Increase Your Yield.
The past couple of weeks have been fraught. We have experienced such intense pressure in all aspects of our lives – both at home and Cornerstone – that you kind of get to thinking that God has deserted you. You look for validation in everything and find none. In fact, when you look, you find the opposite. It can be, at times, disheartening. But…we press on. We have learnt to stand on what God has said to us as if it is the only solid ground we have left. King David acknowledged that our walk with God can sometimes be like that:
“I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” [Psalm 40:1-2 NIV]
And so, on the occasions when I start feeling sorry for myself, I try to remind myself of scripture like this (there are plenty of them!), and remind myself that David was special in God’s eyes and that if he struggled then it is ok for me to struggle, and if this advice was good for him, then it should work for me. In other words I tell myself to ‘man-up’. No one ever said this life we have chosen was going to be easy. In fact I have come to a place where I firmly believe that if it is easy, it is because we are not a threat to the kingdom of darkness.
I was chatting with a friend the other day and he was telling me of the troubles his outfit was having and he had been wondering when it would be over. It was nice to be able to tell him that I don’t think it will ever be over – at least not whilst be are listening to God and being obedient to His word. How could it? If it got easy then it makes a mockery of everything the apostle Paul taught. We might pass through seasons when we don’t experience quite as much grief as usual. We should use those opportunities to prepare ourselves for what is next. Whilst we are doing the will of God, there will always be trouble. I will suggest right now that if life is easy for you and your church then it is not the blessing of God that is upon you but that you are no real threat to Satan’s plan and he is leaving you alone.
If, like us, you are facing trouble here’s some good advice: Whatever scripture God has given you about what He wants you to do, use it to ‘stand’ upon. Learn it. Remind yourself of it. Speak it over yourself. And, most importantly, believe it. Providing you continue to believe it, then the enemy can never defeat you. You use it to protect your mind and your heart. If God has said it to you, either via a third party or directly, it cannot fail to come to pass. See Isaiah 55:11. It cannot fail. By believing it you effectively put your faith into it and into God. And that, my friends, brings a blessing all of its own:
“But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.” [Jeremiah 17:7]
In other words, if you believe what God says (regardless of what the situation looks like), you will prosper and grow and bear fruit. There will be times when it will feel like He is not ‘in it’, or times when it feels like He has deserted you. He is in it and He hasn’t deserted you. Man up and stop relying upon your feelings. Rely upon the rock. Stand firm. The feelings will pass – they are just the fleshy part of you that is yet to submit itself to the Holy Spirit. Yield to God. Trust in Him and what He has said.
One man who lived through so many ordeals whilst carrying out God’s work was George Muller. If you haven’t read about him you should. He recorded everything for the likes of us, so we could see how God works. He had a simple prayer, that I can tell you, works. He would pray “Lord, please encourage us today.” Nothing specific. Just encouragement. It can come from many angles and take different forms. I pray it regularly. Today, so far, three things God has sent us to encourage us. This is how He works. Firstly, a friend turned up at the house unannounced with some money for us from someone we have never met. Until that visit we had no money whatsoever. I had simply prayed for God to supply what we need for today. Not tomorrow. Just today. He did. While our friend was still here chatting the phone rang – another friend whose son had given her a scripture this morning but she felt she should share it with us to encourage us. It did. Mightily. And just before the first friend left, I had a text from another friend offering us something that we need, despite their own need being greater than ours. We kindly declined their offer but it was incredibly encouraging. That’s how He works. All in twenty minutes. All at once. Just to overwhelm you and let you know He is there, thinking about you and caring about you beyond anything you can imagine.
I am writing this post today because I think it is easy to forget what God is truly like. We get caught up in everyday stuff and it discolours our view of God. I need…we all need, to have the right perspective on God. We shouldn’t let circumstances effect the outcome. If God has spoken to us then we need to stand on what He has said. That way He can work. I just showed you an example of how He works when we ask for encouragement. Jesus spent a great deal of His recorded ministry showing and telling people how God works. Take your time to look through the gospels, particularly those of Matthew, Mark & Luke, and see how many times Jesus starts a phrase with ‘the kingdom of God is like’. He wanted us to know what God is like and just how He works. The Parable of the Sower is perhaps the most famous illustration of both what God is like and how He works.
“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 who has ears, let him hear.” [Matthew 13:3b-9 NIV]
I don’t care to recall how many times I have heard someone preach on this parable. None of them were memorable enough to recall exactly what was said. But all said roughly the same thing. And, because we always hear the same, we believe it. But I am inclined to think there is much more to this parable that what we are taught. Most would teach that this parable is about those who ‘make the grade’. They will tell you that it is about the first time you hear the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ and how you respond. And that for some the word is snatched away immediately and they don’t even start their journey in the faith. Some will hear and like what they here but they run at the first sign of trouble and cease their journey in the faith early. Others hear the message of the gospel and end up getting bogged down in everyday life and fall away from the faith. But some will go on in their journey and bring many others to the place of the cross and salvation. In other words, only evangelists produce the full crop. Let’s look at Jesus’ explanation of the parable:
“When anyone hears the message of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart. This is the seed that is sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But since he has no root, he last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” [Matthew 13:19-23 NIV]
Take a look at the picture below. I was intrigued about why Jesus used those actual figures – 100, 60, 30 – so I went for a walk and picked these three ears of wheat. Each ear was produced by a single grain or seed. I picked three fairly randomly – a little one, an average one and a large one. I’ve counted what each produced from a single seed. The little one has 30. The average sized one has 50 and the large one has 80. Just hold that though there. I will return for it shortly.
Clearly Jesus’ explanation of the parable can be applied to mean how each of us respond to the gospel as an overall message and that how the crop survives or what amount it produces can reflect the way different people respond to the gospel. That’s what we are taught. But what if it isn’t just for that illustration? What if it isn’t about being a good evangelist? What if this parable isn’t for a one-time use but actually applies to us continually? What if it is about how we respond on a daily basis to God’s word? After all, the ‘message about the kingdom’ might mean a whole lot more than the one of salvation. And there wasn’t just one seed. There were many scattered. The seed is the word of God. There are many words.
I started this post talking, as I often do, about trouble. Whether you believe we are living in the end of days or not, one thing is clear – that being a Christian will become increasingly difficult. Persecution is on the rise across the globe. To be honest, when we are just going to church on Sundays and an annual trek to some Spring Harvest type of deal, it is easy to miss what is really going on. But, if you are out there, on the front line so to speak, you will testify that doing God’s work brings trouble. Just attending on Sundays and at conferences doesn’t trouble Satan, so he sees no need to trouble those that do. But those who are hearing the word of God and doing what He says will face trouble. It is inevitable. In fact, if it is all plain sailing then something is wrong.
When we were facing some pretty intense troubles last week we stood on our rock. It was tough just standing there but we did it. It felt isolated. It felt as if He wasn’t with us. But the trouble itself becomes part of the process. That is why saints like Paul and James could see trials and tests and tribulations as good things. They heard the word and understood it and it produced a great crop. Far greater than what was sown. And that is the simple message of the parable of the sower. Hear the word, understand it and produce a crop greater than the initial word itself.
When God had flooded the world and all who remained were Noah and his family, God made a deal with Noah. Not just Noah but the whole of mankind forevermore. That includes me and you. He said:
“Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. Never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” [Genesis 8:21b-22 NIV]
Seedtime and harvest. Built in forever. Or at least while the earth endures. The simple principle of planting seed and harvesting a crop larger than you planted has been built into our existence. It is a principle that we physically survive on every day. Without it foodstuffs like our staples of bread and potatoes would come under the curse that God had placed upon the ground at the fall of man. But when Jesus told us about the sower, He wasn’t talking about our physical bodies but our spiritual lives. He was talking about our hearts. The good soil. If God sows a single word to us – a single seed – he expects it to yield a crop 30,60 or even 100 times greater. Does He mean we should bring in 30 or 60 or 100 more people into the kingdom? Maybe for some. But not all are called to be evangelists. The parable of the sower isn’t an evangelist recruitment drive. It is showing us how God works with us. He is showing us that if He gives us a word – like for example one of the words we stand upon – and we give that word, that seed, the right soil to grow in, then we believe that word or promise (because if He says it is so, it is a promise), it will grow and yield a crop far greater than the initial seed.
I spoke to a friend recently who had returned from one of these Spring Harvest type deals held over the summer. I asked what the theme had been. There is usually an overall message for the troops, so to speak. He had said it was about courage. About getting the courage to talk to people about Jesus. To share your faith in the work place or the street where you live. We discussed whether many of the thousands who were there would come home and put it into action. We figured that if they all did then perhaps we would be overrun with new converts. But we decided that the majority would use the conference as a time of refreshing and possibly ministry and would return to their everyday lives just the same as they were before they went.
Now, it is very easy for me to sit here at my keyboard and criticise people for going to the likes of Spring Harvest and not coming home and producing a crop. That’s not my intention. I would rather encourage people to find a way of putting into practice what they learn at these events so that they didn’t need to go back year on year. I would rather train people up to make disciples at these events and then next year the event would be full of those that had been converted by the first lot. There’s a real crop. One seed. One Word. Much harvest. I think that can be achieved easily because it is already organised across denominations. Just change the focus from edification to training. But the trouble comes week on week on a Sunday when the constant milk is preached. How about we start doing it differently?
Instead of having the normal service we have every week that everyone is bored of already, we do this: Have some worship. Get into worshipping God instead of being entertained by the band. God is the audience, remember? Then, the preacher will give a word that God has laid on his heart just that week. Not something that has been in his sermon plan for months. There and then. A real word from God. And if the preacher hasn’t got one, invite someone who has. Make it short and to the point. Stop over-thinking it. Tell it like God told you. Then…then spend some time letting that word settle on people. Pray over them to receive it. Let the Holy Spirit fall on the place. Make sure everyone ‘got it’. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead everything. Don’t leave the building until God says so. You’ll see a real harvest then. From that one word a yield of 30,60, or 100 times.
It struck me that God, just like what He set in motion with Noah, also set the same principle in motion when, after 400 years of silence prior to the coming of Christ, He started speaking to people again. In the parable, the first two locations where the seed fell, the seed was taken away or didn’t have enough depth to flourish. But the next two soil types could sustain growth. The seed that fell amongst the thorns, fell onto soil that could grow good and bad crops. The thorns choked out the good seed. This applies to any who hears the word of God in our churches or at our conferences and fail to act upon what we hear. The things of the world choke them out. You can kind of understand the seed that falls on the path and the seed that falls on stony ground not producing a crop. But the soil with the thorns is good soil.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.” [James 1:22-24 NKJV]
Look again at the picture. The three ears of wheat. That is us. I want to produce a crop like the largest one. Today’s message is for me. For us. For all of you. If you want to yield a greater crop in your own life for God, then hear His word and stand upon it; allow it to grow in the good soil of your heart and then you will have an abundance of seed to replant over and over again. The unstoppable principle of seedtime and harvest. But, in order to increase your yield, you have to yield to God yourself. I have to. We have to.