And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
“—How.” This is the most striking word of the verse. How does the seed sprout and grow? We do not know, but it does grow apart from the work of the sower.
It is interesting to place this against our preconceived notions of evangelism and sharing the gospel. Our focus is usually on the results. This is the test of a good evangelistic program. Ever since the 1830’s, numbers of conversions have been counted; but this is quite problematic. What does a conversion mean? Usually it is that a person has said words, but the test of a conversion biblically is perseverance. It seems that our problem is that the focus is in the wrong area. Instead of focusing on these supposed conversions, our focus ought to be on spreading the seed of the gospel in every stage of the Christian life, or you could say discipleship.
Notice how the seed does not grow in this parable because of some engineered means. In the modern world, it is common for us always to think pragmatically. How can we get better results? This even is the case with growing crops. We have figured out how close we can plant corn to get higher yields and have genetically altered their DNA to protect them from chemical sprays and promote other boosts to their yield per acre.
But the kingdom of God, Jesus says, is not like this. We can’t genetically engineer the message of the gospel in order to produce results. In fact, if we do alter the gospel and prepackage it to make it more appealing to those who might respond, the results may seem plentiful, but the perseverance will be lacking. Much of the fruit of the 19th and 20th evangelistic endeavors were full of pragmatic manipulation to get results, and we are now starting to see the devastating fruit of churches that forgot about consistent evangelism and discipleship, and converts who have fallen away because they lacked true repentance and perseverance.
So how do we respond to this? First: be faithful to spread the seed knowing that you have no idea how the seed will sprout and grow. Rely on the means God has given us- prayer and the proclamation of the word. Second: worship our great God who works in mysterious ways: “—how, he himself does not know.” Third: be patient as we wait for the harvest. We may never see the ways in which God worked through us before Christ returns.