And he said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come." (Mark 4:26-29 ESV)
Can it be that simple? Have we, especially in the West, complicated what is an uncomplicated and natural process?
Scatter and gather. Mark clusters together three parables of Jesus. (4:3-9, 10-20; 4:30-34). Their message is remarkably consistent. Seeds are sown, the ground produces plants and, eventually, a harvest. The principle of scatter and gather is universal. The results are not uniform, but the pattern remains the same—plant seeds to reap a harvest. Of course, one might choose to simply live off the land, but that is unsustainable. Eventually you move to another location, or learn to produce your own food.
In the scatter and gather principle, the seed (“the word”) remains constant, only the soil is a variable (4:15—20). Inherent life remains dormant in the seed. When buried in receptive soil, without any help from the farmer, the cycle life is triggered toward its predetermined course, a harvest.
Scatter and gather. The application is no more complicated than the principle. In missions we often use the analogy of harvest. Missions is the work of God, in partnership with the Church. The human component of the spiritual harvest is scatter the seed, or spread the Word. After initial contact, the Holy Spirit and the Word work in a receptive heart to produce fruit, or an opportunity for harvest. When the fruit is ripe, it is time for the next phase of human involvement, invite him or her into the kingdom of God.
Today, of course, engineering and technology dramatically increase the volume of the harvest. Bigger and better machines, soil preparation, and hybrid seed make agriculture a completely different enterprise than the one described by Jesus in His parables.
Likewise, we have technology available to us today. But, let’s not fall into the trap of attempting to increase our harvest of souls through improved methods alone. Like a single individual with a handful of seed, witness remains intensely personal. It takes a person to scatter by sharing the Word of God with another person. It takes a person to gather by inviting one to commit their life to Christ.
“We’re your worst nightmare—elves—with attitude!” That’s my favorite line from the classic movie, The Santa Clause. In the scene, a specially trained squad of rescue elves have been dispatched from the North Pole to free Santa from wrongful imprisonment on Christmas Eve. The donut eating desk sergeant is no match for these highly skilled operatives. With Santa free, Christmas is saved, their mission accomplished.
Forgive the corny analogy, but as the people of God we have a mission. We often call it the Great Commission:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)
To accomplish the mission, attitude makes a huge difference. The biblical character, Caleb illustrates the importance of attitude. You can read his story in Numbers 14. God’s opinion of Caleb is pretty impressive:
But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. (Numbers 14:24 ESV)
The word spirit in this context means the same as attitude. Aviators use the term, attitude; it refers to the positioning of their aircraft. With proper attitude, an airplane flies right, but when the right attitude is lost, the plane is in danger of crashing.
Like Caleb, if we have a right attitude, we will stay on target, and fulfil our mission. But the right attitude is an exception, not the norm. Caleb and eleven others comprised a team employed by Moses. Their mission was to observe and return with a report about the land God had promised to give the Israelites. Ten members of the team lost the right attitude and failed. Caleb accomplished the mission and later received his reward, a large portion of the land.
What is different about a different attitude? To stay on mission, we need a different attitude about…
Caleb remembered that the mission was about God—God’s promises and God’s ability to fulfil those promises. By contrast The Ten lost their attitude, became disoriented, and mistakenly believed that it was all about them—their ability and their safety.
To this point in their story, Israel had been content to be consumers of God’s provision, but when it came time to be committed to God’s purposes, they were not all in. Caleb, however, remained clear that humans exist to serve God, not vice versa. Later he could say with integrity, “I loyally carried out the purpose of the Lord my God.” (Joshua 14:8, REB)
Later, Jesus displayed the same attitude when he proclaimed, “I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will.” (John 6:38, NLT) That is the same attitude we need to accomplish the mission: It’s not about me, it’s about God.
While the land was absolutely beautiful and bountiful, The Ten reacted in fear; they could not get giants out of their minds. If Israel confronted this oversized enemy, defeat was inevitable. They would literally be eaten for lunch by the giants of Canaan.
But Caleb, by contrast, could only see the inevitable victory. After all, Canaan could only come up with giants. Israel had God Almighty on their side, and they would be the army enjoying the feast of the victors! For Caleb, now was the time to act in faith, not react in fear.
Plenty of obstacles stand between us and the fulfilment of the Great Commission. Hear the voice of Caleb echoing to us, “They are just giants!” No resistance to the plan and power of God has any hope of success.
Under Egyptian slavery, Israel lived with a collective “broken spirit.” (Exodus 6:9) The Ten crashed because they lost their hope, which was tied to their sense of home. Israel had been the slaves of Pharaoh for so long that they forgot that Canaan was their home. Canaan was not a strange land, it was their land. But under pressure, The Ten looked backwards; it was all they knew.
Caleb no longer suffered with a broken spirit; he saw Canaan with a different spirit. He was coming home, the land of God’s promise and presence. Egypt was in Caleb’s rearview mirror and he had no intention of returning to its brokenness and bondage.
When things get tough, it is easy for us to believe that we are on the wrong track. Our reflex is to fall back on the familiar. There will be setbacks, but God’s people on mission never go backwards.
It takes courage to have a different attitude. But, if we can embrace the attitude of Caleb we can look into the darkness of this world and proclaim to the Enemy, “We’re your worst nightmare—disciples with attitude!”
David L. DeGarmo (D. Min.) serves Global University as Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Theology. Along with his wife Ruth, he is also a U.S. Missionary. He has extensive experience as an educator, missionary, and pastor.
David writes an additional blog on a variety of topics. Check it out...