You have to plant flowers. You don't have to plant weeds.
Jesus said His words are spirit and life. Thus His words are Kingdom seeds packed with God’s DNA
Yet, if we were to judge by falling church attendance, apathy, lukewarmness and
growing levels of unbelief and sin we must draw the conclusion that a substantial measure of Kingdom seed sown week after week is not taking root and developing into Kingdom life.
I believe this is why.
A Farmer doesn’t throw seed on to an unploughed field. He knows His seeds won’t grow well enough to produce a harvest.
Jesus taught that only when seed falls on well ploughed ground can it produce a good harvest.
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
He then explained what the parable meant. (18-23)
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.
The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.
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.”
Thus, hard ground, shallow soil, troubles and persecution, worry and the deceitfulness of wealth are not ‘good soil’ in a person.
In other words it was only where the plough had done its work that the seeds could be certain to produce their desired harvest.
When God gave Jeremiah his calling as a prophet he instructed him to thoroughly deal the existing ground before planting and building on it.
“I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
We all come to the Kingdom of God with some soft soil, but also some unploughed hard ground, shallow soil, rocks and weedy areas.
Throwing good seed endlessly on to that unploughed ground would - as Jesus said - mostly produce short lived positive responses, or growth with shallow roots which was easily dislodged.
As a farmer ploughs his field well before planting his seed so our hearts need to be thoroughly and deeply ploughed by good preaching. Challenging preaching. Anointed preaching. Preaching the tough verses to break up the tough ground.
Simply sowing the seed ‘don’t drink and drive’ did not produce the hoped for response. It needed strong advertisements showing what the consequences could be if the message was ignored that finally began to show results.
Between 1979 - 2009 road injuries and deaths in mainland Britain where alcohol was involved averaged 18,007 a year, but in the following seven years the average dropped to 9,077. The message was finally bearing fruit.
Likewise with smoking.
It took advertising showing the terrible consequences to smokers and to others that has finally produced a harvest of quitters.
When believers become comfortable with sin the ground within remains hardened, and no growth will take place.
Beware, brethren, … lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin... Hebrews 3:12-14 (an excerpt from)
Some truths only sink in when the soil is well ploughed with a sharp edge.
The word of God - when handled correctly and in the right Spirit - is extremely sharp.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Unless we break up the hard ground, sometimes using hard truths - which can offend our pride - the soil will remain hard, thorny and shallow.
This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and to Jerusalem: “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns.
The hard ground in Jesus’s parable was the path used virtually every day in the farmer’s life coming and going to his field.
I believe this can equate to the habits, lifestyle and comforts that make up our everyday lives.
This everyday life can become what I call - our silent and impenetrable comfort zone.
We naturally settle into and protect our comfort zone. Nice house. Double glazing. Car or maybe two cars. Central heating. Big TV, maybe two, maybe three. Good friends, good church. Children doing well. Saving for the nice holiday. iPhone, Facebook, and a Christian. Heaven secured.
Three anglers were fishing on a lake. Suddenly to their shock they saw Jesus walking across the water and getting into their boat. “Are you Jesus - the real Jesus?” the first angler asked. “I am” Jesus said. The first angler said, “Jesus I suffer from severe arthritis, will you heal me?” “I will” Jesus said, touched the man and healed him. “Hallelujah! Praise You Jesus!” the man joyfully declared.
The second man said, “Jesus, my eyesight is very poor. I need to wear these thick glasses to see. Will you heal me?” “I will” Jesus said, removing the man’s glasses and throwing them into the lake. Jesus touched his eyes and he was healed. “Hallelujah! Praise You Jesus!” the man joyfully declared.
As Jesus turned to the third man, the man held up his hands to keep Jesus back. “Don’t touch me” the man said, “I’m on disability pension”
We might smile at that story. But it makes a point.
We can all have unseen but very real lines that we don’t want Jesus to cross, less it discomforts us.
It's what Jesus called 'the deceitfulness of wealth' which chokes the word.
Our hearts tell us we’re doing ok.
‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’
Jesus can. And He asked for disciples. Not just believers.
That’s why He ploughed deep into that hard ground as He sowed Kingdom seed.
Discipleship does not automatically come with time, does not automatically come with reading the Bible more or regularly attending church - though these are very good things.
From Genesis onwards the Bible can be divided into scriptures about obedience and disobedience - and the consequences of both.
In a democratic society making Jesus the Lord and Master and Ruler over every part of our lives and loves does not come naturally.
We might call Him Lord - and learn memory verses such as Philippians 2: 10 “at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow” - but often the full meaning of such verses abides in very shallow soil, if at all.
Billy Graham ploughed when he said, “If He is not Lord of all - then He is not Lord at all”
The wind and the waves obeyed Jesus. The demonic obeyed Jesus.
If we still see His commands as an a la carte menu to pick and choose from - what does that make us?
Jesus knows the plough must dig deep here.
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice
Jesus gives us the gift of family and desires that we love them dearly, but never at the expense of putting them ahead of obedience to Him.
Using the power of hyperbole - extreme wording to ensure we understand the seriousness of the matter - Jesus said,
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”
In Matthew 7:21-22 Jesus ploughs even deeper.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
The great Charles Haddon Spurgeon was not afraid to plough deeply on this issue of the Lordship of Jesus he said,
“If the professed convert distinctly and deliberately declares that he knows the Lord’s will but does not mean to attend it, you are not to pamper his presumption but it is your duty to assure him that he is not saved.
But there’s more really deep ploughing to be done in the seemingly impenetrable ground of our comfort zone.
In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
When we hear that does the blade of the plough hit an immovable rock in our lives?
Jesus is not asking us to give everything away, (though for a few He has) but to give up everything.
This example might help.
In 1973, ITV made a ground breaking and - if the cost then was converted into today's value - the most expensive documentary ever produced. It was the 26 episode 'The World at War' narrated by Laurence Olivier.
Episode one featured the rebirth of Germany and the growth in power of the Nazi Party leading up to the outbreak of war. As they invaded the border regions in the north and west of Czechoslovakia, then Austria and Poland it became very obvious thay every Jewish family in Europe was in grave danger. Laurence Olivier said that many Jews left their houses and businesses and fled to safety. Others could not leave their houses or businesses and they perished.
Then he added this sentence, "Which showed they did not own their houses or businesses, but that their houses and businesses owned them"
Jesus challenged the rich young ruler who 'had great possessions' to release his grip on them, but he could not, and walked away. (Matthew 19:16-22) Jesus simply showed him where his heart really lay.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Surrounded by his boat, his great catch of fish and his fishing friends Jesus asked Simon Peter where his treasure was. And He got a true disciple's response.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Immorality is a big strong ‘no-no’ in the Bible. It is a relentless theme throughout the Bible. Yet surveys continue to show pornography is advancing like a flood through the church. Everyone knows it is sin, yet.. hey-ho … it's just life isn’t it?:
In the past 30 years of attending church I have heard this subject mentioned once in a sermon. But with no sharp plough at work.
Again using the power of hyperbole - extreme wording to ensure we understand the seriousness - listen to Jesus plough into that devil’s playground.
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Carter Conlon of Times Square Church is a man who ploughs deeply because he loves the Lord and loves His people. He said,
“If you can go to church comfortable in your sin and come out the same way, you are going to the wrong church
It is only when we realise the dreadfulness of our ignored sins, how pathetically shallow and lukewarm our proclaimed faith is, how the relentless worries of this life, the deceitfulness of our comforting wealth and the powerful influence of this fallen world are negatively shaping us, that the soil is truly ploughed and ready for the Kingdom seeds of grace to produce a Kingdom harvest. We finally understand!
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.”
God is the great forgiver. We know the price Jesus paid that we might be forgiven. But He asks that we pass that forgiveness on.
The Lord’s prayer has the line, ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us’ but to many (including myself for many years) this is only a memory verse.
Unforgiveness probably hardens the heart more than anything else. It creates hard ground full of gravel and stones made up from anger, bitterness, malice and rage.
Listen to Jesus plough that stony soil.
Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Jesus then tells him the parable of the unmerciful servant... (23-31)
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
Which ends with Jesus saying, (32-35)
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’
In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Jesus makes sure we get the point.
Lukewarmness - a bit of the world mixed with a bit of the Kingdom - is shallow soil.
Jesus ploughed straight into that in His message to the wealthy Laodicean church.
"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see".
Shockingly tough words, but coming from a heart of love, because lukewarm is only one stair above drifting away (Hebrews 2:1) and that is only one stair above staying away. (Hebrews 3:12-14)
The stairway to hell.
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
Jesus will not force us to repent, but tells us He waits to see if He will be invited back to the dining table of our heart.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
Jesus will only discomfort those who are living the wrong way, or heading the wrong way.
I could go on.
The apostle Paul ploughed deeply when he felt he needed to.
Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.
As did James, Peter, John, Jude and the writer of Hebrews. Every writer.
As did the great preachers writers and revivalists such as Wesley, Whitfield, Edwards, Moody, Spurgeon and Tozer. They knew that sowing without first ploughing was unfruitful.
When preachers refuse to plough deeply with the scripture’s tougher sharper words lest they offend, they see little growth from the seeds sown week after week into their precious congregation.
It seems that judgement, fleeing from the wrath to come and what Jesus said again and again about the reality of hell has quietly melted away.
Vanilla church isn’t cutting it.
It produces comfortable believers with shallow soil that resisits discomforting seeds.
I love teaching about the love of God - but I know that if the fear of God becomes absent in our lives we can all too easily ignore the tough blade of the plough.
My second book was the balance to the my first one. It ploughs, preparing the Christian heart and mind for true discipleship.
Twice we read in John chapter one that Jesus came with grace and truth. (v.14 & 17)
Truth without grace is not Kingdom teaching. And grace without truth is not Kingdom teaching.
We love the grace but can so easily flinch at every truth which discomforts us.
Telling people that God loves them requires no ploughing. Telling people that Jesus died for their sins requires no ploughing. Telling people about His grace requires no ploughing. These wonderful truths neither offend or discomfort.
But it is not the whole counsel of God.
The apostle Paul - in Acts 20:26-28 said
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned (avoid declaring) to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (emphasis mine)
It is not about 'must do'. It's about surrender. A surendered heart is the 'good soil'.
As Luke recorded Jesus saying in the parable of the sower,
... 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. (8:15)
The old man crucified with scripture's sharp nails!
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (emphasis mine)
After the ploughing comes the sowing.
Isaiah 28:22-26 (TLB)
Listen to me, listen as I plead: Does a farmer always plow and never sow? Is he forever harrowing the soil and never planting it? Does he not finally plant his many kinds of grain, each in its own section of his land? He knows just what to do, for God has made him see and understand.
What do we sow?
Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.
Again and again the Bible speaks of sowing to righteousness. (Proverbs 11:18 & 2 Corinthians 9:10 & James 3:18)
Here was a lesson I was thankful to learn early on in my walk with Jesus.
In 1993 I attended a week long conference entitled ‘Together for the Kingdom’ and one of the speakers was Tom Bathgate. I was still a young Christian but truly and deeply desired to one day be a ‘man of God’ - though I had little idea what that entailed. So as Tom told the following story from his own journey 'I had ears to hear’.
He said he had a close friend called Willy whom he and others referred to as a man of God. Tom often spent time with Willy but he couldn’t see anything Willy was doing that was different to him.
So one day Tom said to him, “Willy, everyone knows you are a man of God, but I don’t see what you’re doing that’s different from me”
Willy said,”Tom, it’s like this. Everyday there are lots of choices to make and as I have travelled through life I have always chosen to sow to righteousness. So if you like the harvest you see today it is simply the result of sowing to righteousness over many years”
I was disappointed. I wanted the microwave journey, not the long haul. But I understood, and so from that day on I have sought in every decision to choose to sow to righteousness.
As Jesus summed it up in Matthew 6:33
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
The Bible has the words that plough - and the words that plant.
We need our hearts to be hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled
We need our hearts to be yearning, longing, for the every morsel of Kingdom seed to be sown into good soil in our hearts.
Kingdom seeds that in due season can produce beautiful flowers such as,
A love for the Word of God
passion for truth and integrity.
A love for the unlovely.
Compassion for the lost.
Deep desire for clean hands and a pure heart.
Kindness, patience, humility and gentleness coming from spiritual strength
Thankfulness in all circumstance - which Paul said is the will of God in our lives (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Making righteous choices.
Courage in an ever threatening culture
Faithfulness. To God, to family, to friends.
Let me finish by mentioning weeds.
Even the surrendered heart - the 'good soil' - needs to be constantly weeded.
My gardening story
When Linda and I married we started life in a small new build bungalow on the edge of a country town. As a new build house the back garden was simply a rectangle of grass bordered by a simple wire fence. As time went on I became aware that neighbours had planted hedges and had attractive flower beds in their gardens, so under the pressure to conform I bought a spade and over several evenings I dug out and prepared a sizeable half circle of good soil next to the left hand side of the garden. Pleased with my preparation work I went to the garden centre and bought flowering plants and placed them lovingly into the prepared soil.
Several days later I went out to check on them, and they seemed to be flourishing in the good soil. I also noticed some cute looking little green leaves appearing here and there over the soil but they were so small I paid no attention to them.
A few busy weeks went past before I went out to check on my flower bed, and to my shock it was overgrown with weeds. I could hardly see the flowers. I got my spade and tried to dig the weeds out but the roots were deep and intermeshed with the roots of other weeds, so progress was painfully slow and tiring.
After a few evenings with little progress I came up with an idea to speed up the work. I bought a gallon of petrol and sprinkled it over the weeds. [Please, never ever do this!] I stood back and threw a match towards the flower bed.
When I see the words ‘consuming fire’ in the Bible it always reminds me of what happened next. With a mighty whoosh the flames leapt high and wide and the heat was so strong I had to back away quickly. What had I done?
When the flames finally died down the weeds, and the flowers, were scorched and lifeless. I got my spade and tried to dig them all out, but of course the roots were still as firmly in place as ever.
Two days later I noticed that my neighbour’s fairly new hedge was beginning to wilt badly and I panicked. What had I done to my neighbour?
However the wilting was only on my side of his hedge so I thought perhaps he would never notice. As days went by the rest of his hedge also wilted and to my horror I saw him angrily discovering this. I thought, if I go in now and apologise he will be ok about it.
He was not!
I didn’t plant the weeds.
But they came, they multiplied, and quickly took over the good soil in my flower bed.
Weeds will seed in flower beds with delight, but are just as happy to squeeze into cracks in concrete or burst up through tarmac driveways.
You don’t ask your neighbour for a cutting from that fine weed.
But in due time you’ll probably get its offspring in your garden anyway.
We have a brick paved driveway so there are a thousand tiny gaps able to be occupied.
I’ve got considerably better at gardening over the years.
And one reason is, I have learnt a lot about weed control.
I’ve learnt that they are my forever enemy.
I have been out five times in the past few months spraying them with various weedkillers or pulling the blighters out by the root from flowerbeds, patio and driveway.
But they just keep coming.
I’ve learnt that you have to plant flowers. You don’t have to plant weeds.
Fallen man’s nature is awash with weeds as his default position.
You don’t have to teach a child to lie.
You have to root out the weed and deliberately plant, and then carefully nurture a passion for truth and integrity.
You don’t have to teach a child to be selfish.
You have to root out the weed and deliberately plant and then carefully nurture the flower of sharing.
Until we get to heaven we will always be at war with weeds.
Weeds such as,
Grumbling, complaining and murmuring.
Envy and jealousy.
Anger malice rage bitterness
Lies (even 'little white lies')
One area in my life that I have to continually weed is the area of careless words. I have always been prone to drop light hearted and humorous remarks into my sermons - usually following a serious section. Normally they are harmless and well received, but occasionally I have made a flippant remark that instantly I have known was totally out of place, and might also offend.
God has given us the gift of speech and with that mighty blessing comes responsibility. Thus, God rightly holds us accountable for our words.
Matthew 12:36 (NASB)
"But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment
I take that weed seriously.
The apostle Paul wrote about us weeding in our lives in 2 Corinthians 6:17 - 7:1
“... dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
Please, let us all wilfully and deliberately ask God to plough where He needs to plough - and let us ask the Holy Spirit to show us where we need to weed.