Pastoral Perspectives

Growing Seeds of Faith

In Japan, Spring has begun, flowers are starting to bloom, and leaves are beginning to appear again. The season of planting will soon begin as farmers begin tilling their fields in preparation to sow seeds for this year’s harvest. Where we live in Kyoto there are a surprising number of fields located in the middle of neighbourhoods where farmers plant vegetables and rice. I am amazed each time these barren fields suddenly burst forth with lush plantings year after year.

All plants are amazing creations, but it is the seeds that are particularly unique. If they are stored properly, they can remain alive for many years and still germinate successfully. Once a seed is placed in the right place, at the right temperature and with the right amount of moisture, out pops a shoot. It’s almost miraculous how this happens all because the right conditions are met.

Jesus talked about this topic often, comparing the Word of God to seeds and the heart of the believer to that of soil. Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8 all give accounts of Jesus’ words about the sower who sows many seeds, each landing on different types of soil. Jesus gives a very vivid illustration which the Jewish people, many of whom as farmers, would have easily recognised even if they couldn’t grasp the message. In the end Jesus explains to his disciples how each soil type in the parable corresponds to a different type of hearts in which the Word of God is planted into.

I find this comparison between hearts and soil, seeds and the word of God so fascinating. Like a seed, the word of God can start off as something small. When a non-believer first hears it, the words of Jesus are but trivial things; he hears them and easily shakes them off, sometimes forgetting them. Much like a seed first planted deep in the soil there may be no visible sign of change in the heart of someone who first hears God’s word. Their lives may continue on the same path for many years much to the discouragement of those who shared the Word with them in the first place.

But then, all of a sudden, something may happen which causes a visible shoot to sprout up from under the ground. Perhaps it is due to a crisis, a major life change or just the Spirit touching their hearts and the words of God become not a trivial thing but a fountain of life and blessing. The humble seed becomes a mighty tree of faith and the person is forever transformed by God.

In Japan we have heard of such cases. People who were mysteriously affected by the words of Jesus many years after hearing them. There are those who first heard the Word as children when they attended a Christian kindergarten. Another example is Hoshino Tomihiro, the Japanese Christian author who I mentioned in a previous perspective. While stuck in hospital, he started reading the Bible that a friend had given to him. Doing so he had the sudden realisation that the words he was reading were the same words that he had seen carved on a Christian gravestone in his youth. These seemingly alien words had now became a source of strength and hope to someone so helpless and lost like him.

Despite these seeds being sown by faithful Christians, it was not through their power of persuasion that these persons had been saved. It was all because God had been working quietly, unknown to anyone, in these persons hearts that this faith grew in their hearts at the right timing.

The Apostle Paul emphasizes even more strongly how important God’s role is over and above the evangelist in 1 Cor 3:6-7:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

While the heart of the believer, like good soil, is important in receiving the word, isn’t it also true that when a seed is planted, no amount of effort on our parts can get it to germinate? Like Paul and Apollos, we can give it water, we can put it in a place with sunlight, we can protect it from pests… but it is only God who causes it to grow. Therefore, we need to remember to trust God to the results and not fret needlessly when things are not going how we expect. Only God gives the growth.

Reflecting on this makes me remember my own father’s conversion. For many years my mother tried to get him to come to church with us and for as many years he would not. No amount of guilt-tripping, urging or cajoling would change his mind though he would occasionally join us for Christmas and Easter. Growing up in a non-believing family, he attended a mission school where he was constantly exposed to the word of God. However, he still kept his superstitions and maintained many statues in the house. My mother prayed for him for many years and when I was older so did I.

While I was overseas studying, my father suddenly had a change of heart and decided that he would like to start going to church. My mother was so thrilled that she happily accompanied him. Within a short time he asked to be baptised and to my amazement his faith has continued to grow. He has been one of my family’s biggest supporters in going into full-time Missions work. Like the words of Mark 4:30-33, I feel that this once tiny mustard seed of God’s word has blossomed and grown into a mighty tree of faith in which even I feel supported and encouraged.

Dear brothers and sisters of True Way, perhaps some of you may have someone in mind who you have been praying for a long time. After all these years they still show no interest in the Bible, or hearing about Jesus. Still, do not be discouraged but continue to sow tiny seeds of God’s word; meaningful verses, testimonies of God’s goodness, praying for them. Sow also seeds of God’s love, by showing your concern and sharing in their joys and sorrows. Let us as a body also keep praying and trusting in the God of the harvest that He will bring the growth. That in His timing, one of these seeds (and it only takes one!) will germinate and before you know it there will be a harvest of a hundredfold.

May God’s peace and grace be with you all.

Sean Tan (Missionary to Japan)

March 27, 2022