December 2, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 8:4-8 (NRSV)
When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
A Note from Mark
In yesterday’s devotion I included a short note, explaining how Life for Leaders readers can support the work of Fuller’s De Pree Center. If this is something you’re interested in, please click here to read my note.
Also, if you tried to give yesterday, you may have found that Fuller’s donation website was down for a while. Sorry about that! It’s back up now, so you can make the gift you had wanted to make. Here’s the link to our donate page. Thanks very much. – Mark
Jesus’s Parable of the Sower teaches us something crucial about work. We, like the sower in the story, are to be faithful in sowing. But we can’t necessarily guarantee the results of our work. The size of the “harvest” ultimately depends on God. Knowing this gives us freedom to work faithfully without obsessing about how everything is going to turn out.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion I was reflecting on the Parable of the Sower, or, if you prefer, the Parable of the Soils. I wrote about what helps us to be good soil, soil in which God’s word flourishes, leading to an abundant harvest in life. Today I’d like to go in a different direction with this parable because I think it also has something to say about our understanding of work and God.
The parable begins with a description of someone working: “A sower went out to sow his seed” (Luke 8:5). He was working in the hope of reaping a bountiful harvest. Yet the sower did not plant as we would today, carefully preparing the soil and making sure the seed was embedded in the soil. Rather, this worker did as was common in his day, scattering his seed broadly. It fell randomly on a variety of soils: the compacted soil of the path, rocky soil, thorn-infested soil, and good soil. Farmers in the first-century would come back later and work the seeds into the soil. Jesus doesn’t tell us if this particular sower did that or not . . . a curious omission.
It’s no surprise, really, that the seed that fell on the good soil produced an abundant harvest. What seems odd is that that the sower didn’t make sure all of his seed went where it would grow well. Surely this suggests something about the generosity of Jesus in scattering the good news of the kingdom of God among a wide variety of listeners. Some rejected it. Some embraced it but only for a while. Others took the message of Jesus into their hearts and it changed their lives.
So, what does this parable have to say about our work? I’m not suggesting that we should do exactly as the sower did, working in such a way that much of our effort ends up in vain. Of course we should try to work in a way that brings positive results. But in many ways we cannot always guarantee the results of our work. Sometimes, for example, a realtor invests a lot of time working with a client, but no sale happens. Or an author writes a manuscript that isn’t published. Or an attempted merger falls through. Or you name it.
In my own work, I take on a number of projects as experiments, not quite sure whether they will be fruitful or not. Now, I know that sometimes I could do a better job preparing the soil and working the seeds into it. But this isn’t always possible. My responsibility is to be faithful in sowing. When I am, a bumper crop is possible. Yet, at some point, I need to step back and trust God with the results of my work. God is the one who will take what I have sown and help it to be fruitful or not.
When I think about the Parable of the Sower from this perspective, I am encouraged. I need to sow well, to steward well what God has entrusted to me. But I don’t have to obsess about the results. Frankly, I can’t guarantee them. God is the one who will help my work to be fruitful, according to his wisdom and sovereignty. This truth reassures me, helping me to work well without worrying about how everything is going to turn out.
In what ways is your work like that of the sower? (Remember, your work is not only that for which you are paid. It includes all of your labor.)
Do you tend to worry about the results of your work? Or are you able to trust God without anxiety? Why are you the way you are?
Would you like to feel more freedom and less worry when it comes to your work? Are you willing to talk with the Lord about this?
Pay attention to the work you do, both compensated and uncompensated work. To what extent is your work like that of the sower? Does Jesus’s parable speak to your situation in some way? If so, what are you hearing?
Lord Jesus, thank you for the Parable of the Sower . . . of the Soils. I wonder, Lord, what you would name your parable. Yet, whatever the name, thank you for the different ways this parable speaks to us. It challenges us to pay attention to the kind of “soil” that we are. And it also reminds us about our work. Like the sower, we are called to sow. We cannot always guarantee the results of our efforts. So we seek to be faithful, entrusting the results to you.
Help me, Lord, to trust you with my work. By your grace, help my work to be fruitful, according to your wisdom and sovereignty. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Watch Out for the Thorns!
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.