Plowing the Fields
Unto Harvest

Learning to Plow with Questions
by David Churchill

     Look at people practicing their religion today and you’ll see several denominations divided from one another.  Differences cause and maintain this division — differences in teaching, in understanding, in practice, in sources of doctrine, and even in what kind of god or gods to believe in.  Can all of these differences be in harmony with reality or even with each other?  Think about it:  if one church says that a bishop can not have either a wife or children, and another church says that a bishop must have both a wife & believing children, and yet another church says it doesn’t matter if a bishop is married or not, then how can all three views agree with what the Christ instructs for his church’s bishops?  Since the three understandings are mutually exclusive of each other and if one is correct, then the other two are wrong.  As long as people hold onto wrong understandings about God’s word, the results will always be doctrinal divisions and religious denominations.

     Chapters 5, 6, & 7 of the Matthew’s gospel record Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.  In verses 13 & 14 of chapter 7, Jesus shows he knows about people holding onto wrong understandings, “
Enter by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  He clearly understood that a lot of people have trouble finding and holding to the truth.  Has the situation changed?  Today’s courtrooms, hospitals, and troubled families painfully remind us to agree with Jesus:  a lot of people still have trouble dealing honestly with reality.
     But, Jesus not only knows about the problem of division, he also understands the problem and has some real keys to the solution.  Read verses 15 through 29.  Jesus makes it real clear — there are only two options.  You can build your life’s foundation on what Jesus has to say and successfully enter the kingdom of heaven.  You can build your life on the lies of false prophets and be exiled from God’s presence, branded by God as a lawless criminal.  In John 12:42-50, Jesus again makes it clear that these are the only two options.

     How can we practice dealing with truth and reality?  One helpful habit we should start is plowing the fields of our lives.
     Farmers plow their fields for several reasons.  Plowing breaks up the ground’s surface to allow planting a crop for harvest.  As the soil is tilled, buried rocks are exposed for removal and the roots of weeds are broken killing the unwanted plants.  Cultivation allows for easier application of nutrients and lets the rainwater soak down to where the crop’s roots can use it.  Plowing the stubble left from the previous harvest recycles those nutrients for the next crop to use.
     Likewise, we need to ready our lives for planting God’s word into our hearts and allowing God to use us for good works.  Some areas that we may have hardened to God need to be broken up and made receptive to God’s instruction.  The stones placed by ignorance, man-made religion, and vain traditions prevent the seed of God’s word from growing deep into our understanding.  The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches are weeds that, if left unchecked, can choke God’s influence and make us unfruitful.
     Questions are the blades we must use to turn the soil of our lives’ fields with our curiosity to sharpen the cutting edge.  The driving force behind these questions comes from our concern about serving God.  Let’s ask ourselves a couple of important questions right now.

  • Do I believe truth can and does exist?

     “There is no such thing as truth.”  Here’s a common bumper-sticker philosophy we all have heard one time or another and maybe even repeated it ourselves.  But… is it a true statement or is it false?
     Let’s rephrase the issue.  Are we being realistic if we claim to encourage honesty while denying the existence of truth?  If there is no truth, what is there to be honest about?
     Truth obviously exists, so why would anyone insist that it does not?  In John 3:19-21, Jesus gives us an answer that neither compliments such people nor is pretty to consider.  “
And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.
     Now there’s an interesting set of opposites you probably didn’t hear about in school.  According to what we just heard Jesus say, the opposite of doing the truth is … practicing evil!
     So by denying the existence of truth, these people are denying the existence of evil thereby insisting that they cannot be condemned for doing anything evil.  Certainly you and I can see through this sort of foolishness.

  • Do I have any ability to uncover and understand at least a small portion of that truth?

     “Who is to say whether something is true or not?”  Same issue as the discussion above.  People who answer this question with “Nobody” are really denying that truth can be identified or understood.
     If there is no identifiable truth, then there can be no identifiable evil, and therefore no identifiable reason for condemnation.  Such reasoning is still foolishness.  By insisting that no one is qualified to identify any truth, these people unwittingly claim to have identified a truth worth insisting upon.
     Truth does exist and we do have some ability to identify some portion of that truth.  Our common goal should be to practice and improve that ability into a valuable skill.

  • Does God see real potential in us?

     The analogy comparing our lives to fields or farmland is used over and over throughout the Bible.  Jesus heavily makes use of it in several of His parables.  The comparison reveals clearly God’s view of our potential to grow as human beings.
     In future articles we will explore further about plowing the fields of our lives unto harvest.  Until then, read this little story and decide for yourself which farmer best describes you if the banker describes Jesus.

     After several years of poor harvests six neighboring farms were deep in debt and in danger of foreclosure. The farmers had only their equipment & weed-infested fields to show for their efforts.  One winter day their banker, Mr. Plenty, sent each of them a letter explaining that unless his loans were brought current before the coming harvest time, he would lose his equipment & property.  The letter also asked the farmer to meet with the banker to make arrangements about the overdue debt and about how the upcoming harvest would apply to that year’s payment.
     Five farmers met with Mr. Plenty as requested, but Farmer Pouty resisted and refused to attend.  Each of the five explained his situation and asked for a lenient grace period offering to eventually get caught up on his payments.  In each case, the banker proposed to write off the late payments as paid if the farmer grew his next crop on behalf of Mr. Plenty.  The banker would provide seed, fertilizer, and a booklet of instructions.  The sale of the resulting crop of sweet corn would then be used to pay that year’s loan payment and anything left given to the farmer.  All five agreed to obey the terms knowing the alternative was to loose everything.
     Early spring before the last frost, a truck delivered sweet-corn seed, fertilizer, and an instruction booklet for raising sweet corn to each of the five farmers exactly as the banker had promised.  Farmer Pouty was a bit upset and complained loudly how the banker was out to ruin him.
     Farmer Softy was very touched by the banker’s efforts to fulfill his promise.  As a result, Softy strongly felt a close friendship with Mr. Plenty and often bragged about the banker’s generosity and patience.  Concluding that one so faithful and kind could never take away his livelihood, the farmer sold his equipment and then ground the seed into corn meal grateful for his friend’s gift.  Wanting to be generous himself and feeling sorry for his neighbor, Softy gave Farmer Pouty the fertilizer and instruction booklet.
     Farmer Lazy thought Mr. Plenty’s proposal showed real initiative and was excited to receive his supplies.  After glancing through his booklet, Lazy plowed his field.  Without the eyesore weeds his land looked clean and fertile.  Then he heard about a new government program that paid farmers for not growing crops.  Attracted to the idea he felt the easy money would cover his next loan payment with lots to spare.  So Lazy sold his seed to Farmer Pouty and enrolled in the program.  To earn a little extra cash, he started using Mr. Plenty’s instruction booklet to teach seminars about growing sweet corn.
     Farmer Smarty was happy to get his debt taken care of and eager to work hard for Mr. Plenty.  However, he did disagree with one of the banker’s terms:  sweet corn was a big mistake; soybeans would bring in more money.  So after feeding the corn seed to his hogs, Smarty went to town and found a grain dealer who sold him the seed he wanted along with two thick books about growing soybeans.
     Planting corn was fine with Farmer Wily.  The farmer even figured he could cut a few corners and still make Mr. Plenty happy.  After all, how would a city person like the banker know the difference between sweet corn for people to eat and field corn for cattle to eat?  So Wily sold the sweet corn seed, bought seed for planting field corn, and used the difference to attend some of Farmer Lazy’s seminars.
     Farmer Thrifty was worried and studied his instruction booklet carefully.  He had never grown sweet corn before and his land was full of tall weeds & heavy rocks.  Burning the weeds and clearing out the rocks took longer than he expected.  He plowed several times before the ground was ready for planting.  Until the tender shoots reached knee-high, Thrifty spent many late nights cultivating several rows of stunted growth trying to fight the weeds that kept creeping in from Farmer Softy’s field.  About the time he thought the crop was developing nicely, he discovered that several acres along Farmer Wily’s property had cross-pollinated with the field corn.  Concerned that the banker would refuse any crop other than the specified sweet corn, Thrifty plowed those acres under to prevent them from being harvested by mistake.
     Complaining all the while about the banker’s lack of compassion, Farmer Pouty carefully prepared his ground, planted the seed he bought from Farmer Lazy, and used the fertilizer that Farmer Softy gave him.  Pouty seemed to lack the problems Farmer Thrifty had and his sweet corn grew tall and bountiful.  He felt certain that the harvest would easily pay for the year’s loan payment and perhaps some of the older debt as well.
     Summer passed.  The day before the harvest was set to begin, Mr. Plenty visited the farms to claim what was due him.
     Upon seeing Farmer Softy’s field overgrown with weeds, the banker ordered him off the property.  To the farmer’s loud protests Mr. Plenty replied, “you knew I keep my promises, even this promise.  So why did you break your promise to me?”
     “Where is the crop you agreed to plant for me?” was the question Farmer Lazy could not answer as he was escorted off the land that had been his.
     Farmer Smarty fully expected to be praised for his ingenuity instead of angrily led off “his” farm.  When he asked about what was the problem, he heard, “How can you believe you planted this crop on my behalf when this is not the crop I gave you to plant.”
     Farmer Wily grinned smugly as he waited in front of his tall green corn field.  His smile faded quickly as Mr. Plenty peeled back the husk from an ear and tasted a kernel.  Sending him to join the other evicted farmers the banker asked, “Are you so foolish to think I would not know enough to harvest sweet corn when I knew well enough to send you sweet-corn seed?”
     Farmer Thrifty nervously watched during his field’s inspection and to his surprise the banker failed to mention the bare acres or any rows of stunted plants.  His surprise fast become excitement as Mr. Plenty told him, “This is the crop you agreed to plant for me.  You’ve done your best following my instructions for raising it.  Please stay on to manage the harvest and to prepare these five fields for next year’s harvest.”
     When Farmer Pouty saw what happened to Farmer Thrifty, he expected to also be praised and rewarded for his well-cared field of sweet corn.  However, the banker sadly told him, “Your debt is long overdue, and you have made no arrangements to take care of it.  You accuse me of lacking compassion.  You take advantage of the compassion I show others, while you turn down opportunities to receive my compassion for yourself.  Get off my property!

      © David G. Churchill; used by permission. rev.020000-150504
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      Unless otherwise noted, “Scripture taken from the NEW KING JAMES VERSION.  Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.”
      This article's presentation in Exploring God's Word ©2002 David G. Churchill.
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