Harvesting Crops and Soil Science
‘Do you have a spare Bible?’ he asked.
‘Yes, I do,’ I replied. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘I’ve never read one. But I want to read the Bible so I can tell you what a load of rubbish it is!’
At the time, this comment startled me and I felt intimidated. This guy was not only someone I admired, but he was also popular, an amazing academic and athlete, so I gave him one of my spare Bibles.
I knew this circumstance needed a prayerful approach and so I started to pray for him every morning and evening asking that God would move in his life as he read the Bible.
Seed and salvation
When I saw my friend again, I nervously asked how his Bible reading was going. ‘Mat, last night I gave my life to Christ in my bedroom.’ His response completely caught me off guard. It was exciting for both of us, because not only did my friend get saved, but his salvation led to a valuable lesson for me in my own faith: I serve the God of heaven who answers prayer!
The weeks that followed I’ll describe as Bible 101 Bootcamp. He was so hungry to learn, and I was happy to help. Many hours were spent guiding him to gain a firm understanding of the basics of Scripture. And then a chain reaction began. A whole line of our other friends followed a similar pattern and got saved. At the beginning of that year, I remember going to church on Sunday nights by myself. By the time October rolled around, there were four or five carloads of us going, with many having made first-time decisions for Christ. It turned out that the guy to whom I gifted the Bible went on to become an amazing evangelist in our peer group.
In the first three parts of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus talked to the crowds addressing the issues of confusion, persecution and where we place our attention—our focus. And in his private explanations, Jesus reinforced the point that as believers we are involved in a spiritual battle. Therefore, this unseen reality must always be at the forefront of our thinking when we share the gospel. However, we need to navigate this task in a way that is down-to-earth and not weird. In other words, the battle is a spiritual one and we need to conduct ourselves in a way that doesn’t confuse people who are just starting out on their kingdom journey.
The good soil
Jesus then came to the fourth and final part of this parable. At this point, he talked to his audience about what happens to the seed that lands on good soil. Here he addressed the issue of salvation and the implications of what it means for the believer.
‘Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear’ (Matthew 13:8–9).
And like before, Jesus explained to his disciples in private what these words meant.
‘But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown’ (Matthew 13:23).
Good soil is vitally important for a good harvest. According to the Fertiliser Institute, nitrogen is the single most important plant nutrient in today’s commercial fertilisers. It is essential to use nitrogen in the preparation of soil so that farmers can maximise their harvest potential. It also means that not only are plants healthy as they grow but the produce is also nutritious to eat after the harvest. The Institute attributes German scientist Fritz Haber in 1909 as being the one who figured out the scientific formula that made nitrogen easily accessible to use in fertiliser. The idea that I want to extract here is that for farmers there’s probably nothing wrong with their seed. But, as Haber knew, if a plant doesn’t grow properly, then the problem is likely to be with the soil. Nitrogen was the solution.
We can give Haber’s scientific insight a spiritual application. It is clear from this parable that for the message of the kingdom to take root, the condition of what Bible commentator Matthew Henry called ‘the soil of the human heart’, is important. So a question that we must ask is this: if the condition of the human heart must be favourable for the seed of the gospel to grow and be healthy, then what kind of things should we be doing to increase the probability of a successful propagation? Are there things we can be doing in advance of sharing the full gospel that will help it take root and grow in the lives of people? Is there spiritual nitrogen?
Praying for the harvest
Something we must do is pray. The famous revivalist Charles Finney wrote in his lectures about the importance of prevailing prayer. This is the type of prayer that aligns itself with God’s will, is Spirit led and doesn’t give up until it is answered. Many of the society-wide revivals in history began with this kind of prayer. And many people who get saved today often will learn later that someone had been praying for them. In the example I shared earlier of my friend demanding a Bible, prayer clearly played a part in his salvation. What nitrogen is to soil science in the physical sense, prayer is to the metaphoric soil of the human heart. If we want the gospel to take root in the lives of people, then we must pray for them.
However, while prayer is vitally important, there does come a point where the message of the gospel, the Good News, must be shared. It must be heard, and for it to take root it must be understood. You can see this clearly in Jesus’ explanation: ‘But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it’.
As Christ-followers we all have a responsibility to share Christ with others. We should learn to share the full gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-9; Romans 3:10, 23; 6:23; 5:8; 10:9, 10, 13). The love of God needs to be balanced alongside his holiness and righteousness. Eternal separation from God and also sin are parts of the gospel even though these might not be popular or easy to share. And for those of us who are in the kingdom, we need to maintain our burden for those who don’t know Christ. There is a danger that we can become complacent, taking the grace we have been given for granted.
The biblical text is very clear in that once the gospel propagates in a person’s life, it is expected that the kingdom will receive a dividend. Jesus said: ‘This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown’.
In this parable, Jesus said ‘whoever has ears, let them hear’. This is one of Jesus’ signature sayings that appears numerous times in the New Testament. If he was to rephrase it for us today, he probably would have said, ‘whoever has ears, pay attention!’ Are we paying attention to the implications of the Parable of the Sower?