Some things are just disappointing. Remember your high school yearbook? In your football uniform, you thought you were a superstar, but after graduation you realized you were a shooting star. Birthday parties are disappointing, too. Now that you’re a grownup you might have a get-together at a restaurant with friends, but the gifts aren’t as exciting, the decorations aren’t as thrilling, and the only clown who shows up is the friend who passes YOU the check. As a full-grown adult, roller coasters are never as good as your anticipation of them, either. You’ll be standing in line for a ride, expecting to finish with a thrill on your face and wind in your hair—but in reality, you’ll end up with a green face and something else in your hair.
Jesus knew that the life of discipleship could be filled with disappointments. At the beginning of his ministry, he chose his twelve disciples, gave them a lesson in casting out demons, and taught them that they were his new family if they did God’s will (Mark 3). He told them to shine like a lamp on a stand (4:21-22), but he also knew that with the darkness around them, they could be easily disillusioned. So he told them a story to help them understand the let-down when witnessing and ministry didn’t meet their expectations:
“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain (Mark 4:3-7 NIV).
Those who have been Christians for a long time have heard countless sermons about the disappointing scenarios in this story. Perhaps you’ve also been discouraged when you tried to share your faith with someone, but you felt like Satan was snatching that message away from them. Or were upset by someone who heard what you said, but spiritually that person didn’t seem to go very deep. Or maybe you got frustrated when you saw a Christian you were mentoring, who allowed the cares of life to strangle out the new growth that had begun. Jesus understood this kind of disappointment, and felt the same way about his disciples sometimes. In fact, in verse 13, Jesus asks them, “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables?” His frustration is apparent, but his ultimate message is one of hope.
Jesus says in verse 8, “Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” The message of this parable is, “I know that if you try really hard to be the witnesses I’ve asked you to be, you’re going to be frustrated and disappointed. Trust me—most people don’t listen to me, either. But there will be a percentage who will listen to you, and the kingdom will grow in them.” The fruit they bear will be amazing. My fiancée, Christina, tells the story of the time she planted two or three cucumber plants in her garden, and it yielded over two hundred cucumbers. They had more than they could eat, more than they could give away, and more than they could turn into pickles. The kingdom of heaven is like that—all you’ve got to do is plant the seed.
Now, sometimes you get discouraged because you can’t see anything growing. You’re trusting God and doing what you should and telling people about Jesus—but you just can’t see anything happening. Don’t be disappointed. Randy Reynolds tells this story:
There was a young woman who took great pride in the growth and care of the flowers in her flower garden. She had been raised by her grandmother who taught her to love and care for flowers as she herself had done. So, like her grandmother, her flower garden was second to none. One day while looking through a flower catalogue she often ordered from, a picture of a plant immediately caught her eye. She had never seen blooms on a flower like that before. “I have to have it,” she said to herself, and she immediately ordered it. When it arrived, she already had a place prepared to plant it. She planted it at the base of a stone wall at the back of her yard. It grew vigorously, with beautiful green leaves all over it, but there were no blooms. Day after day she continued to cultivate it, water it, feed it, and she even talked to it attempting to coax it to bloom. But, it was to no avail. One morning weeks later, as she stood before the vine, she contemplated how disappointed she was that her plant had not bloomed. She was giving considerable thought to cutting it down and planting something else in its place. It was at this point that her invalid neighbor, whose lot joined hers, called over to her. “Thank you so much! You can’t imagine how much I have enjoyed the blooms of that vine you planted.” The young woman walked through the gate into her neighbor’s yard, and sure enough, she saw that on the other side of the wall the vine was filled with blooms. There were indeed the most beautiful blooms she had ever seen. The vine had crept through the crevices and it had not flowered on her side of the fence, it had flowered luxuriantly on the other side. Just because you cannot see the good result of your labour does not mean that it bore no fruit.[i]
Sometimes all you can see is dirt—but faith, like potatoes, grows beneath the surface. Sometimes all you can see are vines and no flowers—but blossoms bloom on the other side of the wall. Sometimes you can’t see any fruit anywhere—but God is doing work that you can’t see. Don’t write people off, just because you can’t see the flowers or fruit. Trust God and continue the work. “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up (Galatians 6:9 NLT).”