Mark 4: 1-9
“Listen! a sower went out to sow…” v. 3
What a great God we have who has made a world in which food literally springs up out of the ground. Gardening is one of the ways we get to participate with our creator in making life happen. I love eating vegetables from my own garden. I love planting them in our garden boxes and watching them grow. They just taste better when you’ve grown them yourself. I have to laugh, though, when I think of the early days of learning to grow a garden. One lesson I had to learn was the proper use of a tiller. Tillers are great. They dig into the rocky earth and pulverize it into condition to plant. They break into rocky, shallow soil tearing out weeds, thorns and rocks, and turning up good fertile soil. But you have to know how to use one. Actually, I learned the hard way, that you don’t use a tiller. It uses you. Whew!
I’ll never forget trying to teach myself how to manage one of those things. I took hold of the handle, mashed the lever, and held on for dear life as the machine dragged me, across the garden spot. For awhile I thought my arms would come out of the sockets. Eventually I learned how to work with the tiller, instead of against it, and let it do the work, while I just followed along. Once I figured that out I really came to enjoy using this powerful machine and watching it go to work on all types of soil, churning up even the most impenetrable ground and making it ready to receive rain and seed. When I think about those days I can’t help but think of prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit.
In Jesus parable of the soils he described God as the great farmer, scattering the seed of his word on the earth. He talked about how each of us is like a type of soil, some more ready to receive his word than others. Some of us are so hardened against God , that his word bounces off our hearts like a bean hitting a highway. Others are receptive, but too shallow and distracted to let it take root. Our hope is to become broken, open, and deep enough to take hold of God’s truth and let it produce a crop in our lives. Is it possible to change a heart from one type of soil to another? Can I become more open to God? Can I help my loved ones become less resistant and more open to the things of God? I believe so, but we have to learn how to till the soil. Look at it this way. Just as the tiller breaks up difficult ground, so the Holy Spirit goes to work on our hearts, and the hearts of others as we learn to walk behind him, hang on tight, keep a straight path and let him do the work. Jesus said the Spirit will “convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.” (John 16:8)
But just as the tiller will only work with us, instead of for us, so the Spirit expects us to cooperate with Him on leading others to Christ. To me, prayer is like working a tiller. We don’t control the Holy Spirit, any more than I could control the tiller. We just hold on to him, walk along with him, keep a straight path and watch in awe as he touches hearts, breaks up rocks, digs deep and tears out distractions. The only thing that keeps a lost and hardened world from Christ is prayerless saints who don’t walk in step with the Spirit. We have to begin by taking the tiller to our own hearts. We have to spend time in prayer asking the Spirit to show us where we have become resistant, shallow or distracted. As he does then we must repent of those things, really turn from them, and receive his word. It’s like Jeremiah said to a hardened people, “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.” (Jeremiah 4:3) In other words, Get your heart right before God by tearing out those places of hardness and shallow distraction, and make yourself ready to hear from him and be used by him. Then we can seek him in prayer for those who don’t yet know him. Finally, we have to remember that in prayer, just as with the tiller, we are not the ones in control. We follow the Spirit, he doesn’t follow us. We walk in his power and surrender to it, instead of trying to get him to surrender to us. Walking by the Spirit means that we listen for his directions instead of following our distractions. In short, we will see the world changed as we learn to hold on, walk behind, and keep our path straight.