Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Hand to the Plow......

It is spring time, and time for preparing the gardens for sowing the seed. I’m not much of a farmer, but my father grew up on the farm as did his father and his grandfather. It was their dream that he also be a farmer. Although he wanted to try his hand at other things, he ultimately continued to farm at least enough ground to feed his family. Many of our ancestors did the same. Each spring they would go into the barn and dig out the plow, sharpen the blade and take it out to the field. Some had a push plow which one man could push through the soil. Others had plows that were pulled by oxen, horses or mules. The original measurement of an acre was the amount of ground a farmer and his oxen could plow in one day. The knack of plowing a field had to be learned.
First of all, it was necessary to till up the compacted soil before planting seed so the soil could ‘breathe’ and the seed could germinate. It was hard work, not for the feeble. Hands would become blistered and calloused as they guided the plow and the animal across the field. It was not a one day job. It took days and sometimes weeks to plow the acreage. Sometimes it meant removing boulders and stumps. We don’t appreciate what our forefathers did to prepare this country for the harvests we have had in the past. When someone has prepared the way before us, we tend to take it for granted.
In the early years of the church, there were plows and planters too. They took on virgin ground, battling persecution from the religious critics of their day, but they persisted because of the words of Jesus Christ found in Luke 9:62 "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." We read these words but often fail to understand them. A good farmer would learn to plow a straight line by fixing his vision on a point straight ahead of him—a tree, a rock, or a fencepost. He would use that point of reference until he had crossed the field at least once. It would keep the row straight and make it easier for the animals to plow succeeding rows. If he spent all his time looking backwards to see how he was doing, the row would end up crooked and the job would be much more difficult to finish well.
When Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, they were walking along side Him making their boasts… “I’ll follow you anywhere!” (Lk 9:57) Early they were even arguing about which of them would be the greatest. (Lk 9:46)It was time for a valuable lesson. Following Jesus meant becoming like a little child. It meant not having a place to lay your head...no 5-star hotels for followers of Jesus. (Lk 9:58) It meant making sacrifices, and realignment of priorities. Following Jesus meant more than saying “goodbye’ to family and friends, to burying loved ones. Jesus had set the example. Jesus knew that His time of sacrifice was almost upon Him. “ 51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (Lk 9:51) Jesus was focused on the task at hand. He was plowing a field. He had told them already about the field of the world...and the farmer who went out to sow seed in the field ( Luke 8:5-8) and he explained to them the importance of sowing seed in good ground. But some seed would fall by the wayside in hard ground, and other in stony ground and still other in the thorny ground with weeds. But it was the seed of the Word of God that was sown in good ground that would produce a harvest. So plowing that ground and making it good ground was very important.
But there are a lot of folks who say they want to follow the Lord and put their hand to the plow until they discover the cost—the hard work, the sacrifices required of farmers. Some are lazy at heart. Others are drawn away by riches and comforts and family ties. They often struggle with indecision and focus. They often do not want to sever the old ties from the past, and choose the lonely walk behind the plow. But Jesus was very clear here. Where we turn our face is important. What we choose to face will determine our future. If the farmer is looking back, then his eyes are not on the goal, and though he may be plowing, he is plowing without focus and purpose. It brings disaster. How many have taken their eyes off the road for just a moment, only to discover that in that instant you had drifted dangerously into a wrong lane or even off the road. Texters today are learning this the hard way. The efficient servant of God will aim his plow and his vision in the same unswerving direction with the purpose of preparing a field for a great harvest.
There is one little word that often causes us to swerve… “but”. “I will follow you but…” not until the time is right, not until the finances are secure, not until I’m older. Not today, but perhaps tomorrow. Other tasks are demanding our full attention today. We tell ourselves, we need to take care of business. We look back much like Lot’s wife. Redemption was ahead of her but she chose to look back at the judgment falling. She was tied emotionally to the things behind her in the doomed city of Sodom. She disobeyed and paid a price. There is a price to pay for looking back. The verse tells us that those who do are not “fit for the Kingdom of God.” To be ‘fit’ means more than just being physically strong. It means to be ripened, prepared, and competent, ready for service. Paul the Apostle learned this lesson for he says, “One thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3: 13). He had it right, with not one backward look, Paul pressed forward, knowing the goal. His high calling took him to a martyrs death. He was plowing ground with a great harvest of souls in mind. Did it work? Can we learn from his example?
How many today want to be followers of Jesus, but they just have a few issues they need to deal with. Jesus is calling us all to follow Him. But some delay because of procrastination. “Not yet...someday I’ll take care of that”. How often do we procrastinate just once and it suddenly becomes a pattern. We intend to write that letter to someone, but we put it off. Soon the opportunity to write is gone forever. We sometimes procrastinate in forgiving too. We hope time will deal with it and emotions will heal. In reality, we have just swept the dirt under the rug. When God calls, we must respond and do so immediately and decisively. There is no room for hesitancy. We are either admirers or followers. Admirers look on from a distance and say, “One day, I’ll follow too.” But followers get up on their feet and position themselves behind the plow, set their eyes on the goal, grip the plow firmly and follow the Master. They are not distracted by the past, the pain, or the people to call their name. They, like Jesus, have a purpose.
Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem, knowing the cost. He was looking to Calvary, to the cross and to dying there for mankind. The purpose was clear. He could not just half die. It required total commitment. Death was the desired end. Why? Because He loved us! It was not a half-hearted love. It was complete, the love of a hero for someone who needed rescuing. How do you love someone half way? It’s impossible. Love means 100% commitment. It is unconditional. The only acceptable response is to love back completely and fully. We are either admirers, or followers. If we are followers, we must put our hand to the plow and follow Him without a backward glance.
I always admired the tenacity and faithfulness of Anne Sullivan who taught Hellen Keller. Anne was born into a home of Irish immigrants, and she suffered from abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father and was forced to tend to the needs of her crippled brother. They both became orphans. She became blind herself at the age of 5 and went through many surgeries to correct the problem. In spite of her past, she demanded an education and graduated as valedictorian. She knew her life had purpose and she set her hand to the plow. Helen Keller was the harvest.
As believers, we have a higher calling. Lost souls all around us are seeking guidance, wondering about life and death, heaven and hell. Angels cannot preach the gospel. Only man has the commission. But all too often we link ourselves with the stuff of the world. The Bible tells us that the plowman was forbidden to mix an oxen with a mule while plowing. They would be unequally yoked. (Deut. 22:10, 2 Corinth. 6:14) We must keep our lives pure and focused on the mission, the call, the purpose God has for us all. The plowman’s call is exclusive. There is no room for variation or experimentation. The seed must be sown in the field on time, or there will be no harvest, no time of reaping. There is already famine in the land? What will the people of God do? "No procrastination. No backward looks. You can't put God's kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day." Luke 9:62 TMB
J. Johnson