In Luke 8, Jesus teaches a great crowd of people about God’s Word, using a parable as was so often His habit:
A sower went out to sow his seed. And as as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold. -Luke 8:5-8 (ESV)
Jesus would continue to reveal to His disciples the meaning of this parable: that as the sower taught the Word of God, people would receive it differently:
- Some would simply reject the Lord.
- Some would succumb to trials instead of living confidently in the truth.
- Some would be consumed by their desires instead of being satisfied in God.
- Finally, some would hold tightly to the Lord and therefore multiply!
It is interesting to be reminded that the characteristic of a ‘successful’ seed is one that reproduces itself. In sharing our vision for missions with others, Amy and I often note that the Great Commission was given to the whole church – not merely to individual believers! Extending knowledge of Jesus to people without prior access is the God’s work through the entire body of believers, not through missionaries alone. Likewise, we all share in the privilege of sharing the hope we have in Christ with those around us (see I Peter 3:15). There is not a single believer today who is NOT called to tell other people about Jesus!
Yet as I reflect on Jesus’ words, I keep coming back to the image of the sower. It is incredibly important to avoid imaginative interpretation of unexplained parable details, so let’s not build any mountains out of molehills here! But I cannot help asking why the sower appears content to scatter his seed in every direction, apparently indiscriminately, without paying attention to the ground he is covering? Certainly we are to proclaim the Gospel to every person, and there is no question of saying “Such-and-such a person is not fertile ground for God’s Word; let’s not bother telling them of Jesus.” But why does the sower not work the ground?
Ultimately, I suspect this detail is omitted from Jesus’ parable because it goes beyond the point He was making at that time. It remains true, however, that every seed-sower I have ever met will diligently clear the land before planting seed! Where there is hard ground a farmer will plow, where rocks abound a gardener will remove them (or otherwise account for their presence), and where weeds grow they must be eliminated before good seed is sown.
God promises that His Word will not return void; we can be confident in the quality of the seed we are all to plant, and scatter it liberally! Yet a key principle in missions is that we must clear the ground before planting: call into question the sticky issues of a person’s worldview, so that God’s Word is not simply mixed in with every other belief that they already possess. Radius International, an excellent missions training organization, sums up this concept very well:
No new concepts are processed without, in some way, being adjusted by the existing knowledge and value system of the hearer. #worldview
— Radius International (@RadiusInt) February 11, 2014
This is not easy work; it can be painful, and always takes time! But without taking that step, we often see syncretization… people continuing in their old ways, but merely layering a veneer of Christian labels and ‘practices’ over top of the same old lies. And that is not acceptable!
I am convinced that preparing the ground is necessary to the clear teaching of the Gospel, and not just for missionaries in other cultures! Every person views the world slightly differently, and makes assumptions about truth which will color how they interpret God’s Word. So as we look for opportunities to share about Jesus wherever God has planted us today, let’s be intentional. Rather than simply scattering seed, I encourage you to plan on a little plowing being part of the process.