September 14, 2016 • Life for Leaders
[Jesus] 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.”
In Mark 4, Jesus tells several agricultural-themed parables to teach his disciples about the kingdom of God. The first, as we have seen, is the so-called Parable of the Sower (4:3-8). The second focuses on the mysterious way in which the kingdom of God grows: “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” (4:26-28).
In the time of Jesus, many people worked as farmers. But the science of horticulture was relatively primitive. People knew that seeds grew, but they didn’t know what explained this growth. Thus, the farmer who “scatters seed on the ground” knows that it grows, “though he does not know how” (4:27). From his perspective, the soil produces grain “all by itself,” as if by magic (4:28). Interestingly, the Greek word translated here as “all by it self” is automate, the root of our word “automatic.” From the point of view of the first-century farmer, seeds grow automatically.
What does this say to us about the kingdom of God? It reminds us that God is sovereign and God’s kingdom isn’t something we can control. Many of us who are leaders in life and work like to be in charge. We like to make sure that things operate according to plan. We want to ensure results. But, this penchant of ours for control can become quite frustrated when it comes to God’s kingdom. God’s ways are not our ways. God acts sovereignly, often in a manner we don’t quite fathom. We can feel rather like the farmer in Jesus’ parable. We know that God’s kingdom is growing, but we can’t figure out the process.
If we need to be in control, this can feel frustrating, to be sure. But, if we can stand back and surrender control to the Lord, we are in a position to marvel at the mystery and mercy of God’s work. We can be joyfully surprised when God does things that weren’t in our plan. We can humble ourselves before the Lord, confessing both our dependence on him and our need for his wisdom to guide us. We can rejoice when we see God’s kingdom growing “automatically” in our lives.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Have there been times in your life when the kingdom of God was growing but you didn’t know why?
How have you been surprised by God’s grace in your life?
What helps you to relinquish control to the Lord, trusting his sovereignty rather than your own?
Gracious God, thank you for the vitality of your kingdom. Thank you for the growth of your kingdom that often eludes our understanding and that certainly escapes our control. Help us, we pray, to learn to trust you. Teach us to look for the reality of your kingdom and to rejoice when we find it growing “automatically.” May you be King over every part of our lives, so that we might live for your purposes and glory. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Parables at Work (Mark 4:26-29 and 13:32-37)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.