Preparing the Soil

Scripture is rife with farming analogies. The parable of the sower, the metaphor of “bearing fruit”, and the list goes on and on. Using this age old analogy of planting, we look at missions in the modern world.

A man closes a purchase on a new plot of land. As he signs, his hand shakes with the excitement of years of dreaming of saving coming to fruition. That night he can barely sleep because visions of overflowing crops and a fixed-up farmhouse flood his mind. The next day, in his eagerness to make his new land fruitful, he wakes up before the sun and shoulders a burlap sack of seed. As he walks his new land with pride, he slings generous fistfuls of seeds out onto the field.

Like any good farmer, he diligently waters and monitors his crops. But nothing grows. What did he do wrong? Many missionaries are finding themselves in the same situation asking the same question. They moved to a new land to which they were called. They made efforts to sow seeds. They even watered and monitored their ministry. No results. What happened?

The crucial was missed step of preparing the soil. It’s mundane work, breaking up tough ground and pulling up weeds. In fact, weeding is never a one-and-done process. Pulling up weeds disturbs the soil which then brings new weed seeds to the surface. These weed seeds could have been dormant for years, but if now exposed to sunlight, they will begin to grow. This is why it seems that when one weed is pulled, three others pop up to take its place. Preparing the soil is an ongoing process. This is why when planting a lawn from seed, to get a well-establish root network it takes at least two years.

How, in missions, do you prepare the soil? You’ve moved to a new place. You’re ready to begin. Patrick Lai, author of Tentmaking, suggests the the best ingredients for preparing the spiritual soil are prayer and love. Before you ever sow the gospel, these two prepare the soil to receive and effectively grow and nourish the seeds.

Preparing soil in the natural mostly involves two things: breaking up what needs to be softened, and keeping “weeds” from stealing the nutrients for our fruit. Ask God to open your eyes to specific things that need to be softened in your hearers. Pray for these things then to be softened. Ask God what competition the gospel has in the hearts of your hearers. Pray that the “weeds” that would prevent it taking hold be removed. This isn’t a process that happens just once, but prayer and love may make up the majority of your initial time abroad. Then, after much preparation, the opportunity will present itself and the time to sow will arrive.

The great thing about both of these soil-preparers is that they don’t require proximity. You can begin even before you go. You can also help prepare the soil of missionaries around the world without ever setting foot in the countries in which they tread. Adopt a country or people group this week to pray for. Ask God to break up the spiritual soil in this place. Ask that the weeds be removed. Pray for those sowing to be effective and well-received. This step is crucial. Without it, all else can be done by the book, yet without love and prayer, the seeds will stay seeds until the soil is prepared.