Planting in faith for a better tomorrow.

(A quick read: 995 words.)

Recently I listened to a very encouraging and impacting message by Pastor Rick Warren: ‘What Seeds Will you Plant this Spring’. Using the example of a seed that is planted and harvested some time later, Pastor Rick described how a person reaps in life what they sow into it. For example, if you plant seeds of love you will harvest the fruits of love, if you sow resentment, you will harvest resentment. Yes, I’ve heard this statement many times before but Pastor Rick’s message helped me to understand the concept in relation to my faith and my Christian life.

It is now apparent to me that my relationship with God and my knowledge of him is, and will be, the direct result of what seeds I once planted and of what seeds I choose to plant: I am as close to God as I choose to be today but also because of the choices I once made.

Thinking this over, I find myself asking a few questions: what would my christian faith be today if I planted seeds of faith ten years ago and what will it be like tomorrow if I start planting good seeds today? I’m not lamenting my past, but it is in the looking back that causes me to carefully consider today what I want my life to look like in the future.

I’m content with where I am today, I can see that God has produced a good harvest for me even though I planted pitifully but I want to make sure that my faith significantly matures from here out. Pastor Rick’s explanation of seed and harvest has helped me to think of this in a practical manner: what I want is what I plant.

I want to know and understand the Bible, therefore I should develop and commit to a daily Bible reading plan. I want a ministry and relationship with my family, friends and church that is loving, kind, trusting, committed, supportive, forgiving and generous, therefore I should actively begin living my life like that. But how? How do you plant a seed of love?

I’m aware it’s a strange concept that doesn’t seem tangible at first and I suppose the answer will differ for everyone. Essentially it is up to each of us, but here’s a quick illustration that might make the concept easier to grasp:
A father who has not seen his daughter for some time decides that he wants to have a good relationship with her but given life’s circumstances the idea seems hopeless. He has two choices, either to wait and hope that one day she comes looking for him or he could move towards her with small gestures like sending a text message or a handwritten card, turning up at her soccer match, taking her out for a milkshake, or even driving her to school. With God’s help and his own care and attention their relationship will grow and change. Small seeds grow into huge trees.

The illustration makes me think of my own relationship with my children. If I desire to be a mother my children feel they can talk to tomorrow, and I do, then I better start listening and talking with them today.

And at church, if I want to have christian fellowship with that person who avoids conversation with everyone, then I need to show them love and respect each time I see them. A lifelong friendship can develop from a polite smile.

When considering faith, if a person wants a faith that is solid in it’s foundation, it’s a very good idea to start learning about God today. If Christians desire a life that bears the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control Galatians 5:22,23) then we need to be practicing that today.

There are so many seeds I need to plant; I lack so much of the ‘Christian character’. I’m not sure if people would recognize the fruits of the Spirit in my life at all. For example: generosity. I am not a regular giver of my time, money, patience, hospitality, love, or trust. (I know, so much to work on!) Therefore, after considering ‘plant and harvest’, I’m going to choose to plant a seed in the name of generosity. My hope, and aim, is that one day someone describes me as generous…now just to begin. What can I do today that is generous? What can you do?

I know that in life we want everything now. We want to have success today. We want to love and be loved right now. We want a partner, or kids, or a community, or all of that today. The problem is that life just doesn’t work that way. It takes time for a seed to grow, for a person to change and mature. The important thing is to sow in faith and be patient in God’s timing. Some seeds are harvested in a few short weeks, others take years to grow and mature. Thankfully we have a God who asks us not to worry about tomorrow, who urges us to trust him in all things and who says that “Those who plant in tears will harvest in shouts of joy” (Psalm 126:5).

Can you visualize what kind of relationship with God you want? Can you dare to dream that a terrible relationship with a family member could be made whole one day? If so, what kind of seeds do you think you can plant in hope today?

I am so taken by this idea, I’ve decided to buy a Planter Box and grow some vegetables from seeds as a daily reminder to sow in faith. I am not good in the garden and I expect there to be frustration, failure and unforeseen biological disaster but one day, with God’s goodness, I’ll be serving my home grown carrots to a room full of friends. What he gives, he gives so we can bless others.

I find some of the stories in the Bible so disturbing. Is it bad for my faith to question them?

There’s something about the Bible. It is capable of evoking joy in those that choose to believe it or it evokes anger in those that choose to discredit it. Oftentimes, it can evoke anger and joy in those who believe it too. Most of us modern day thinkers find many chapters (or the entire thing) in the Old Testament too terrible to comprehend. Much of the old testament speaks of brutal war, murder, rape, plagues, sin and sorrow. The Israelites were themselves brutal in their conquering of their enemies as they took hold promised land. In Deuteronomy 3:6-7 Moses, the author of the book, puts it bluntly: ‘We destroyed all the people in every town we conquered – men, women and children alike. But we kept all the livestocks for ourselves and took plunder from all the towns’.  In my opinion that is horrific, barbaric, and wrong! I am forced to ask ‘what kind of God could do that?’ And, if I take this further, I must consider if a God like that is really God at all because shouldn’t God be all about loving thy neighbor?

Somewhere along my journey of faith, perhaps when I heard Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in the United States say that it is ok to have doubts, I came to realize that it is good to have questions too. In fact, more than that, it is essential to have questions, to mediate and think about God and what all of this means. Questions and doubt are not something to fear or to feel guilty about. It is part of who we are and how God made us. The intelligence he gave us is to, first and foremost, think.  And in our thinking and questioning we should not feel the need to hide from our christian friends, pastors, leader and churches. They too should not shy away from the deep questions we ask for there is opportunity for everyone to grow in faith and knowledge. Questioning God isn’t an act of doubt, it is an act of belief! If there was no belief, or no desire to believe, why bother questioning? There would simply be no reason to. It would be a waste of our precious time. To question then, is to desire understanding and meaning. Nothing wrong with that! 

So how then do you and I read the Bible? How do we continue in relationship with God when there is so much we don’t get and empathize with in the book? I suppose we need a little bit of faith, even just a tiny bit, to begin. Faith is that thing we can’t see but might be able to feel in our hearts but is also something we choose to have. It’s like saying ‘I don’t know about that but I’m going to trust that one day I will and that it will be good for me’. ‘But how do I even get to have faith, I don’t even know where to begin?’ 

Faith is found, seeded, and grown in hope. Hope comes from trusting a God who promises life and blessings to those who believe in him. We hope that the good stuff in the bible is true, we trust that it is. Trust is made manifest in the questions, trials, tribulations, joy and goodness that can be found in relationship with God (all those times we can see that God worked the good into our lives). Trust grows over time and relationship with God comes from time spent together with him. That’s time spent in thought, prayer and reading his word (and other writings that encourage you). Time given to thinking though God’s purposes and meanings. Wrestling over the purpose, meaning, and character of a God who stood by as the Israelites slaughtered thousands, means that you haven’t given up, you haven’t lost faith in God, it means that you desire peace in your heart over something that doesn’t sit right. And it doesn’t. I admit it. The slaughter of children never sits right. But then I wonder, why doesn’t it sit right? It seems like many ancient cultures killed children in war. In fact, many ancient cultures sacrificed their own children to gods (Deuteronomy 12:31b). Is there a difference in how we see children, or how we value life now in comparison to then? Yes. There is. Obviously.  

The reaction of many of governments around the world to bring their nation’s economy to a standstill in favor of protecting it’s citizens during this Covid-19 pandemic reveals something striking: life is valued. It is valued more than the billions of dollars lost. It is valued more than winning the next election. A world at standstill, in lockdown, in isolation to save the lives of people indicates more than strongly that we are valued. I am valued. You are valued. It seems that governments are acting in good faith that there is no financial loss that could be considered worse than losing one life in this pandemic. In Australia, where I live, to date, 97 people have died. The dollars spent to protect them – it’s not countable. So what happened? How is it that we read the Old Testament with such disdain, disgust and interrogation when ancient cultures and it’s celebrities, including King David (the most celebrated Israelite (human) king), read it with acceptance and understanding? They even agreed with it! So, what changed us? The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ did. It was he who offered a profoundly different way of thinking and living. In doing this, he also brought about a different way of relating to God. 

When Jesus was ministering in Israel, the nation was under the command of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire, famous to many of us now for it’s architecture and Gladiators, waged war for centuries with millions of people across land and sea. It was also a people who, if a baby was not wanted, it was put into the street to be ‘exposed’ to the elements so that it would die. Children were not valued anywhere. Was it shocking for people to witness Jesus reprimanding his disciples for attempting to stop children approaching him? And when Jesus placed his hands on the children’s heads and blessed them saying ‘Let the Children come…For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children’ (Matthew 19:14), doesn’t this infer that Jesus placed value and equality of the lives of children, on all of us? Similarly, when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman (Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people), and at such length, he broke all social custom and treated her as equal. Most distinctly, when he commanded that we should love our neighbor (Mark 12:31) he said something that no one before him had done. The act of loving our neighbor as ourselves makes us equal in ways that the Old Testament did not do. It is this, this idea, that our western civilization, our world has profited from. For now, in our hearts, we abhor murder, rape, war, and all evil treatment to our neighbors and children alike. We are a changed civilization. Our perspective has been altered and it is for this reason that we have difficulty reading, understanding, and empathizing with parts of the Old Testament. But that’s a good thing! We are not meant to empathize, how could we, we view things in the light of Christ. We’re the lucky ones. We have an enormous benefit of seeing the story played out in God’s word. The ancient Israelites did not, they only knew the beginning of the story. For that’s what the Bible is, it is a story, it is history, as in HIS story, describing how God plans to bless all nations through the birth, death, and resurrection of his Son.

Depending on where we fit in story, in that timeline, we will all view things differently and have many different and similar questions. The more I read the Bible, the more I can see one thing in particular common to all peoples at all times: God is there and waiting to be found by those who seek him. So ask, think, ponder, doubt, talk to others, and even celebrate about what you think it all means. Thinking, meditating, questioning and seeking is a privilege – a God given one. What question is on your mind? 

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Matthew 6:33 NLT