Beside All Waters
It's springtime in the Canyon. Our new blueberry plants are set in their rows, and the raspberries are sending up their new canes. Jeff has been building new cedar planting beds, and our kids are helping to dig out the earth in terraces for the planters to rest.
Beside my recliner in the living room I have my packets of seeds, and I have been leafing through “The Family Garden Plan” by Melissa K. Norris (from the Pioneering Today podcast), a fellow Santiam Canyon gardening enthusiast who is much more skilled than I am, in the hopes that I might glean from her years of experience.
My favorite part is the planning—because I can sit in my recliner with my warm and cozy blanket, hugging a warm cappuccino with a chocolate drizzle. I am fine with getting the seeds and plants into the ground, but once it's time to weed and water—that's all Jeff.
Weeding season happily coincides with allergy season. In fact, I only get a desire to work out in my gardens when it is sunny and warm, something that not a frequent occurrence in our mountainous climate. I have a haunting suspicion that to be truly successful at gardening I would need be out there rain and shine, cold and warm, working to make sure that each plant has the best shot at bearing fruit later on.
While I love the convenience we have in our culture of raised beds, automatic watering systems, and online seed shopping, it doesn't help much in understanding some of Scripture's analogies in planting and harvesting—Scripture's most often used parallel for ministering in the Word of God.
In Eastern Biblical cultures, they didn't have raised cedar beds and imported topsoil. Instead, they worked with what they did have—their water systems. Every year the streams, creeks and rivers would overflow onto their banks with rich topsoil, spilling essential nutrients and water past their normal bounds. The families would take their grain carefully hoarded from the previous year's harvest out to the moist banks, and, using the oxen and donkeys, would plough up the wet dirt with the animals' feet, afterward throwing out the seed onto the wet topsoil. This would soak the grains and prepare them for more uniform germination. As the waters subsided, the plants would spring up and have easy access to water and nutritious soil throughout the hot summer months.
Those most successful, the ones who would reap the richest most bountiful harvests, were those who would continue to sow beside as many water sources as they could find. They wouldn't just sow once and be done. They knew that if you wanted the fullest harvest, you wouldn't “put all your eggs in one basket.” You would diversify. You would invest your time, energy and resources into as many places as you could for the most profitable return.
Have you ever checked the back of those little seed packets? It always has a spacing for each plant's optimal production. However, the garden experts don't always advise following those spacing rules. It is not that they are inaccurate, but rather that if you sow generously across the entire area, so many more plants will come up that the net result of your harvest will be much greater than if you had sowed sparingly.
For the ministries the Lord has given me, this might mean that I participate in worship with my cello. When my son falls on the playground and comes to me with a bleeding lip, I hold and comfort him. When the Lord prompts me to share a verse or song with a friend, I obey. When the floor in the kitchen at church needs mopped, maybe I can help with that. If there's a devotional needed for youth group, I can ask the Lord to give me something to share. It can mean different things at different times, but it is more about being flexible to the leadings of the Holy Spirit than about certain amount of time or involvement.
Obviously we have our giftings from the Lord in particular areas, and those areas may see a more natural growth and return, but if there's another place that we can invest, even if it's a smaller rate, it is worth sowing into, because the end result will be all the greater.
In Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 there is a passage that continues to help me to persevere in “sowing” in ministry in those times when it seems fruitless or discouraging:
“Cast your grain upon the waters;
after many days you will receive a return.
Invest in seven ventures, yes in eight;
you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
If the clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth.
Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where it falls, there it will lie.
Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.
Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that,
or whether both will do equally well.”
While these verses speak about many different things, they really are all illustrating a couple of parallel concepts.
Our “grain” is whatever the Lord has given us to share with others—talents, finances, knowledge, service. Jesus' parable in Luke 8 tells of the farmer who scatters his seed on the path, the rocks, and the thorny areas as well as the good soil. While he may harvest with little to no return in some of those soils, the percentage of people, though small, who receive and bear a harvest when they hear the Word of God is multiplied exponentially. The ability to bear more seed and impact “100 times” more in the future is a harvest worth our investment.
Unlike the farmer though, as servants we cannot see the inside of a person's heart. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Sam 16:7. We may see what looks like hard-heartedness in people, but is only a carefully formed facade meant to self-protect. We may see what looks like a lack of understanding, but as maturity forms and knowledge increases may come back to them with a Spirit-inspired revelation of insight. Only God can see beyond the appearance of things.
We must keep casting the gospel everywhere we can find to cast it,
because as seed-casters, we cannot see the heart's condition.
It takes a measure of faith to take what we have carefully saved of our time, energies and resources, and “throw it into the mud.” It's easy to wonder if that investment into people will ever produce anything, especially when many people reject the gospel, or treat us poorly as a result. Many often consider what we have to share to be of no value, and the sacrifice of what we could have enjoyed for ourselves with that precious resource can seem pointless and discarded.
If we look at those discouragements, if we focus on what seem to be failures, than we lose our courage to keep planting. If we “watch the wind” or “look at the clouds,” we will in turn make fear-based choices that will end up with no reward, no ministry fruit.
Only God, who forms and works miracles in secret in the womb, knows what He will do with the seed we cast. Just as we know that rain-clouds will eventually drop their rain, so we know that if we keep persevering there will end up being a harvest. Just as we can predict where a tree will lay when it starts to fall, so we know that our ministry in the Lord will never be wasted. God intently watches over His Word to make sure that it will accomplish what He intends. (Jer. 1:12, Isa. 55:11)
“There, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you.
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord,
because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
1 Cor. 15:58
We must keep serving regardless of the conditions and outlook,
because God watches over His own purposes.
At our church we are wrapping up our school year schedule of ministry, and moving into a season of rest and minimal work so that we can restore our energies for the next year and spend more family time. This year, honestly, has been a difficult one to finish out. Trying to juggle seminary, homeschooling and leadership at the same time has on many occasions drained my energy. At the end of a particularly challenging season, when we have given and given and feel like there's nothing left to give, it can feel like perhaps we should have saved more. It can be challenging to continue to throw it all out there and to trust that we will have more again to give later on.
My husband owns his own business, and he is always looking for ways to supply his employees with better, faster tools, more efficient vehicles, and sufficient help to get each job finished in a timely and profitable way. A good and wise owner will always want to supply his workers with what they need to get the job done well.
In the same way, our God, who created all things by the Word of His mouth, wants to re-supply and refresh us with all that we need for each new day. So at the end of each day, let's take our empty baskets back to Him and ask for more. More energy, multiplied time, more help, more resources.
God is invested in His own kingdom as the Lord of the Harvest.
He will abundantly supply us with what we need to serve Him.
“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times,
having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
As it is written, 'They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures .' Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food,
supply and multiply the seed you have sown
and increase the harvest of your righteousness.”
2 Corinthians 9:10
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Halley Faville lives with her husband and children in their mountain home in Oregon.