Steven Furtick — Let The Dirt Do Its Work
Mark 4:26, "He also said, This is what the kingdom of God is like: a man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows though he does not know how. All by itself, the soil produces grain...first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head". God knows the order in which things need to happen in our lives. And trusting Him is, in one sense, just allowing Him to do not only what He wants to do but when He wants to do it. Touch somebody. Say, "There's an order to this".
That's what we preached about last week from Mark 3. And we said that when you get things out of order, they stop working. So that's why spending your money before you tithe is a bad idea, because it's out of order. Too early? Too soon. That's why sex before marriage is a dangerous proposition. Too much, too soon. Now he doesn't value you. Instead, he objectifies you. And there's an order to things. There's an order to things. "Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise".
My time with God goes a lot better if I start with "thank You for what You've already done. I've got some things I need, I've got some unresolved issues that I want to bring before You. But first of all, God, I just want to thank You because somebody's lying on a ventilator this morning and I'm not and I have breath in my body. And You said, 'Let everything that has breath praise the Lord', and I've got breath to praise You with. So God, right now, in spite of how I feel or what I'm going through, I just want to give You about 16 seconds of praise".
There's an order. And then comes the result. "As soon," verse 29, "as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it". And some of us put the sickle to stuff too soon, before it has the chance to take root. And we spend money to impress people, and because we don't know when to use what God has given us, we end up ruining the very provision — I'm just reading the scripture. This has nothing to do with my sermon. But I'll be honest with you, when I walked around the corner, Ballantyne was singing like they loved Jesus and I just got excited and the Holy Spirit. So as soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it because the harvest has come. But the real focus of this message is going to be verse 27b and 28a. It says, "...the seed sprouts and grows... Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how".
And that's the key phrase. He does not know how. And then, it says, "All by itself, the soil produces grain". And so, to me, that made me think about grace and that made me think about God's sovereignty and that made me wonder if I'm staying up stressing about stuff that if I would get out of my own way and let God deal with it the way that He knows how to deal with things, I would be so much better off. You know?
So, what I came to tell you today, this is my sermon title, is "Let the Dirt do Its Work". You may be seated. Let's work on this scripture for a moment. I did preach from this passage two years ago. And at that time, I was taken by the temporal implications of this text and the timing of God. I believe the title I gave that little message was called "The Seed is on Schedule". And I was using it to illustrate how things in our life, in some ways, show up like the wise teacher said, that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
That's what I was trying to say two years ago. And in the last two years, either this text has gotten better — I'm being sarcastic. The text didn't change. But God has opened my eyes to see it in a little different way. And since we've been going through Mark's gospel very slowly, at a leisurely stroll, to talk about Savage Jesus, and all I keep hearing from people as I see you out and about is "don't stop preaching Savage Jesus; this series, just keep it going until the rapture". And I don't know about that, but I thought we should at least take one parable. And Mark gives us so much about the context of Jesus' ministry, but we also want to take a moment now and pause and look at some of the content of His ministry.
And we see that His teaching is creating opposition at the same time that it is making an impact. By the way, that's always the case. Everything that makes impact creates opposition. You know that, right? Touch somebody and say, "If the devil isn't messing with you, he doesn't consider you a threat". So, we've seen now five different examples of controversy in the ministry of Jesus, which makes me want to go back and have a conversation again. One pastor — I said, "What's your goal in ministry"? He said, "My goal is that on the Wikipedia page," and he doesn't have a Wikipedia page; but he said, "If I have a Wikipedia page," this is already weird... hypothetical Wikipedia page is your goal for ministry... he said, "I hope there's no controversy section". He said that was his main goal in ministry. By that standard, Jesus Christ was the ultimate ministry failure.
Why are y'all looking shocked? What do you think the cross was? You think it was jewelry? You think the cross was a celebratory moment? The Roman Empire used that tool to torture people who represented a threat. And everywhere Jesus went, people were threatened. The Pharisees, the teachers of the law, they were threatened by Jesus. He was upsetting their entire system. Were you here last week? Their entire system was being overturned by the things He was speaking and things He was doing.
Not only that, but the demons were threatened by Jesus. Every time He got in the presence of an impure spirit, it started shrieking and convulsing and begging and falling down at His feet. It's a funny thing, because the demons knew better who Jesus was than the teachers of the law did. Isn't that crazy? The demons saw Jesus and they fell down at His feet. The teachers of the law saw Jesus and they crossed their arms to judge Him. Sometimes we should be more like the demons than we should be like the religious people. At least the demons knew, "This guy's in charge". At least the demons knew "He has all power". At least the demons knew "He's not ordinary, He's not average, He's not common. This is the Son of God". I wonder, do we really worship Him today? I wonder, do we really regard Him as the supreme authority in our lives or he's just an accessory?
This is what we've been studying, and it all fits within the context, all of the controversy and all of the compassion of Jesus. They were both growing together. Both grow together, the wheat and the tares. That's one parable Jesus used. It's not our parable today, but He was talking about the wheat grows and right beside it all the weeds grow that want to choke out the wheat. And what we tend to want to do that is reflected in that parable in Matthew 13 is to separate the weeds from the wheat. But Jesus said both grow together. They have to.
It's an eschatological principle that He's using to talk about the harvest at the end of the age, but it also has practical implications in our lives, that both grow together. As God is drawing you into a deeper relationship and a more consistent communion with Him, there will also be a more consistent sense of conflict to accompany the communion, because both grow together. Don't be confused about it, and don't try to separate what you think is the good stuff from what you think is the bad stuff, because God uses both in our life. The tares He uses for our humility so that we will trust Him, and the wheat He uses for our sustenance so that He can sustain us and bless us. And both grow together.
Now, with that context established, we have a parable. Jesus taught in parables. Mark shares here several of them. Remember, he's not compiling these in the order that they happened. He's giving us a curated account of the ministry of Jesus. And he's building for us what he believes to be an accurate picture of the purpose of the ministry of Jesus. And now, Jesus is teaching us about the nature of the kingdom of God and our faith. Maybe you've heard the parable of the different types of soil that he starts with in Mark 4. He's getting into this idea that there is always seed going forth. God is always speaking to you. Stop asking God to speak to you and start listening. It's the weirdest thing. We pray, "God, speak to me; speak to me, speak to me, speak to me, speak to me". "If you'd shut up, you'd hear that I already am".
So the seed's always going forth, but while my Bible calls it the parable of the sower, it's really the parable of the soils. It's really about our hearts. The soil is our soul, our mind, our will, and our emotions. And in this passage, he shares with us how there are some seeds that fall on the path and birds come and snatch 'em up. How many of you have some seed snatchers in your life? Joy thieves? People who want to ruin your day and it's not 9:30 yet and here they come? How many of you have some seed snatching apps on your phone? You know, that one with the bird, what's it called? Twitter?
Jesus said, "The birds of the air will snatch the seed and grab your attention so that you don't act on what you heard but you forget what you heard". Because a lot of us have a stash of seed that we've never put in the ground. We've gotten to be professional seed collectors who know how to highlight our Bibles and fill notebooks with information; but without application, without soil, the seed only represents unused potential. And to me, that's a sad thing. Wouldn't it be sad for God to show you in heaven how much seed you sat on while you were here on earth? Do not merely listen to the word. Instead, do what it says. You are not blessed by the word you hear but the word that you do.
A lot of times, we think that we need to know more. I found out that I already know enough. Let me give you a few examples. I know not to talk bad about people. If I would just do that, I think I'd be working 70 hours a week, just that, that alone. I know that I'm supposed to consider others as more important than myself. I know that. And you know that. Touch somebody and say, "You know this". And if you know how to say man after it, you can say man after it, but if you don't know how, don't try. It'd be embarrassing. You know this. In fact, look back at it one more time. I need your help because everybody looks a little bit resistant to this point. We always want to know more. You know? I want to grow spiritually. Look back at 'em and say, "If you would do what you knew, you would grow.
Spiritual growth, it's always been a tricky concept to me because I thought spiritual growth required more knowledge. And I don't have many regrets in life, but I do have a few. One thing I regret, I wish I would have written a parenting book before I had my kids. It's just something I think about often: how awesome my parenting book would have been if I had written it before parenting, because the time that I knew the most about parenting — You know what? I wish the same thing — Here's another regret. I wish I would have written a book about being a pastor before I started this church. It would have been so profound. It would have had diagrams and informational concepts. It would have been 773 pages of how to be a pastor. And then, you showed up and screwed up all my theories about how to be a pastor. People messed up my ideas about how to be a pastor.
What's up with that? Now it would just be a pamphlet. It would just be illustrated. The whole book would be prayer. You know the emoji with the prayer hands? That would be the whole book. How to be a parent. How to be a pastor. But I knew so much. You notice those are the people who give the most advice, those with the least experience? "But I want to do... I tell you what I would do if it were me, and I know... I mean, I'm not judging, I'm just saying..". No.
Okay, so three things, it's right here in the text. I know you think that I'm confused or lost. It says that the farmer — This is crazy — The farmer who puts the seed in the ground, not the seed on the shelf, but the seed in the soil (Let's look at the verse on the screen again), he experiences the maturation of that seed though he does not know how. Well, what kind of farmer is this? If you don't know how the seed grows, you could at least Google it. There you would find that the seed needs what? Light or the correct temperatures and water. Yeah. And then, it needs to be planted in the right place. I can tell you exactly how the seed grows. That's exactly how it grows. I can explain that to you.
And so, if the scripture says this parable, which is always used to get us beneath the surface to the deeper meaning, if the parable is included in Jesus' illustration of what the kingdom of God is like — He said, "This is what the kingdom is like". And now, we're expecting something spectacular because the kingdom of God is a new concept. Jesus is the first one to use this term. And since they are not familiar with this particular concept, Jesus is giving them an earthly illustration, yet He does not talk about the kingdom of God being like Wakanda. He does not talk about the kingdom of God being like a spaceship. He does not talk about the kingdom of God being like a rocket. Instead, He says — and this must have been anticlimactic for those who gathered to hear His message on this day — the kingdom is like a seed.
And on this alone, we understand that often what God does in our life will feel insignificant and then it will go into the soil where it will be invisible. And then, a lot of times, when God is working in our lives in the greatest ways, we won't even know how He's working. We will be ignorant. That's three Is. It makes an outline. Write it down. Three things about the kingdom of God; it often seems insignificant, it often appears invisible, and often you feel ignorant. So the greatest proof that you are growing in your relationship with God is sometimes the fact that you don't feel like you are growing in your relationship with God.
I'm sorry for everyone who always needs a goose bump to feel like God is with you, but sometimes the greatest growth in your life is not going to be on the surface of your emotions, your feelings, or your senses. Sometimes the deeper work that God will do is much greater than the highest work that God will do, for what is the building without the foundation? Jesus said, "The kingdom is like this". If something so small, seemingly so insignificant, and it goes through stages that are so invisible — And a lot of the times, you will feel so ignorant, like the farmer who puts the seed in the ground and doesn't know when he'll see it again.
Sure he can water it, sure he can plow the ground, surely we have a part to play in our relationship with God, but there is this other element of faith that I want to talk about today that I don't hear about enough, and I'm hungry to hear about it because I see a lot of Christians listening to cute sermons and we're telling you to do things that sound really big, to forgive people and to be free of addiction, but I here the response from the people when the pulpit is echoing forth these lofty ideals and the people are sitting, saying how?!
You're telling me what, but you're not telling me how. I don't know how. I don't know how to read my Bible. I don't know how to pray for over 13 seconds without thinking about my need for cereal at the grocery store. I don't know how. That's the most spiritual thing you've said all week. Who did God pick to be the disciples of Jesus? Religious professionals with academic knowhow? Who did God pick to carry His Son? What's the first thing Mary said when the angel said, "The One born of you is the Holy One of God"? What? How! What's the first thing that the disciples said when Jesus said, "Feed these big crowds even though you didn't pack a lunch"? What's the first thing they said? How? That is the starting place of spiritual growth.
To admit "I..". Sorry I'm screaming; but sometimes it screams inside of me when God calls me to do something, but I don't know how. I don't know how to raise these kids. I don't know how. I did before I had them; but now, they're here, and I don't know how. I read the book, the baby book. It told me that if you swaddle the child — But I found out, my first-born child was unswaddleable. I don't know how. "I hear you preaching these great sermons. Keep your eyes on Jesus and don't look at the wind and don't look at the waves, but how do I look at something that's invisible. I hear what you're saying and I want what you got, but I don't know how".
How many don't know how? Just to see who I'm preaching to and who I can leave alone. "I don't know how to forgive somebody but then make sure that I keep an appropriate distance so that they don't continue to violate me. I don't know how". And here's a farmer who doesn't know how to make a seed grow, and Jesus says, "It's like that". Growth is like that. There's a part that you will play and you will know what to do. You sow. You water. You plow. But you don't have to know how!