What is God doing?
When we face a major disruption to our lives and ministries, we often ask ourselves what God might be intending to do through this disruption. I am sure that many of you have been asking yourselves that question over the past few weeks. We have seen the COVID-19 virus spread throughout the world, infecting hundreds of thousands and severely disrupting our day-to-day lives. After a few weeks of dealing with travel bans, we are now seeing country after country implementing lock-downs, closing schools, and telling churches that they can no longer meet in person. What is God doing through all this? How is this an answer to our prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven”?
A parable from farming
A few days ago, I was reading a short parable in chapter 28 of the book of Isaiah.
When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and working the soil? When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field? His God instructs him and teaches him the right way. Is 28:24-26.
Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord is telling the people to recognize a fundamental principle that can be seen in the work of any farmer. Plowing does not continue forever. It has a well-defined purpose and definite end-point.
Plowing is preparing the soil
I grew up on a farm. In Saskatchewan, we almost never use plows but instead till the soil with cultivators. In spring, when the fields were sufficiently dry, my father would send me out with a tractor and cultivator to start working the fields in preparation for seeding. We needed to break up the crusty hardpan after winter so that water, air, and nutrients could penetrate the soil. We wanted to turn under the stubble from the previous harvest so that it would decompose faster and provide a good soft seedbed. Weeds had to be encouraged to sprout so that they could be killed with the next pass of the farm machinery. Tilling the soil is pretty disruptive!
What was God doing in Isaiah’s day?
Similarly, Isaiah was telling the people about a huge disruption that was going to overturn all that was normal. In Isaiah 28, he refers to it as “the destruction decreed against the whole land.” (Is 28:22). But these hard times were God’s way of preparing them for what he wanted to do in them and through them.
I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities. (Isaiah 1:25)
What is God doing today?
I believe that what is happening in our world today is God’s way of plowing. We see a lot of disruption and hear lots of news about death and disease these days with COVID-19 spreading so rapidly. I believe that this can be a time when people begin to distrust those things in which they have found security in the past and begin seeking for that which will carry them through this unprecedented crisis. When hearts are hardened, God knows how to disrupt lives. I believe this disruption can serve to encourage people to stop relying on their former securities, question their old assumptions, and reassess their priorities.
This can be a time when God prepares the hearts of people for the Gospel. Already, we are hearing early stories of people coming to faith through this crisis. I trust that there will be many more.
Plowing ends and seeding begins
When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and working the soil? Is 28:24.
Let’s return to what happened on the farm in spring when I was growing up. This process of cultivating all our fields could take a few weeks, but it had a clear purpose and a definite end-point. We were preparing the soil for seeding and it ended when seeding was about to begin. While I was cultivating, Dad would prepare and clean the seed, purchase fertilizer, clean and repair the seed drill, and fill it with seed and fertilizer. When he was ready to start seeding a field, cultivating stopped on that field. Once the field is seeded, we might run over it with a set of harrows, but never with a cultivator. The seed had been placed at the right depth, and now we needed to leave it alone to germinate and grow.1(I know that with some of the modern farming machinery, the tilling and seeding happens in one pass. But when I was growing up on the farm, it was always a two-step process.)
Joy is coming
Similarly, Isaiah makes it clear that joy, salvation, and fruitfulness will take the place of destruction, death, and sorrow. The theme of future joy often accompanied by singing resonates throughout the book (Is 12:3, 24:14-16, 30:29, 35:1-2, 51:1, 52:8, 61:3).
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. Is 9:1-3
God’s discipline, destruction, and even death would not go on indefinitely. As the farmer does not continue plowing forever, in the same way, God does not continually disrupt and destroy that which people have been trusting in. There comes a time when sowing begins, which eventually leads to harvesting.
Opportunities for sowing
As I have been meditating on these verses in Isaiah during these past days, I am convinced that there will come a time during this COVID-19 crisis when there will be an opportunity for sowing the Word of God – the Gospel of Good News that Jesus has come to this broken world as King and Saviour. The Lord has a wonderful plan (Is 28:29), a plan which we do not yet see.
This conviction has impacted my prayer life as well. Daily, I pray the prayer request of Matthew 9:37-38:
The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
But these days, I have been praying not just for harvesters. I am praying that God would send out sowers at the right time to the fields that he has prepared.