Richard grew tobacco in a field across the street from our house.
It wasn’t the only thing he did. By the late 1990s the tobacco industry was changing. Thanks to multiple court decisions that reflected the realities of a changing culture, it was becoming harder and harder to make a living farming tobacco.
But in the community where I lived, and in the congregation I served, there were still a few people for whom the annual rite of planting, priming and putting in tobacco was as much a part of life as Christmas or the first day of school. A year without those things was unimaginable. Richard was, and as best I know still is, one of those people.
The field across the road from our house was nondescript. There were many fields just like it in Western Wake and Chatham counties. Given that the regular traffic of my life took me by this particular field over and over again, I paid more attention to what was happening across the street. I took notice of the activity there, the clouds of hot dust from a tractor, the healthy look of the lush broad-leafed plants, the threatening bleached brown that appeared when summer rains refused to fall.
And one year I noticed that none of that was happening. The field across the street looked scrappy and grown over, almost neglected or forgotten about.
I asked about it. I don’t remember, but I might have asked Richard himself. The answer was common sense, even for someone like me who can barely grow grass in the yard. To stay healthy, the soil needs a break from time to time. The same fields are not planted in every year.
“You are God’s field.” So wrote Paul to the bickering believers in Corinth.
Paul was trying to counter the Corinthian tendency to make celebrities of their teachers. Their attachments to and allegiances with a particular teacher / preacher was causing division among them. So Paul seized upon a word picture: He and Apollos and Peter and anyone else who labored among them were only field hands, planting and watering.
God makes things grow. And “you are God’s field.”
What was true of the Corinthians is true of you as well. God is at work cultivating something beautiful in your life. Specifically, God causes the life of the Spirit to become increasingly evident in you. This is what growth looks like: we become more patient, more inclined to kindness, more self-controlled. Elsewhere Paul called these things “fruit” of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Think of it as what grows in a healthy field.
But like all fields, sometimes the soil that is your soul lies dormant. The field appears to be neglected, overgrown and unruly. The ground feels hard. Nothing is happening there, or so it seems.
God, however, is always cultivating his fields with purpose and intent. The dormant season is not a mistake. What looks like neglect is preparation. What seems to have been forgotten and set aside holds promise for days yet to come. You are God’s field. And God continually cultivates life, especially in the quiet and difficult days when it seems that nothing at all is happening.
Are these days of visible growth or is the field of your life dormant and waiting?
Gracious God we give you thanks for times of growth. And we also give you thanks for the dormant season, knowing that even then you are at work to bring life out of the hardened places in our lives. Do your work among us according to your purposes and in your time, we pray. Amen.