Our gardening season here in northwest Montana is rather short so timing is pretty crucial. We can actually have frost any month of the year, but normally we are safe from early June until the first part of September. We try to get the early things (peas, radishes, onions, potatoes) into the ground when we have our first real warm spell in late April to early May and then the rest we plant late May to early June. Sometimes it is necessary to cover the plants that are especially susceptible to frost. We set the vines and tomatoes out in tires to protect them and make it easier to cover at night.
But, in order to have a successful vegetable garden, the work actually starts now, after this summer’s crop has been harvested. If the plants are going to germinate and grow well and produce fruit, it is important to have good soil with the right nutrients. So, we have been busy digging out any remaining weeds, hauling and spreading manure and rototilling. Now we are covering with leaves (with some pine needles as well for the strawberries that like acidic soil) so that during the winter the leaves break down and pour their nutrients into the soil. Then, when the frost leaves in the spring and the ground is dry enough, I rototill again, mixing the decayed leaves into the soil and preparing it for planting. In other words, there is much more to successful gardening than just throwing some seeds in the ground in the spring. Soil preparation is very important.
Jesus often used simple earthly illustrations to teach spiritual truths. This helped to make the truths much easier to understand and apply. When He made up a story to teach the truth, it was called a parable which is really an object lesson. One such parable is recorded in Luke 8:4-15 where Jesus spoke of a “sower who went out to sow his seed.” Some of the seed fell beside the road and was trampled underfoot and the birds ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil and as soon as it sprouted, it withered for lack of water and nourishment. Other seed fell among the thorns and when the plants came up the thorns choked them out. Some seed fell on good soil (soft, deep and clean) and produced a big crop. Jesus went on to explain that “the seed is the word of God” and the soil represents the heart condition of those who hear the word. Only on the good, prepared, soil did the seed both germinate and bring forth fruit. Jesus said, “the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”
As Christians, “ambassadors for Christ” (II Cor. 5:20), it is our responsibility (and privilege!) to sow the seed, i.e., share the word of God, the Gospel (Good News of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection…I Cor. 15:1-4), in the hearts of those that God brings into our lives who don’t know Christ. In order for the seed to have its best chance of germination and producing fruit, we need to do our part to prepare the soil of people’s hearts. How do we do that? We do it by loving people, serving them in whatever way God has equipped us, thus building a relationship of trust with them and, of course, praying much for them, that God will open their hearts and minds to see who He is and to have a desire for Him (cf II Cor. 4:3-6). We, of course cannot change a person’s heart, only God can do that. But we are the instrument He uses, the conduit through which He pours out His love.
When seeds germinate and the plants poke through the surface of the soil, our job, as a gardener, isn’t done. We will need to water, to cultivate and to pull weeds, and cover the young plants if there is a chance of frost. We may also have to protect the plants from insects, and other pests (like our resident deer herd!). We must also recognize that it is only God who causes the growth and fruit production. The Apostle Paul, as gifted as he was, wrote: “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth (increase). Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers…” (I Cor. 3:7-9).
Each of us, as believers, is to play a role in reaching souls for Christ, but God does the vital part. We can’t save anyone, only God can. But, we get to be “God’s fellow workers.” Wow! Just think about what a privilege that is! Planting and cultivating and watering is just using what God has given us. He gave us the soil, the seed, the sun and the rain—man made none of these, we merely apply them. The increase is the vital part—the inexplicable, the miraculous, seeing a plant burst forth from a little seed placed in the ground and then producing an abundant harvest. All the creative genius and science of the world cannot create a grain of wheat or a tiny growing flower or cause the sap to flow through a tree. It is not within the power of science to change the direction of the wind, to move clouds across the sky, to create enough sun to ripen a field of wheat, or to bring forth fruit. There is also a Divine Sovereignty and mystery about every conversion. And also amazing is the fact that God uses us as His “fellow workers” in bringing in the harvest of souls. But, in order to reap a successful harvest, the work of soil preparation, sowing, cultivating and watering must be done on our part. They must be done at the right time and in the right place. There are many links in the chain that lead a soul to find eternal life in Christ. Just make sure you aren’t a “missing link.” Whether or not we get to be the person who is there when someone trusts Christ as Savior, we can all have a part that leads up to that decision. We can for sure be those that help “prepare the soil” by loving and serving others and letting them see Christ in us.