My dad became a follower of Jesus in 1964. His unlikely conversion followed many months of weekly one-on-one meetings with an Anglican minister called Warwick Seymour in a little mining town called Carletonville. But the seed was first sown by a visiting preacher from London by the name of Dick Lucas. My dad says he can’t remember the sermon at all, but afterwards Lucas said something that troubled my dad greatly. Here’s the interchange as recorded in my dad’s biography, Branded by Grace:
“I stood there feeling out of place. All these holy Joes—not my types. The visitor walked up to me in the foyer after his address and introduced himself. He asked me who I was and what I did.
“I’m an engineer,” I replied.
“Are you a Christian?”
Gulping, I paused before responding, “Ja, well I try to be!”
“That’s impossible!” said Dick Lucas with a penetrating, piercing gaze…” (Branded by Grace, p70).
That short conversation with Dick Lucas left my dad feeling so exposed and uneasy that he was prompted to make an appointment with the resident minister to express his offence. It was this local pastor, Warwick Seymour, who watered and weeded my dad’s seedling faith. He removed the rocks of his objections and misconceptions. He walked him through the pages of Scripture and showed him why his best efforts to be a Christian would never be good enough. Then he led dad to the Saviour who changed his life irrevocably. This joint effort by two of Christ’s disciples generated a harvest that reaches down the generations. But ultimately we must look beyond the human sowers to the Farmer himself: It was God who enabled my dad to understand and receive his Word as truth; to personally confess that only Jesus has the authority to forgive sins; to ask His forgiveness in return for life and hope; to surrender his life to Christ as Lord. It was God who prepared the soil and germinated the seed in my dad’s heart. He alone is Lord of the harvest.
Five years after this great miracle, I was born, the last of four children. Warwick Seymour became my godfather and every year he gave me Bible stories and Christian books with a personal note scrawled on the front page. The message of those books had a powerful impact on my life because they spoke the truth of who Jesus is and how I could respond to Him, even as a small child. Once again, the powerful word produced a crop.
When I discovered the internet many years later, I decided to google the British man who had first scattered those seeds of truth in a backwater town in 1964. I discovered that Dick Lucas was a famous preacher with a huge church in London and many hundreds of sermons recorded online. I was curious about the man who had accepted an invitation to preach to a handful of people in a tiny parish on the West Rand, so began my own journey of listening to his sermons. I never forget the first message I heard from a series to businessmen in central London. It was on Jesus’ parable of the Sower, aptly titled “The Powerful Seed”. This parable has profoundly shaped the way I understand how disciples are made.
This is the parable of the Sower recorded by Luke. You will also find it in Mark 4 and Matthew 13:
And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. (Luke 8:4-15).
Led by the sower
“A sower went out to sow his seed” (Luke 8:5). This statement at the beginning of the parable tells us the simple but supernatural means by which God’s kingdom comes to earth. Disciples are made when the word of God is proclaimed and received in the power of the Holy Spirit. We may get involved in all sorts of useful ministries, but the word is the centre pivot in God’s redemption plan. The word is the sprinkler system of Christ’s witness in the world.
In the context of this parable, Jesus is the proverbial sower who shows us what it looks like to sow seed. He spent three years of his life sharing the message of the kingdom with varied results. He modelled how to be generous and open-hearted while scattering the seeds of the kingdom of God from one town to another, being rejected by some hearers and accepted gladly by others (Luke 6:11; 7:9). We might think it’s reckless to throw away seed on soil that’s unproductive, rocky and arid, but Jesus did it anyway. He didn’t avoid undeserving people, but preached and taught the good news of the kingdom in all manner of ways, and with great hope and power (Luke 8:1; 4). He trained his disciples to do likewise when He left them (Acts 1:8; Matt 28:18-20).
Ultimately, the church is called to sow the seed of the gospel in the hardest, most weed-ridden, sin-soaked soils of the human heart. After all, that was the state of our own hearts before the Holy Spirit turned them from stone to flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). It is not our right to guess which soils look soft and fertile, or to select the seed we think most suitable to grow. We are called to speak only the truth God has given us in the Bible, to do so liberally, and then to trust the Lord who owns the lands and the harvest.
“If God’s word gets into the soil of your heart and mine, there’s no telling what God will do” (Dick Lucas).
The priority and power of the seed
The hundred-fold harvest of Jesus’ parable began on the day of Pentecost. It was not the spectacular signs that convinced people, but Peter’s long, Spirit-led sermon that cut 3000 Jews to the heart and brought them to their knees in repentance and faith (Acts 2:37). Luke tells us that it was “with many words” that Peter bore witness and exhorted his hearers to save themselves from their crooked generation (Acts 2:40). “Those who received his word” were the good soil that heard the word and “held it fast” that day (Acts 2:41; Luke 8:15). In turn, these converts returned to scatter the gospel in their homelands all over the world.
All through the book of Acts, we see the same pattern of the spirit-filled word of truth spawning disciples everywhere (Acts 4:4;13; Acts 8:4-5; Acts 12:24). After the disciples made the preaching of the word a priority, even hostile priests heard the word and believed (Acts 6:2;7).
He who has ears
Words in themselves are not powerful or magical. Even the Bible itself has no power to redeem a person who doesn’t see the face of Jesus in its pages (John 5:39-40). But when the Spirit of God shines in our hearts to show us who Jesus is, there’s no limit to what Spirit-led words can do. As disciples, it may seem like our seeds are small and our words are weak, but we must remember that it is God who makes a plant grow (1 Cor 3:6-7). The thriving harvest in Jesus’ parable is not produced by our intelligence, rhetoric or wit, but by speaking the truth of the gospel simply and clearly, in formal and informal ways. It may be through preaching and teaching, but it may also be through writing, praying, an everyday conversation or message on a phone, even through a song. It is this conviction that should keep us scattering the message week after week, over a lifetime, no matter how few or many respond. Let’s also admit that our own rocky and thorn-infested hearts are often hard of hearing and not always receptive and ready to apply the gospel to our lives. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us to truly listen and love the truth of God’s Word, so that it will grow a deep root and produce abundant fruit in our lives. Then we will sow back the seed into the hearts of others.
Father, you know that my heart is far from the good soil described in your parable. I am often dull to your Word and slow to respond to even what I do understand. You know that I’m often defensive and unwilling to change, too disengaged and preoccupied with the cares of life to listen and absorb your truth. Holy Spirit, open my heart to see the beauty of the gospel of grace and the empty, dead souls all around me. Stir me to speak your truth in unredeemed places and please prepare the soils. Give me conviction to keep scattering the seeds you’ve given me until the final harvest or the day you take me home. In Jesus’ name, Amen.