Reflections on planting seeds

Planting seeds involves a certain amount of risk, and faith in God, Nathan Good says.

Lessons learned from growing vegetables can apply to giving and mentoring

By Nathan Good

I have always enjoyed planting seeds. The love started with me toddling along behind my mom. My fingers would push seeds into the soft, freshly tilled dirt. Watching as she sliced clean, small potatoes between the eyes. We would then drop the pieces into the trench my dad had hoed, waiting for the plants to grow so we could push soil up the sprouts to increase the harvest. When I was eight, my pastor preached about the Parable of the Talents. In this story, Jesus says a master is going on a journey. He entrusts his money to three of his servants, expecting them to invest the money wisely until he returns.

I don’t remember anything from the sermon, except that at the end, our pastor said he would give $5 of his own personal money to anyone in the congregation who wanted it, on the condition that they invested that money over the coming year and donated the proceeds back to the church. My little eight-year-old eyes lit up. I had an idea! I could plant tomatoes in the garden, tend to them, and then sell the fruit of my labors. To the credit of my parents and my pastor, they agreed. I became the youngest member of the congregation to sign out $5 that Sunday.

The funny thing about planting a seed is that you have very little control over how it grows. My pastor had planted a seed in my heart, and I went ahead and planted tomatoes in the garden. Planting seeds comes with some risks. To plant seeds, fruit from the previous harvest must be destroyed. You take something perfectly good and useable and throw it away in the dirt in hopes that something will grow. That risk can feel scary when you are a subsistence farmer and know that if your crop fails, your family might starve. That risk can feel exciting if you are an eight-year-old with an extra $5 in your pocket.

As much as I love the anticipation and excitement of planting seeds, I hate pulling weeds. Day after day that summer, I had to go out in the hot sun and pull weed after weed. While my brothers were playing or earning money, I faithfully fertilized and weeded my patch of tomatoes. Ok, most weeks I complained and cried about it. My mom probably pulled her fair share of weeds from my tomato patch in the early morning hours, long before I woke up. Soon enough, the work paid off, and the tomatoes started growing on the vine. By the time the summer was over, I had turned $5 into over $100. My pastor planted a seed in my heart that brought a 20-fold return in a single year. Talk about a worthy investment! He also planted a more long-term seed, the fruit of which would take years to grow.

I now spend less time with my hands in the soil. I find myself planting seeds in other ways. Three years ago, the associate pastor at the church where I am the lead pastor stepped away to begin the path toward chaplaincy. In our discernment process, I sensed that God might be calling me to go to three-quarter time at church, allowing us to look for a three-quarter or even full-time associate pastor. I threw the idea out there as a seed, and then we watched God cause it to grow. Next thing you know, I entered the world of “bi-vocational pastor.” There is a certain amount of risk when we plant a seed. When we take something that is perfectly useable and throw it away in hopes that it will turn into something more.

It takes faith that God will do his part in providing resources and opportunities. It takes the mundane work of pulling up distractions and pouring in the necessary nutrients to create the conditions for growth. When we combine our faith in God with our faithfulness in doing the work he calls us to, we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:8-9). Does that mean that if you eat and exercise well, those seeds will always grow into health and long life? If you invest early and wisely, you will grow wealthy and have all you want. Perhaps, although we know that life does not always work out that way.

Jesus warns in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In Galatians 6:8-9, mentioned above, the Apostle Paul encourages us to sow to the Spirit in order to reap eternal life rather than sowing to the flesh, from which we reap destruction. He says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

The theme that emerges throughout the New Testament is not about investing in order to grow our own nest egg beyond what we reasonably need or to ensure that we have wealth to pass on three or four generations down our family line. Instead, we are encouraged to give generously so that we might reap a “harvest of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10).

What seeds has God given to you to sow? They could be financial blessings that you can use to invest in the lives and businesses of those less fortunate than you. Perhaps it is wisdom that you can plant in the minds of youth and young adults as their mentors. It may be character that you have developed through your life that you can use in peace and justice efforts in your own community.
Whatever it may be, may you sow to the Spirit, trusting God to provide the resources and opportunities for growth and investing your own time and energy into pulling the weeds and pouring on the fertilizer.

Nathan Good is a pastor at Swamp Mennonite Church in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. He also operates Customized Coaching, a leadership coaching and transition advisory firm.


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