He also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.'(Mark 4:26-29)
Making disciples can be mysterious work. The parable above comes from the book of Mark, and is one of the lesser quoted of Jesus’ parables. But the parable does speak of a hidden wisdom about the nature of ministry work and making disciples.
The parable tells a story of a man who scattered seed on the ground and sees the seed growing before his eyes, though he does not know how. Similarly ministry work — the work of helping hearts turn towards Jesus — is often times both visible and invisible to our eyes.
What is visible is seeing people move from one place of faithfulness to another — from unbelief to belief in God or from studying the Bible to wanting to get baptized. Maybe someone has gone from being shameful about his sin to being broken about his sin and wanting to repent. Oftentimes, these strides that we witness in a person are as clear as day. Imagine the excitement that the man in the parable felt when he saw the seed slowly sprout and inch by inch reach towards the sky. As disciple-makers we are all privileged to have this glory unfold before us.
Yet what’s often invisible at times is how the process actually happens. It’s hard to describe what exactly turns the hearts of men towards God. Farmers and gardeners can tell you from experience that there is no use in seeing grass grow. If you sit in front of a tree and demand to see the tree actually growing you may find yourself frustrated at the end of the day. This is perhaps why the parable says that the man did not know how it grew. He saw it grow, but he could not see it growing.
What’s more, the man in the parable couldn’t do anything to make the plant grow quicker. He couldn’t slowly pull on the stalk to make the plant taller. He could only plant, water and wait. In moments when growth was unseen, he could only wait patiently, hoping that the stalk was getting taller and stronger.
Ministry work, and especially mission work then is a different type of work — different from your ordinary professional job. That’s because it has aspects of it that are unseen.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
Faith allows us to be bold even when we cannot see.
When considering going on a One Year Challenge what may discourage people is the uncertainty of whether one can be fruitful. This parable comes as an encouragement to us. Do not fear the work of the Great Commission, but allow for the mystery to happen. There are things we will not see, but in the end God is the one that makes things grow. We only need to decide to faithfully plant our seed in the first place.