Saturday, November 7, 2009

Beyond Sowing & Reaping

Sowing and reaping is a popular subject of modern Bible teachers. We hear a lot about the importance of sowing the right seed and believing for the harvest and these teachings are altogether appropriate because the principle illuminates a great promise clearly seen in God’s Word. But this article looks at another principle we’ll call ‘beyond sowing and reaping.’ Again, this does not, in any way, diminish insight on sowing and reaping. But, careful examination of God’s Word reveals certain instances when people experience blessing of unmerited and unearned favor; a place beyond sowing and reaping.

Perfect Sowing & Reaping: Not so Good

If we lived in a perfect sowing and reaping world, most of us would not fare so well in the long run because it would be a world of perfect justice. If we only reap good fruit from the good we sow and then reap bad fruit for the bad we sow—that’s not so good. There are honestly some seeds that I’ve planted that I don’t want to harvest. And there are some other places where I haven’t sown as diligently as I ought to, but I’d still love to get some kind of good outcome. I really do not want to live in a perfect sowing and reaping world.

Again it is important to respect the Word and emphasize an important spiritual law: Galatians Chapter six from verse six says, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”

Sowing to the Spirit through Prayer

When a veritable tornado picked me up and thrust me into the Kingdom of God 27 years ago I’m fortunate that I didn’t instantly end up in a church where people attempted to temper my enthusiasm. I’ve discovered over the years that often among long-time Christians there is a cynical sense of apathy toward new on-fire believers—almost a union mentality. This voice says, “Take it easy and pace yourself; don’t work so hard.” I’m glad I didn’t come into the Kingdom with people like that around me.

Upon my initial entrance into God’s Kingdom the only guidance I had was from Sunday TV preachers saying that if I didn’t give absolutely everything I had to God I probably wasn’t even really saved. In particular, Kenneth Copeland was on TV teaching at the time that all committed Spirit-filled Christians should spend at least an hour every day praying in the Holy Spirit. I just believed him and obeyed. I honestly didn’t know any better so I assumed that everyone who was baptized in the Holy Spirit prayed in the Spirit for an hour every single day. I took off like a rocket, feverishly sowing to the Spirit because I knew I had a lot of catching up to do.

Within a few months after my entrance into the Kingdom we moved to a new town and had access to the TBN television network—more preachers saying the same thing. Kenneth Hagin quickly became one of my favorite Bible teachers on TBN and he taught that praying in the Spirit an hour a day is really good… if you want average. Hagin claimed sometimes he prayed in the Spirit two or three hours a day. Meanwhile I was, during this time, voraciously devouring my Bible and learned that on occasion Jesus prayed all night. Wow, I thought, I want to do that!

These teachings on the heels of a profound salvation/baptism-in-the-Spirit experience thrust me into a very consistent and devoted life of prayer: sowing to the Spirit. It is important to note that none of this was dry lifeless prayer. True interaction with a living God engages the mind as sure as a good book or intimate conversation with a friend or lover. There is a sense of His presence that permeates your mind the longer you spend time in the Spirit speaking in His language.

Beyond Sowing and Reaping: My Story of God’s Glory

In the late autumn of 1982 when I was twenty six years old, my wife Nancy and her parents went out one night to a Christian meeting and they came back with an incredible story. At this time in my life, I had no living relationship with God and was not into all of this charismatic jazz. The story they told that night, however, really caught my interest. A women at the meeting said that Jesus Christ recently came into her bedroom one night, sat on the edge of her bed and spoke to her for a couple hours while her husband slept through the whole thing.

Having been raised in a church I knew about Jesus and believed in him like one knows about and believes in George Washington. He’s a guy from a history book that I knew ‘about.’ But there was something in the way they told this story—especially coming from my father-in-law, a man I respected—that deeply affected me. They actually believed this lady was credible; they weren’t calling her a raving nut. I thought to myself, “Can Jesus Christ do that? Can He actually visit a person?” It completely blew out my theological circuits!

Just considering this premise made me feel instantly very spiritually hungry; a sensation I’d never known before. Apparently, this short-circuit of my established materialistic God-logic completely fried my fuses of resistance. So, with freshly fried logic, I quickly devised an experiment to test this new spiritual possibility and because I was a prideful son-of-a-gun I did not tell anyone what I was planning to do. I decided to go to a secret place and pray to see if Jesus would come to me if I asked Him. I figured if Jesus came to that lady he might come to me.

At ten o’clock PM two days later I left my house and went to the empty print shop where I worked as manager by day. I placed a wooden pallet on the floor as a kneeler, knelt down and said, “God… Jesus… Will you fill me with the Holy Spirit and give me your gifts?” It was the most informal, unreligious sort of prayer you can imagine and… POW! God hit me with a million Holy-Spirit-volts of His love and changed the trajectory of my life forever. I was, most importantly, electrified with a love for Him and undeniably sensed His love for me. I, who had always been the consummate average Joe, suddenly felt special, important and favored by the God of the whole universe.

Events like this highlight the realization that when engaging God we are encountering a person, not an impersonal force or a cold solution to some spiritual equation. I did not sow even one small seed into that magnificent event—I was simply an object of God’s unmerited love and I reaped a harvest for which I had done nothing.

One Who Reaps Where He has not Sown

This brings us to the parable of the unprofitable servant in Matthew 25:14-30. In the story, the master returns from his long journey and calls the first servant who says (my paraphrase), “You gave me five million bucks to invest and I made you five million more bucks.” And, the next servant says, “You gave me two million bucks to invest and I made you two million more bucks.” And, the third servant says, “You gave me a million bucks and here’s your million bucks back. I was afraid of losing it so I safely hid it because I know about you, “You are a hard man, you’ve reaped where you haven’t sown and you’ve gathered where you haven’t scattered seed.”

And the lord says back to him, “You know, you’re right—I do reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed.” Obviously the point of the parable is to reveal the lazy and wicked servant’s excuse as pale and illegitimate but it also reveals, almost accidentally, an important characteristic about God: He is able to do anything, including reaping where He hasn’t sown and gathering where He has not scattered seed.

Favor: The Promised Land

God can harvest where he hasn’t scattered seed and so in Him is an ability beyond sowing and reaping—the place of favor. Favor is the place where God will overlook my weaknesses, give me multiple chances to succeed, love me under every circumstance, give me special gifts, riches and glory, just because he loves and favors me. Favor is the root of the word favorite! Imagine being a heavenly ‘teacher’s pet’ or God’s favorite child.

Joseph the Favorite Child

For a pure biblical prototype of favor-in-action, the life of Joseph from Genesis is unmatched. Joseph is extraordinary for many reasons but it seems like he had an unfair advantage right from the beginning. “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors” Genesis 37:3. It was his dad’s arbitrary will to love him more than any of his other children. Joseph had unmerited and unearned favor from his father. He did not do anything extraordinary or plant any seeds to invoke the principle of sowing and reaping to receive this favor; it was only because his father happened to be old when he was born.

In many ways Joseph is a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus because like Joseph, Jesus was His Father’s favored child. But for our purposes, let us consider Joseph’s coat as a prophecy of Jesus. Our beautiful coat of covering is Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Joseph’s father loved him more than all his children and made a gorgeous colorful coat for him to wear just like Jesus is a beautiful coat for us to wear. The Scripture says, “…as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27), and, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Romans 13:14).

The Colorful Coat is Jesus

The Father made a coat for you to wear because He loves you and, like Joseph was to his father, you are the child of God’s old age. (God must be pretty old seeing as He is called the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7). Your faith-courage grows by seeing Jesus as a colorful custom-made coat on your shoulders, made especially for you by God Almighty. Now when the Father sees you He sees Jesus covering you. Jesus Christ—His own master creation who He loves with all His heart is your identity and covering.

If you can believe it, God can never be mad at you as long as you are hidden in Christ, wearing the coat He made for you. Your inner voice may condemn you saying, you are really not good enough to merit being God’s favorite child. Exactly! That’s why you have a coat; so when God looks at you, He sees Jesus first. Your sin is covered by the coat. When Joseph’s father looked at him, he first saw the beautiful coat he made with his own hands.

Joseph didn’t win his father’s love. He received His father’s love. It was his father’s personal arbitrary decision to give his love and make a handmade coat. That coat was a public statement saying, “This boy is my favorite son and all of my glory rests on him.” All Joseph had to decide was whether or not to wear the coat.

The Colorful Coat Draws Attention

The Father God likewise loves to see His children proudly covered by Jesus Christ, however, like dressing in a peculiar brilliant colored garment, some believers feel embarrassed to go out in public with their faith. In fact, many Christians put the funny-looking, bright, ostentatious coat of their Christian identity in the closet whenever they go out. I’ll bet Joseph felt real funny at first wearing that blazing colorful coat on the farm with all his brothers and the servants staring at him saying, “Who does that clown think he is? He’s no better than us!”

The coat Joseph wore was a public statement and a peculiar, loud and meaningful garment that marked him as a person with a special position and destiny in his life. Normal life was forever over for Joseph once he got that coat. Likewise, Jesus instructs His people to, “Let your light so shine before men…” (Matthew 5:16) and, "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32-33). Joseph lived among a large family of livestock herdsmen with this odd colorful coat just like we are supposed to wear Jesus on our lips openly among our family and friends.

The Price of Favor: Persecution

The price we pay for enjoying God’s favor is frequently the anger and resentment of many close friends and family members. Jesus was clear about this when He warned that the enemies of His followers would be of their own household (Matthew 10:34-39). Joseph had this same kind of trouble with his family members. Genesis 37 mentions several times about how his brothers’ hatred continued to grow and grow toward Joseph until they finally conspired to kill him. Even his own father was taken aback at his big dream. All of this grief was because he was full of confidence rooted in the unashamed favor of his dad and dreams from God.

Where do we get this Christianity measured by our popularity? The truth is that we’re supposed to wear the favor of God on our lips openly and unashamedly. We’re supposed to walk around singing, “My Father loves me, so you can’t hurt me. I am His favorite child. I have a wonderful future and dream.” But instead many whine as if we can all relate to the famous old spiritual, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”

The Keys of Repentance

This is not to diminish the mistakes and trials that do certainly impact our lives but the Bible gives the antidote for sin and grief. In fact, it says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). So, the key to favor is to forgive others because we ourselves need to be forgiven, stay freshly repentant for our own sins and to wear our Jesus coat. “My Father loves me, so you can’t hurt me.” Remember, the Father harvests where he hasn’t planted any seeds. This is favor beyond reaping and sowing!

If you can believe it, you can walk through life with the attitude of a favorite child of God Almighty. You have the right to be convinced that He is always looking at you affectionately and admiringly. Do you understand how amazing this is? Do you understand what God has given us? Many people walk around covered with a coat of average with their wildest dream to win some stupid lottery. Christians sometimes live with coats of anger, criticism, backbiting, judging, and sarcasm, saying, “Gosh aren’t we Americans cool.” We would rather wear our cool coat, pretending to do great in life and covering-up our fear of failure, than wear our Jesus coat of God’s favor.

Does Coolness Cancel Out Favor?

People today seem to care more about being cool than being righteous. Even among hip young church leaders it is prevailing wisdom to have the appropriate cool tattoo, wear the right clothes, cool shoes, right haircut, say the right cool catch-phrase, and know all the words to the right songs—because looking and sounding like everyone else is an important gauge of coolness. But Joseph had this very uncool coat made for him by his dad and it is clearly implied that he wore it continuously. It helped separate him and make him an outcast in his own family.

We can easily imagine a young person today saying, “Mom, do I have to wear the coat Dad made for me in public? I can’t let my friends see me in this.” His mother would retort, “Your father made it for you so be quiet and wear the coat.” And so Joseph cannot help but feel awkward: both out of place with his brothers and specially loved by his father. When he tries to befriend his brothers all they can think is how they don’t have a special coat from their father. They all work just as hard for their dad and they don’t get an awesome coat like Joseph’s.

Joseph finally starts getting used to being different so he eventually sort of struts around with his colorful coat and feels like a superhero. And the brothers are mad at him. “Oh I hate that guy,” they’re saying, “Who does he think he is?” In the same way, if you have a dream and a vision from God on your lips, just get ready for it, the backlash is coming. Unfortunately, many Christians do not wear their coat boldly but keep it in the closet when unsaved family and friends are around to ‘keep the peace.’ This is like pretending you do not know how to read to keep illiterate people from feeling bad.

Moreover, when you leave your Jesus coat in the closet it will hinder your ability to receive a dream from God. When you are more self-conscious and concerned about being rejected by family and friends than walking in your Father’s blessing, you will not have the free flowing relationship needed to receive a genuine God-dream.

Is God With You in a Pit?

So, Joseph’s big dream gets him thrown into a pit and sold into slavery. Is God still with Joseph in the pit? You’re darn right He is. Is he with him while working as a slave for a heathen named Potiphar? Absolutely, yes. How about when he’s thrown in jail? Is God with him then? Yes.

Joseph’s confidence in God’s favor was completely immovable and he produced a profit in every situation he found himself in. Christians who are not secure in their favor with God do not have confidence when things in life turn bad. Many quickly revert to their old sinful ways assuming that God is too hard to understand or He must have turned against them.

So, every time you get thrown in a pit, and you think, “Oh God! Where’s my coat of your favor?” just know that God didn’t walk out on you. There is no sin that coat won’t cover. There is nothing that you’ve done that can separate you from the love of God. Nothing! There’s no pit that you’ve found yourself in that can separate you. It’s God’s good pleasure to give you His love. And, it’s all received and activated by faith.

God’s favor has nothing to do with your personality type. The Bible does not say anything about Joseph’s personality. It doesn’t say anything about his IQ, wisdom, looks, virtue, love, strength or honesty. It just says that his father loved him for his own reasons—Joseph was born later in his life and Israel just favored him. Maybe by this time his father said I’m just going to love this kid. “Yeah, Joe, want the keys to the car? Yeah go, go ahead… but wear that nice coat I made for you.” What does seem apparent however is the favor had the effect of drawing greatness and virtue out of Joseph. God’s favor should affect us the same way.

If you can receive it, God’s favor is on you. There’s no price you can pay to get it. It’s free. You just have to receive it by faith. Does your heart resonate with this message? Can it connect? Do you believe there is logic in the message of God’s love through Jesus Christ that can compete with the logic of the world that speaks against this message? That’s really the question. At the end of the day what we are faced with is an issue of logic. The logical equation of the Gospel is this: humans are fallen in sin and need a savior and God loved us and sent us His Son to die for us – that’s the logic of the gospel.

The logic of the world says that we’re accidentally evolving into something, we don’t know where we came from, and we don’t know where we’re going. Pick your logic. I’ll take the one which promises me eternal life and God’s unmerited favor any day of the week. I’ll take the logic of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.