By Sarah Puryear
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 4:21-34
21 He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23 Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”
26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
You may at times have heard the spiritual life described as a series of steps to take, straightforward and linear. Read the Bible, find a good church home, start praying, resist sin — add other important habits to the list. There are certainly core commitments for every Christian to adopt, and in Lent we recommit to those we either have neglected or haven’t tried. But if we think of spiritual growth as the sum total of actions we take, and can measure to determine our success, we set ourselves up for discouragement. If we place the burden for growth entirely upon ourselves, we will conclude that we are to blame when things get tough.
Jesus’ parable suggests that growth in his kingdom has a paradoxical and mysterious quality. I find few words more encouraging than the simple phrase, “he does not know how.” After casting his seed, the sower goes to bed. When he gets up, he notices his seedlings are sprouting, unfolding, and growing taller, but he can’t quantify exactly how. It’s not due to him standing over the seeds 24/7, making them split open and sprout, but due to the creative power of God invisibly at work within them.
Like the sower, I don’t have to know exactly how I am growing spiritually for it to be happening. I can trust that through the work of the Holy Spirit, it is occurring quietly behind the scenes and outside my range of vision. To borrow a phrase from Paul, we can plant the seed and water it, but God will give the growth (1 Cor. 3:6). This doesn’t mean taking a laissez-faire approach to our Christian life; rather, it means that our diligence in reading God’s Word, receiving the sacraments, and sharing in fellowship is causing us to grow, whether we can see it or not. And when God does give us the grace to glimpse how we’ve grown, we will marvel at the harvest God has brought forth.
The Rev. Sarah Puryear lives in Nashville with her family. She is currently staying home with her young kids after having served most recently at St. George’s, Nashville. She enjoys writing for TLC’s Covenant blog.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Kirinyaga – The Anglican Church of Kenya
Christ the King Episcopal Church, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.