prayer can help you get started. “Heavenly Father, I thank you for giving us the role of planting the seeds of your kingdom. Thank you that your kingdom comes in often small and unnoticed ways. Help me to be the witness for Jesus that you want me to be. I trust that you, O Lord, will bring the growth of your kingdom through the power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”