I am still reading my way through 1 Corinthians and last night in Chapter 9, Paul used metaphors of sowing and reaping to enforce his point that those who labour, especially those who labour in the kingdom of God are worthy of recompense. This is what Paul writes:
It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever ploughs should plough in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop. If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we still more?
I started thinking about the reaping and sowing metaphor. Those who till the ground and plant the seed do so with the hope of a harvest of a crop. When the farmers pull out the cultivators and seeders they have hope and even expectation of reaping a harvest. When we plant a garden we look forward to enjoying the produce from the garden. Unless you are my grandson, who recently planted a container garden with his mother and has announced that he will not eat the tomatoes.
He did admit later that he would eat the carrots, so he has some hope of enjoying the harvest, just not all of it!
But what about when we sow a spiritual garden? What is the hope and expectation we have of that garden?
When I preach, teach, write or have a spiritual conversation with someone and plant the seeds of God’s mercy and grace, what hope and expectation do I have? Sometimes spiritual gardening can be frustrating, soil and seed, warmth and moisture are predictable mediums, the human heart and how it receives the word of God is not.
Yet, I don’t study and prepare without an expectation that others lives will be touched and blessed by what God has revealed through me. I hope that those who hear and read the message will be affected by it, and that it will grow in their lives and bear fruit. Yet even though I have planted and maybe watered, the prayer that I utter for the word to bear fruit is not that I will be able to partake of it, but that it will, rather, bear fruit for the listener or the reader to enjoy. After all the fruit of the spirit, fills first our lives and then flows out to fill the lives of those around us.
Then there is me. I sow the word in myself as well. I read Scripture, I read books that guide my spiritual journey, I pray, I worship, I discuss and reflect with others on a similar spiritual journey. What hope and expectation do I have of the seed that is planted in me?
On the one hand this is an easy question to answer. I hope that the fruit of the spirit will grow in me, that I will enjoy grace, peace, and hope and that I will embody self control, patience and kindness. And I do. But I also fall short. I still struggle with what it means to be human and how the vagaries of a human heart can be difficult soil to garden in. That is why persistence is necessary.
The spiritual garden is something that is grown over many seasons. We don’t plant it one year and harvest it that same year. We plant in it and watch some growth. Then we plant in it and watch some more growth. Then we plant in it and watch yet more growth. Sometimes we plant the same seeds year after year because they have not taken proper root, sometimes we layer in other seeds. Some years there is drought and nothing gets planted and nothing grows. I believe that the key to reaping a bountiful spiritual harvest is to keep planting. When we engage in all the spiritual disciplines we keep planting, watering and fertilizing and eventually there will be a noticeable growth in our garden. And who ultimately reaps the benefit? Me, yes. You, yes. The people whose lives we touch, Yes. But most of all it is God who reaps the harvest as he proclaims to us, “Yes this is the person I created you to be.”
May you enjoy the labour of the garden.