The Way of the Husbandmen: Plowing
Isaiah 5:1-2—My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. He dug it up and cleared out its stones…
Make no mistake; good grapes won’t grow without good soil, and our Father-Husbandman is a Master at plowing soil and clearing stones.
Let the encouragement to your heart be this: while we long to see visible progress in our lives and leadership, we must allow time for invisible and supernatural plowing.
My background in farming gives me a real feel for this, so to speak. As we looked forward to a bumper crop, we first brought out the plows, rippers, or sub-soilers. We knew the soil had to be prepared for the seed. No “hard-pans” or “plow-soles” should remain. Many approaches can be taken, but the principle is the same.
The parable of the seed and the sower also given by Jesus in the gospels relates this idea clearly (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8). While the seed was always good, the soil of the heart was not. Satan snatched away seed from the hard heart. The hot sun of hardship scorched the seed in the shallow heart. And the things of this world choked the seed in the encumbered, overgrown heart. Only the seed which fell on good ground yielded a crop of varying proportions.
As we labor in the vineyard of our churches, we can participate with God as He plows the hearts of men and women who may be in one of the following categories.
Pre-salvation—Plowing of the Lost
All of us cherish those special days when someone repents and calls Jesus Lord. While we long for those radical testimonies of conversion and transformation, we must also acknowledge that these stories birth from a heart that has been plowed by God, and the plowing may look quite different in each case.
One time I did a careful study of the various salvation experiences in the book of Acts. I looked at the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8), Saul who became Paul (Acts 9), Cornelius the Italian (Acts 10), and the Philippian jailor (Acts 16). Here is what I found:
They were all brought by God to the end of themselves. The way this happened in each life was very different. The Ethiopian Eunuch was quietly reading Isaiah and did not understand. Saul, a terrorist, was made blind by God on the road to Damascus. Cornelius was a devout man yet sensed he was missing something. The jailor cried for salvation as his world was falling apart. The circumstances of their plowing were very different, tailor-made if you will, but the same Hand was on the plow preparing the soil. From there God sent someone to share the truth. They all made Jesus the object of their faith. They all had a clear change in their life.
While we all have lists of our most wanted loved ones for salvation, their hearts must be prepared by God before repentance and faith to be authentic. Be prayerful, be patient, do not pick green fruit. God’s plowing becomes our testimony.
Post-salvation—the Plowing of Sonship
Our churches should be inhabited by sons and daughters of God. Therefore, we are going to always find ourselves shepherding those who are under the chastening of God (Hebrews 12). Here is a real challenge for our stewardship as God plows the hearts of believers. He is relentless through days of prosperity and adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:13-14) to bring many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10) that look like His Son Jesus. This text also reminds us that even Jesus’ heart was plowed with suffering (Hebrews 5:7,8). What are we learning here? What should we be thinking as our Husbandman drops the plow deep into the hearts of His sons and daughters who make up our local flocks?
Let’s look at Hebrews 12:
Help them not to despise the plow.
Help them not to lose heart.
Remind them of His unfailing love.
Encourage them to endure.
Remind them that they are sons.
Partner in the pain.
Assure them of long-term profit. God always plays the long game.
Encourage them to be trained by it.
Remember, while we are pastoring, God is plowing. So pray much for their inner man to be strengthened with might through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:14-21).
The Plowing that Re-Enthrones God and Christ our Active Head (Hosea 10:12-13)
Israel plowed wickedness and reaped iniquity. They ate the fruit of lies, trusted in their own way and in their own military might. Because of this, God was about to drop His plow into their lives. Before He did, He gave them an opportunity to break up their fallow ground and seek the Lord. Because Israel and the church are a theocracy, God gives us a chance to participate with Him in corporate repentance. The pastor needs to be sensitive to the difference between what God is doing in individuals and what He may be saying to the corporate body. Every church is made up of the faithful and the not-so-faithful, the spirit-filled and those who tend to operate by the arm of the flesh, those who are intentional and those who are neglectful. Of course, Satan throws in a few tares, and a few curious onlookers show up occasionally along with some bread and fish followers. Next thing you know we end up with a mixed multitude that we cannot take to maturity, and this fallow, uncultivated grown-over ground needs to be broken up!
Now it is our turn to put our hand on the plow with God and call for corporate repentance. Jeremiah describes the idea here (Jeremiah 4:3-4).
For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: “Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and take away the foreskins of your hearts.”
Their hearts were hard and crowded with thorns like a neglected, unplowed field—they needed to plow.
If we are to put full faith in our Father-Husbandman, then we must surrender to the purpose of His plow and welcome his confrontation to our hearts. A shepherd who is believing and faithful during these seasons of plowing will enjoy the fruitful germination of the good seed. No time is wasted with this sharpening.
God plows soil and clears stones.
Plowing is often unseen and seems slow.
God plows sinners—don’t rush it.
God plows sons—don’t despise it.
God plows churches—participate, repent.
Preach the Word while God plows the hearts.
A Touch of Tozer
We rest in what God is. I believe that this alone is true faith. Any faith that must be supported by the evidence of the senses is not real faith. Jesus saith unto him, “Thomas because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
Our concern is not to explain but to proclaim. It is vitally important that we hold the truth of God’s infinite wisdom (in His plowing-mine) as a tenet of our creed, but that is not enough. We must by the exercise of faith and by prayer bring it into the practical world of our day-by-day experience.
God has charged Himself with full responsibility for our eternal happiness and stands ready to take over the management of our lives the moment we turn in faith to Him.
The Knowledge of the Holy, pg. 68-69