For daily Bible reading, I’m currently going through the Gospels in 30 days. With an app on my phone and a set of colored pens to follow along in my journaling Bible, this methodical approach to Bible reading is often rich as God highlights new things in well-read verses.
One of my favorite parables in the Gospels is the parable of the sower. There is something powerful about the principles and practical life applications that Jesus presents to us in the story.
During an early South African morning, with the birds chirping loudly out the window, God highlighted this parable in a brand-new way.
Will you walk through the story with me?
In Mark 4:1-20, Jesus was teaching a very large crowd from his seat on a boat. Imagine this little boat anchored close to shore and the people gathered around to hear each word. He told the parable of the sower in verses 3-8 without much explanation. Then, in verse 10, the crowd was gone and he’s alone with the disciples. Jesus knew that the disciples didn’t really understand the purpose of the parable so he began to break it down, sharing new meaning to each part of the story. He listed the sower, the seed, the path, the birds, the rocks, the shallow soil, and the thorns. At the end of the story, Jesus finished with the seeds that were sown on good soil. He explained to the disciples that it is these seeds, the seeds sown on good soil, that will bear fruit.
I reached the end of verse 20 and immediately started writing down notes and marking specific words in the story.
A very common wording in our line of work is the term “field.”
We landed on the field in 2014.
Our field has 20 workers.
We’re moving to a new field of service.
We have a field meeting tomorrow.
We have a new family coming to our field next week.
With this wording in mind, I read through the parable again, applying the story to the soil of our fields. Feel free to go back and read the story again.
Now, as we talk about organizational health and global worker health, we all want to get to the place where we are vibrant, verse 20 fields. Fields that are healthy, increasing, yielding and bearing fruit. That is at the heart of this amazing movement in recent years towards wholeness and health in global work.
Yet, how do we do that?
If organizations and sending churches are the sower, and workers are the seeds, and the soil is our fields of service, what does it look like to sow seeds in good soil?
As the life hacks specialist here at Global Trellis, I tend to think of things in practical, real, helpful terms. I want to break down large concepts into smaller, doable action steps.
I can’t tackle all the avenues of organizational health or offer a miracle “top ten tips to keeping healthy workers on the field.” I can’t give you one life hack that will instantly fix all the unhealthy fields around the globe. I’m not going to analyze all the reasons workers leave the field or where the breakdowns happen in the process of life overseas.
But, I can take this simple parable and ask some practical questions that can help us all in our own specific situations of sowers, seeds, and soils.
By making small changes, giving real investments of time, evaluating with good, honest questions, we can truly impact our own field of service.
With some thought and prayer, we can help the condition of the soil around us so that seeds have a better chance to grow in deep, healthy soil.
Again, how do we do that?
Jesus began with the path.
What is the condition of the path to your field? Are there birds waiting above to take the seed? How can the path be made a safer place for seeds to bud and grow? What can you do to cover the path in healthy ways? What measures can your field put in place to guard the path to your field?
Next, Jesus highlighted the rocks in the way.
He points out that rocky places have no depth of soil. “No depth of soil.” That wording is vivid and helpful to the evaluation of our fields. In the parable, the seeds that were planted in rocky places did grow but having no roots, no depth of soil, they were soon withered in the sun.
Are our fields deep? Are they thick and rich with healthy habits, good practices, honest conversations, and safe places for growth? Can a new worker to your field sense the depth and know they will grow there?
Are there shady, quiet places of rest on your field? Does your field have safe spaces to rest, recover and regroup from the hot, unrelenting sun? Are there times when the sun sets and the pressure is off so quiet growth can take place? Are healthy boundaries built into your field?
This leads to the sad question of what happens when a new worker lands on a rocky field?
It’s not a pretty thing to experience, watch or walk through, yet we’ve all seen it happen. Rocky fields break, wither and destroy. Seeds on rocky fields don’t have a chance to put down roots, grow or endure the incredible challenges already built into overseas life, let alone endure the rocks that come from inside the field.
How can you clear the rocks from your field before new seeds arrive? What rocky places need to be talked about, discussed and renewed so that depth of soil can be found?
Finally, Jesus described the thorns crowding out the seeds and choking them. Brutal.
Do our fields have thorns? What crowds out new seeds? What circles around fresh growth and stops the progress? What chokes the life, excitement, joy, fresh outlook or new experiences that they bring to the field?
I don’t have answers to these questions. Each question brings more questions and deeper applications. But, it is important, valuable work to ask the questions and dig for answers.
Honestly, evaluating the soil can be complicated, time consuming, frustrating, and challenging. Because of that, fields often just keep going as they are or as they have been for years.
We’ve learned that peeling back the layers to find the depth of soil is going to be painful, slow and costly.
We all know that we won’t have perfect soil or perfect situations. All aspects of overseas life will have rocks and thorns.
Yet, according to Jesus, to see healthy fruit on our fields, we must look at the condition of our soil.
There must be depth of soil. There must be space for paths to be cleared, rocks pulled out, thorns uprooted and good soil plowed, ready to receive the seed.
Truly, the condition of the soil on our fields could be the key to increasing, yielding, and bearing long-lasting, life-changing, people-building fruit.
With an inward look, what is something you could do today to bring health to your field?
How are you working towards personal health so that you can be a healthy soil for new seeds?
What are you doing to deepen the soil, clear the rocks, uproot the thorns, create shade and plow the ground for new growth?
Download this short worksheet for you and God to evaluate your soil in light of the four types mentioned in Mark 4.
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