When the hustle and the effort don't reap the right results...yet
Today, we’re in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a man who, in the face of people about to experience the repercussions of their not so smart decisions, reminded them in beautiful, poetic language that there was a better future within their grasp. In verse 23, he says:
[God] will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful - Isaiah 30:23
This verse speaks to what some of us really need right now.
How many of us feel we’re putting in all this effort, we’re hustling to make something of ourselves but we’re not making the right traction in the right way?
We might be making progress, we’ve got skills and talent but at times it feels a little raw, a little immature and a little underdeveloped.
In reading this verse I saw that a lot of what we’ve got going on at the moment is simply a seed. Seeds, zera in the original Hebrew, represent birth, conception and children. It speaks of something valuable, something that has the power to yield a lot but is currently in its primitive state. Understanding this is essential because otherwise we can get frustrated, discouraged and disappointed when our little seeds don't meet our huge expectations. We start to expect things like shade (shelter), fruit (provision) and stability, but only a developed tree can provide this. You see where the Bible is going with this metaphor right? The seed is tiny in comparison to what comes out on the other end, and the only thing that can take us from a tiny seed to a great oak tree is collaboration with God.
We ‘sow’ something in its immaturity and God brings it to its full maturity.
Hundreds of years later, the principle remains the same. In 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 Paul highlights:
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
So while we can do many things to develop the ‘seeds’ we’ve in our lives, the Message Bible refers to these as ‘menial’ jobs in the grand scheme of your growth story. It contextualises our effort in God’s vast and impressive field. Understanding the role we play encourages us to do our best, while reminding us that doing our best without Him will only get us so far. As the saying goes, ‘do your best and let God do the rest’.
Growth and fruit even in the dryest, most ruined of places
One of the reasons Isaiah 30:23 stood out to me was because it contrasted with the earlier verses in the chapter which included phrases like ‘shattered so mercilessly’ and other things that can be uncomfortable to read. While some may use these words to depict an angry and mean God, if you read the verses in their entirety, Isaiah is simply explaining the potential impact that 'falling off' can have. Half-way through his speech, the tides turn and Isaiah highlights that:
“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you” - Isaiah 30:18
This is major.
It’s major because yet (in spite of, despite, overlooking) our past mistakes God longs (is desperate for, passionate about and always looking for opportunities) to be gracious (kind, pleasant, soft-hearted) towards us.
So many of us, whether we realise it or not, mistakenly think that God operates the way many of us humans react: when someone (repeatedly) messes up we write them off, we don’t think they deserve anything good so we withhold it. God doesn’t do this. While there are consequences for our actions, God’s focus is on bringing good and perfect gifts into our lives even when we don’t feel like we deserve it or are ‘good enough’. Seed sowing isn’t about being good, it’s about putting what you have into the soil and collaborating with God. I hope you’ve seen this as a recurring theme in my posts; God is in the business of getting our heart and minds in the right place, not your actions. As my Gary Clarke once said ‘right behaviour comes from right believing’ not the other way around.
God makes things grow and brings new life, even when we’ve been through the worst experiences, either by our own mistakes or by our circumstances. We see it in the lives of the Israelites, where God says:
No longer will they be exploited by outsiders and ravaged by fierce beasts. They’ll live safe and sound, fearless and free. I’ll give them rich gardens, lavish in vegetables—no more living half-starved, no longer taunted by outsiders - Ezekiel 24:28-29
Cultivate thirty, sixty or one-hundred percent
Because of this, one could assume that we could flourish without really acknowledging God. And while this might be true to a small extent, but there is evidence throughout the Bible and people I’ve observed in my life that when we collaborate with Him we flourish in the best way possible. In the case of growth, partnership is the x-factor. It’s the difference between developing into something long-lasting, satisfying with no risk of worry in the future. So how do we cultivate this growth, how do we ensure that the soil we’re sowing in is good enough to house our precious seed?
Let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. - James 1:19-21
The first element of keeping good soil with the ‘Word’ as mentioned above, the Bible which holds all the key principles, advice and promises needed to live well. This is supported by good, old fashioned prayer - nothing fancy, just talking to God and building a healthy relationship. Successful partnerships won’t work without communication, right? The final core factor is not only being present in, but engaging with yes - you guessed it - community. If you’ve been reading Freely Written in recent months you’ll know I’m a complete cheerleader for this. Let’s use the example of the apostles. They were considered part of Jesus' inner circle and some of the first people encouraged to go out into the world and transform it completely. Even they weren’t expected to live this life well independently. While knowing God on a personal level, some of the greatest moments in their walk with God - moments like the day of Pentecost, which propelled them to the next stage of maturity and influence - happened when they were together. (The story is in Acts 2, have a read it’s quite powerful). I could go on, but I won’t as we talked about this in How to Unlock Your Blue Ocean Part I & Part II.
While God decides what grows and what doesn't, the extent to which we cultivate this growth has an impact on the final outcome. Afterall, we are coworkers with Him. Jesus once told a story about a sower who planted seeds in good soil. Even though the seeds in question were planted in good soil, they multiplied differently - thirty times, sixty times and finally one hundred times. This could be interperted as the extent to which they fulfilled their true potential. In #TheSisterhoodBook which I’ve just finished reading, the author says that she ‘wants to be a hundred-fold girl’ in reference to this story. Don’t we all want to be one-hundred-percent type people, living to our full potential? Responding to and living out his Word, what he tells us in prayer and connecting with community is what will get us there.
And what’s more 100% than this? “The grain that grows will be abundant. Your cattle will range far and wide. Oblivious to war and earthquake, the oxen and donkeys you use for hauling and plowing will be fed well near running brooks that flow freely from mountains and hills” - Isaiah 30:23-26
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