"A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” Matthew 13:3-8
A few years ago my husband was given some bulbs of hardy red-skinned garlic, a strain that came to America over 100 years ago from Southern Italy through Ellis Island Philadelphia. The first year the garlic grew moderately. The second year the yield was horrible. The bulbs were tiny, the flavor was mild and the skin was more brownish than red. Last year, however, the bulbs were huge, the skin veined with deep red and the garlic fragrance rich and pungent through the skin.
We used seeds from the same strain every year. What was the difference this last year?
The first year, we tilled the ground and planted the bulbs. The soil wasn't too bad as it was. The second year we did the same thing—till the ground and plant the bulbs. We didn’t, however, do anything to replenish the nutrients in the soil that were used by our crop the previous year. The soil that year was hard, weedy and dense.
For last year's crop, we learned our lesson. We put in a lot of work to prepare the soil. We tilled in sand and some compost, and mulched with a thick layer of pine chips to protect the seeds, and then weeded regularly until we harvested last July.
We still had a few of our bulbs not growing as perfectly as they could have grown--we think there were still some nutrient-depleted pockets and a few areas along the edge of the garden with poor drainage. So we worked the soil again--tilled in bone meal and dried blood along with more compost and sand before we planted again in October. We have 150 plants this year, and they look beautiful so far.
Sometimes rich soil just happens, and sometimes it doesn't. If it does just happen, it doesn't stay rich for long. Working that soil is the most important part of gardening, and it takes deliberate, dedicated and dynamic effort to keep the soil nutrient-rich and suitable for planting.
Even in ancient times they didn't just drop the seeds and let them grow. The rich soil, composted and weeded during the growing season, was left in the hot, summer sun after spring's harvest. In the fall, the seed that was sown on the "rich soil" was then ploughed under—a laborious undertaking after the heat of the summer hardened the earth.
Isn't this the same with us?
"In toil shall you eat [the ground's] yield all the days of your life." Genesis 3:17
It takes effort to keep our hearts and souls ready to perpetually receive the Word which is Christ (John 1) that we might be fruitful unto His purpose. This effort requires letting go of the notion that spontaneous, serendipitous encounters with grace are sufficient. Are relationships and friendships lasting and fruitful when left to chance?
A deliberate, dedicated and dynamic plan encompassing our prayer life, our formative efforts and our love for each other will reap extraordinary harvests year after year. The more we develop our habits of prayer, the more we get to know ourselves. In time, we begin to see better our less fertile areas and adjust our efforts; and the more fruitful an instrument for our Lord we become.
And the bountiful harvest is worth every bit of the efforts.