Lately I’ve been struck with Christ’s parable of the sower. Or do I mean the parable of the soils? Well, the underlying truth is that the same sower cast the same seed, and the quality of the soil determined the result of the harvest. But thinking about this parable, I’m left with a sobering question:
Does the sower bear any responsibility for the condition of the soil?
I’ll be honest. I feel rather unqualified to write this article. My understanding of personal responsibility in evangelism is in the middle of a change, and I certainly don’t have it all figured out. (That’s partly why I’m writing about it in the first place.)
“Thoughts untangle themselves when they pass through the lips and the fingertips.”
If you’ll pardon the initial rambling coming up, let’s see if we can untangle some of these thoughts…
- God has both a general will for all Christians (1 Thessalonians, 4:3; 5:18; 1 Peter 2:15), and a specific will for each individual (Acts 13:36; 2 Timothy 1:1; 1 Peter 3:17). Sometimes that specific will is even geographic (Acts 16:6-7).
- God has given you and me different gifts and responsibilities in the Church, according to His own pleasure (1 Corinthians 12:17-18).
- Some people are naturally (or supernaturally) gifted for evangelism, and others are not (Ephesians 4:11). I’m pretty sure I’m one of the not gifted.
- I see nothing in the Scripture to hint that going and preaching the gospel is only for gifted evangelists. I believe it’s His general will for all of us.
So, how does all of this relate to the parable of the sower? I’m almost there; there’s one more thing I’d like to sort out first, if I may.
I see three different classes of relationships we have with people.
- Regular relationships: God orders our lives so that there are certain people we see regularly. I go to an office every day, and I see mostly the same people every time I’m there. We have a professional working relationship. You may have neighbors that you see regularly. Maybe you’re a member of a club, association, or some other organization that meets daily or weekly. Regular relationships like these often spring from following God’s specific will in our lives.
- Passing relationships: These are people we may meet only once in our lifetime — the homeless mother who approaches you on your business trip, the waitress at the restaurant during an out-of-town meal, the potential customer who ultimately declines your sales pitch. Even these can be divine appointments where we may have an impact for Christ.
- Occasional relationships: Someone who was once a passing relationship may find more frequent contact with you. You see the same checkout clerk on repeated visits to that store. The same barber cuts your hair every few weeks. That client finally signed the contract, and now you talk more frequently.
I am convinced that God sovereignly controls all of these relationships, and He puts us in each one for a reason. But how should we respond?
Finally, I’m getting back to that sower. I hope I’m not abusing the metaphor of Christ’s parable by extending it with these thoughts:
- God has given me a responsibility for a certain plot of soil. These are my regular relationships and, to a lesser degree, my occasional relationships. In those occasional relationships, my garden may overlap someone else’s.
- A good gardener takes time to prepare the soil before planting. He pulls weeds. She removes the stones. There is the grueling work of plowing to be done. These things take time, and a rush to start planting on unprepared ground can cause problems for the harvest (Proverbs 20:4).
- A good gardener sows seed. There will always be more weeds, more rocks, more hard clumps of earth to crush. I cannot spend all of my time preparing. At some point, I must share the gospel.
- A good gardener waters and fertilizes. I believe regular spiritual encouragement and challenge are like water and fertilizer. It’s possible to give too much of either, but my tendency is to give too little.
- A good gardener harvests at the right time. We know that Christ told His disciples that their fields were white already to harvest (John 4:35). Paul’s reference to the same metaphor of planting and watering in 1 Corinthians 3:6 suggests that new seasons of planting, watering, and harvesting still continue. Premature harvesting attempts can destroy a plant. A good gardener recognizes the right time, and then takes action.
I often feel guilty that I don’t have an impact on my neighbors and co-workers. I should feel guilty if I have done nothing to prepare the ground or plant a seed. That’s my garden. That’s my responsibility. It’s where God has placed me.
I also feel guilty that I don’t plant a seed or water or fertilize my passing relationships. I probably shouldn’t feel guilty about most of those. My path may go through other people’s gardens. It’s possible for my watering to drown a plant, or for my fertilizer to burn sensitive roots.
On the other hand, it’s also possible that the other person’s gardner could use a bit of help.
How can you tell the difference? All I can offer right now is some Christian cliché about the leading of the Holy Spirit. Or maybe this is in some way related to the specific gift of the evangelist (a gift I don’t have). Honestly, I’m not sure. This feels like a subject for another untangling some other time.
How about you? How do you know when to water? when to fertilize? when to plant? when to harvest? I’m eager to learn.
Leave a reply below and share your thoughts with us.
Oh – one more thing… Even if I don’t provide water or fertilizer in those passing relationships, I should always offer sunshine. Most people don’t get enough of that.
(image credit: funny_p)