Because he ministered in an agrarian culture, Jesus told many agricultural parables in his teaching. (Back in Big-Boy’s School, they called this “contextualizing” which is a basic principle for effective speaking: know your audience.)
One of the most famous is the parable of the sower. According to Jesus, this is the most foundational parable of them all. In Mark 4:13, he says, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” In other words, if you don’t get this parable, the others won’t make any sense to you. But then when you read the parable, you understand why. It spells out the keys for how a person grows spiritually.
At the start of the parable, Jesus says, “Listen! Behold, a sower were out to sow.” Jesus goes on the describe four different types of soil that the seed comes into contact with – the hardened soil of a path, thin rocky soil, soil choked with thorns, and good, fertile soil. Later he explains that the seed sown by the sower is the word of God, while the different types of soils point to different types of hearts that people have when they come into contact with the word.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though, and miss an essential principle for anyone who wants to grow in Christ. Spiritual growth starts as a seed. In other words, it takes time.
Leonard Ravenhill tells the story of a group of tourists vacationing in England, who were walking through a little village one day. They passed an old man sitting in a park, and one of the tourists, being a wise guy, called out, “Old chap, were any great men born in this village?” The old man replied, “Nope, only babies.”
It’s true for all of us, isn’t it, and let’s not forget that. Sometimes we look at the Bible and we see Moses parting the Red Sea, David slaying Goliath, Elijah taking on the prophets of Baal, Peter preaching thousands into the kingdom with one sermon, Paul scattering demons and diseases with his prayers, and rather than be inspired by them, we’re intimidated. They’re so far above us, we think. But that’s not true.
Each one of them started off as spiritual babies. Each one of them began with the seed of faith being planted in their hearts, and that seed had to be nurtured along. Just like the seed that’s in you needs to be nurtured, watered and protected.
And because it’s a seed, it takes time. I remember in college talking to a pastor I knew, and someone walked up and said, “Oh Pastor, I’m blown away by how well you know Scripture.” And it was true – you could say two words of a verse to him, and he’d tell you where it was found without hesitation. It intimidated me a little, but also inspired me to keep up my own Bible reading. Years later, I was shaking hands with folks in my church after preaching, and someone came up and said, “Oh Pastor, I’m blown away by how well you know Scripture.” Suddenly I remembered that little moment from so long before. And smiled a prayer of thanks to God that he had given me the grace to keep my nose in the book day after day, and year after year. Without hardly even noticing it, the seed in me had grown.
One of the things that encourages me when I read the Bible is to realize how many of the great heroes of faith arose out of obscurity, after spending years in the wilderness, out of the limelight. Before Moses marched into the royal hall in Egypt to face down the Pharaoh he spent 40 years in the desert. Before David conquered Goliath, he spent years as a shepherd. Before John the Baptist started crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” he was eating locusts in the wilderness. Before Paul began his prolific missionary career he spent more than fifteen years in his hometown of Tarsus.
What were they doing during these years? Just faithfully serving and seeking the Lord. Worshipping. Staying in fellowship. Reading their Bibles. Doing ministry. Fighting off sin. Telling others about the God they loved. And with them scarcely noticing, the seed of faith in them was growing.
Were any great men and women born in your church? Nope. Only babies. Babies in whom a wonderful seed gets planted. The greatness comes by nurturing that seed.