Harvest is a promise
Harvest is a promise! “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, . . . will never cease.” Gen 8:22
I hesitate to ask you this, but I wonder if like me, you might sometimes query whether God has got it wrong? Well, of course, I know He couldn’t really have got it wrong - but sometimes I’ve thought things like: Why weren’t we all born with fur instead of just skin? Think about it. We could all then just roll out of bed, have a good scratch and then get on with our day. No baths, or showers or shaving or any of that stuff – and no washing or ironing or endless shopping trips to buy things to wear. Think of all the time and money we’d save ourselves. Seems like a sensible plan to me.
Or what about wings? Why don’t we have wings? Now come on, that would be brilliant. No petrol or diesel or expensive cars to buy. No congestion, no queues, no costly motorway snacks. Bliss!
But I suppose that there are some things that God has just decided are right, and that’s that. And while we may get to ask Him about that kind of stuff when we get to Glory, in the meantime we just have to accept it as one of God’s basic principles. Like the one we’re going to look at today.
After the flood when God dispensed judgement on our forebears, He reinforced some of His basic principles to Noah and his family. In Genesis 8:22 for example, God said, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, . . . will never cease.”
Now “seedtime and harvest” is a fundamental principle of planet earth. It’s a GOD principle of course, not a 21st Century MAN principle. We like instant. We prefer to get the pay-off, the outcome, the fruit, right now, not later. But while we want INSTANT, God seems to have chosen DEVELOPMENT.
The seedtime and harvest principle is basically this: You take a seed, you plant it in prepared soil, you nurture it the best you can and in due time it brings forth a harvest. Now we might prefer God to do “Zappo”, instant miracles. But God seems to prefer seedtime and harvest miracles. And they are miracles, after all. You sprinkle a few miniscule and nondescript seeds into the ground and a month or two later you are enjoying the staggering beauty of flowers or tucking into more salad vegetables than even a very healthy appetite can cope with.
So this morning, let’s turn to the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:4-15 to look at this principle of “seedtime and harvest” a little more closely and see what it can teach us.
“While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “ though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’
“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”
Now the subject of harvest is a massive one in the Word of God, but today, as we’re still on the threshold of the New Year, I’d like us to consider this seedtime and harvest principle in terms of how we as individuals with a God given charge to bear fruit for His Kingdom, can follow this principle and see a SPIRITUAL HARVEST in our own lives. In fact, I want us to consider FOUR things that lead to a personal spiritual harvest.
First, a SPIRITUAL HARVEST requires quality SEED
Christ’s parable tells us that the “The seed IS the word of God”. The seed of any spiritual harvest is ALWAYS God’s Word. It’s not the plans of men and women. Not the “good ideas” that we come up with. Not the talents and abilities that we have. We are not the origin or source of spiritual harvest. God’s Word is.
And God’s Word is GOOD seed. It is quality stuff! In fact it is so good, (so, so, good!), that it is guaranteed not to fail. Did you notice that in our parable ALL the seed that entered the soil, the rocky soil, the thorny soil or the good soil, ALL germinated. The Word of God is good seed. And if we are to see any real SPIRITUAL HARVEST in our lives in this New Year, then it is the good seed of God’s Word that will be the basis of it, NOT our good ideas or our great plans.
Now I know that last time I spoke I highlighted some of the characteristics of God’s Word, but I can’t resist the opportunity of expanding just a little on that this morning so that we can understand why God’s Word really is “GOOD” seed.
The Apostle James confirms that the Word is the source of spiritual life telling us in James 1:18: “He (God) chose to give us birth through the word of truth . . .” . And Peter tells us much the same when in 1 Peter 1:23 he writes: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” And Jesus himself emphasised the fact that the Word of God is the ONLY way in which spiritual life can be sustained when He declared in Matthew 4:4: “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
But Hebrews 4:12 tells us something equally significant when it declares: “For the word of God is LIVING and ACTIVE.” It is telling us that God’s Word is not just lifeless letters on a page, it is telling us that it contains an “active ingredient”. And the Psalmist knew that, because he wrote in Psalm 119:11, “I have hidden your word in my heart THAT (or so that) I might not sin against you.” He is confirming that this active ingredient in God’s Word, what I call the “intrinsic” power WITHIN God’s Word, actually does something spectacular when we put it inside us - it enables us to overcome sin in our lives.
So, the seed of God’s Word is POWERFUL stuff, it is life-giving AND it is life-transforming.
The Word of God then is the GOOD SEED, and what’s more, it’s the ONLY source of spiritual harvest in our lives, and if we will make a point of sowing it, it won’t be the seed that’s the reason for a harvest NOT appearing.
Secondly, a SPIRITUAL HARVEST depends on the QUALITY OF THE SOIL
The soil referred to in the parable is actually our human heart, our spirit man, the real or inner man who lives within the shell of our physical bodies. Luke 8:11-12 tells us:“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word FROM THEIR HEARTS, . .” So the spiritual seed of the Word is sown in our hearts and, as the parable explains, our hearts can be in a variety of conditions – they can be like a path, or like rocky, thorny or good soil.
So here is an important principle for seeing a spiritual harvest. The soil of our HEARTS needs to be prepared. The rocks and the thorns need to be removed if the seed is to grow and flourish.
I remember, one school summer holiday many years ago when Margaret and I spent a couple of weeks working in my parents’ garden. Their garden, like many in High Wycombe, had a steep bank in it. It was part of the garden that had remained untamed since they moved into the house and it was rock solid earth covered in the healthiest weeds and undergrowth you ever saw. But about a fortnight after we began to tackle it, and with a lot of hard work, and the important assistance of a sturdy rotavator, it was turned into one of the best parts of the garden with a brand new lawn and flower beds where a wilderness had once been, and it became great place to sit and take in the view over Hughenden Park.
The prophet Hosea tells us how we do the spiritual equivalent of that kind of landscaping. He says: “. . . break up your un-ploughed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.” (Hosea 10:12)
As Christians our hearts are either ploughed or un-ploughed. The ploughed heart is a heart that is open to receive and nurture and grow the good seed of God’s Word. But the unploughed heart is hard, impenetrable, and inclined to deny life and growth to any spiritual seed sown. And many of us can be like that. Unconfessed sin, wilfulness, unrepentant hearts, half-hearted commitment, a lack of self-discipline and much else can all affect our ability to provide a soil, or have hearts, that will allow God’s Word to flourish, grow and bear spiritual fruit in our lives.
It’s not the quality of the seed that’s the problem. It’s the soil; it’s crusted over, it’s hard and it’s unreceptive to the seed of God’s Word. So the Word just bounces off us, unable to take root and grow and produce the harvest we so need.
That’s why Hosea tells us to “break up your unploughed ground”. But how do we do that? Well, we don’t! We can’t! We are not the gardener. As Jesus says to us in John 15:1: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” It’s not US who does the breaking up of the hard soil of our hearts, it is our Heavenly Father. So our task is to present ourselves to God and take Hosea’s advice and “. . . seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.” (Hosea 10:12) Like the Psalmist in Psalm 27:8 we need to declare to God: “You have said, “Seek my face.” My HEART says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”” (ESV)
Now one of God’s precious PROMISES to all of us as Christians, is found in Matthew 7:8 where it says: “For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” And Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:20 “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken BY US to the glory of God.” So we must say our “Amen” of faith and expect to see God move to plough up the hard soil of our hearts and make it capable of growing the good seed of God’s Word in our lives.
Thirdly, a SPIRITUAL HARVEST depends on us SOWING the good seed
Having the seed is not enough. I don’t know about you but I have accumulated quite a lot of Bibles over my time as a Christian. I have a lot of different versions. Some I’ve read through only once and others I’ve read through many times. But HAVING loads of Bibles, loads of copies of the Word of God; having loads of “seed”, isn’t of itself going to produce a spiritual harvest. We have to SOW the seed of the Word in the soil of our hearts to see a spiritual harvest.
We could have a packet of best quality seeds. We could find out all about those seeds. We could examine the picture on the front of the packet to see what the end result, the harvest, will look like. We could read the sowing and growing instructions, but that, in itself, still will not result in those seeds producing plants. We have to SOW the seeds to see the harvest. And that’s just what we must do with God’s Word in our hearts if we are to reap a spiritual harvest!
And notice that sowing is an ACTIVITY. We each have to DO it. It’s NOT automatic, we have to set aside time and choose to do it – or it just won’t happen. So it may involve adjusting our programme and our priorities to make the time needed to sow. Sacrifices may have to be made. If we are to really sow God’s Word in our life we have to make the opportunities to do it. We have to make time to read it; hear it; study it; think about it; talk about it and most important look to practice it. So as Christians, as someone has said: “we shouldn’t moan if we haven’t sown!”
Also, sowing the Word into our hearts is a FAITH ACTIVITY. Romans 10:17 tells us; “. . . faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” So we KNOW that because of the absolute integrity of God’s Word, because we can totally rely on and trust God’s Word, our faith is provided with an absolutely secure foundation. So when we really sow the Word in our hearts, faith is released and grows. Sow good seed in fertile soil – and it will germinate; sow the Word of God in our heart – and it will release faith.
But Fourthly, a SPIRITUAL HARVEST depends on a PROCESS of GROWTH
If you plant yourself an acorn, there doesn’t come a day when there is an ominous rumbling inside the shell and suddenly, in an instant, a 60 foot tall oak tree bursts out. No, following germination a process of growth is involved and during that period the nature of the harvest is determined. Will there be any harvest at all, or will that promising looking shoot just wilt and die off? Will the harvest be meagre and forlorn? Or, will it be abundant and generous?
It seems to me that there are two key aspects in this process of growth that we need to recognise and plan for:
The first aspect of the process of growth is TIME: Growth does not happen instantly. Like it or not, God’s plan for spiritual growth, like His plan for natural growth, is NOT the “KAZAPP!” instant variety. It is a PROCESS, over time. And we can find that difficult. Like children excitedly planting seeds in their first experience of gardening but losing all interest when after a whole week of looking and anticipating that their newly planted seeds, will spring up as full sized carrots or juicy looking tomatoes, they find that not so much as a single green shoot has appeared. So we too, can be disappointed when our first resolve to see a spiritual harvest in our lives fails to materialise in what WE see as a reasonable time frame.
We have to accept that while the sowing and nurturing process is in our hands, it is God who gives the increase. He is in charge of the time frame, and we just have to accept that. Annoyingly, spiritual harvest does take time. But as Paul encourages the Galatians in respect of ANY good work “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we WILL reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
But the second aspect of the PROCESS of growth though is NURTURE: Starve a seedling of rainfall and sunshine and it will either not emerge at all, or, it will emerge weak and spindly, fit for nothing. So, if we fail to prioritise time for the Word of God in our lives, if we fail to nurture it in our lives, we will wait a long time to see any kind of spiritual harvest. But, if we are feeding and nurturing the seed of God’s Word in our lives by reading it, by studying it, by memorising it, by sharing what we have got from it with others, and by doing what the Word says, we will INEVITABLY be nurturing a harvest of spiritual blessing in our lives.
But I want to highlight something that is going on beneath the surface, in our hearts, when we do those things with God’s Word – reading, studying, memorising, sharing or doing what it says. Below ground, in the soil of our hearts, just like a germinating seedling, LIFE is stirring. The seedling of spiritual life is beginning to grow and thrive.
What we are actually doing as we do these things is ACKNOWLEDGING and AFFIRMING and RECOGNISING the truth of God’s Word, and that is precisely what is needed if we are to see our faith in God grow. And, since the Word of God is the seed of spiritual harvest this is THE way to see that harvest in our lives.
Remember, the Word of God is GOOD SEED, so it WILL INEVITABLY germinate if we are prepared to nurture it in our lives, if we will work with our Heavenly Father to improve the soil of our hearts, and if we will give it the time it needs to come to full fruition.
Genesis 8:22 tells us that “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, . . . WILL NEVER CEASE.” THAT’S A PROMISE! So, as members together of Elim Hope Church, at the start of this New Year and as we are facing very considerable challenges as a church, let’s remember that according to God’s unshakable Word this promise of HARVEST is ““Yes” in Christ “. So, this year, let’s rise together to give our “Amen” to that “to the glory of God.” and look to see God provide an abundant spiritual harvest in our lives.
And remember too, that since the seed of God’s Word is GOOD SEED, if the soil of our hearts is GOOD SOIL because of the work of our Heavenly Father in our hearts, we can expect a crop that is, as Jesus said: “a hundred times more than was sown.” Praise His name!