God works in ways that do seem odd and mysterious. This situation involved the convergence of 2 distinct Bible passages strangely presented to me one evening in answer to a heartfelt question. ◊
This very month 17 years ago God answered a very specific question within minutes after I posed it in prayer while driving south on Highway 280 in the Bay Area. In an odd encounter, God brought together 2 independent Bible passages and gave me a profoundly simple answer that, for me, took away the mystery of life.
I was coming from a church leadership meeting one evening after questioning my fellow elders and church pastors on the topic of good works, service, missions, and deployment of the congregation. As these topics all fell under the broad category of “Deployment” – the third and final pillar in our church strategic framework that included “Evangelism” and “Discipleship” – I was genuinely struggling with what seemed to me like “feel-good Christianity” based on well-intended church and community service activities and programs. Something seemed off.
Not completely satisfied with the group discussion that evening, I decided to take the question directly to God while driving home. My prayer was earnest and bold:
“Lord, I’m confused, what does ‘deployment’ really mean – what do you want your people to really do?”
Within a couple miles of my exit on Highway 280, I got my answer in a most remarkable way. The words “Parable of the Sower” simply came to mind; not audibly, but yet clear as a bell. This was very strange to me. It was very out of context. I was familiar with this popular parable but saw no immediate connection to my prayer/question. In fact, I could not have recalled for you then what the distinct soil types were without looking them up.
I vowed to do so when I returned home.
But then another very odd thing happened. The words “I Am the Vine” came into mind in the same way. Out of the blue. This I knew was from the 15th chapter of the Gospel of John, but now I was clearly intrigued as I couldn’t make the connection with these two passages.
I couldn’t wait to get home and unravel this strange holy mystery!
When God Speaks, Listen
I said a brief hello to my wife and rushed to get my Bible and read these passages. The Parable of the Sower (also called Parable of the Soils) is found in Matthew 13:1-23:, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15. The I Am the Vine passage is found in John 15:1-8.
What I read hit me like a ton of bricks.
The answer was now explicitly clear to me. How I missed it was somewhat baffling to me but overshadowed by an awestruck respect for the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit actually available to us if and when we seek It.
The answer was this:
We are to be fertile soil so roots can grow deep and be richly nourished (Parable of the Sower). And we are to abide, be connected to the Vine, who is Jesus (I AM the Vine), our source of nourishment, fuel, power, strength, and peace, our connection to God directly now.
When we are connected to the Vine we yield bountiful fruit a hundredfold, directed by Him, not of our own works, lest any man should boast. God is the Sower and the Master in the vineyard. We merely respond and He does the pruning and the soil tending. We’re just to stay as good soil and connected to Him/Jesus, the Vine, via prayer, the Word, and fellowship with others in the field with us.
He does the fruit-producing; we’re the pass-through vessels, used for His good purposes, be they individual or church and community service activities and programs.
Yes, this profound and profoundly simple answer took away the mystery of life for me. No longer was I duty or action bound, but free to ask, seek, and respond to God’s prompting and direction through the Holy Spirit. I needed to stay connected and obedient. Not an automatic assumption, of course.
But now I knew the key to real life living and multiplied fruit production.
I’ve learned in the years since then that God is relentless in His love and pursuit of us. It is odd and mysterious, and wonderfully amazing nevertheless. Like a good Father, He doesn’t throw in the towel and abandon us in our distractions and entanglements. Even in our struggles with questions and surrendering faith.
God’s in it for the long haul. He patiently waits and gives us full freedom in response to His call, love, gifts and blessings. Of course for our own sake, the sooner the better. And better late than never. And even if it takes a lifetime for the roots to take hold deep and firm and produce a crop yield “thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and a hundredfold,” the holy result is richly blessed.
What kind of soil are you? Are you deep-rooted, nourished and fruit producing?
Everything written in the Scriptures was written to teach us, in order that we might have hope through the patience and encouragement which the Scriptures give us. – Romans 15:4