Jesus describes the kingdom with a picture story of the sower planting his field. He mentions four types of soil that will receive the sown seed. The seed sown is the Word of God, always full of life and the potential of spiritual power, but the soil type determines how or whether or not that Word of God will take root, grow up, and produce harvest.
The first type of soil He describes is hard, trampled ground. It is the pathway surrounding or running through the field for foot traffic. The ground is hard because it has been walked on repeatedly. The seed that landed in this unplowed area would lie exposed on top of the ground. Jesus says seed sown on the hard ground will be carried away by birds. No plant can develop in this ground, so there is no harvest here.
He clarifies that when the Word of God is preached to people with “unplowed hearts,” the Word does not penetrate the heart, and demons come and carry away that Word. He says that it is as if the Word has not been preached at all. This hardened ground represents the general culture, the travel patterns of the population around and through the fields. To prepare this ground for the Word, we need to plow it, break it open, turn it over and shatter the clods so the seed sown settles into the soil where it is hidden, protected, and can germinate. We can do this through more than one means, but apostolic and prophetic prayer is the most basic and vital form of plowing.
Plowing prayer is intense and often violent. It is a prayer that pushes back the demons poised to carry away the seed. It is prayer that confronts the hardness the culture pounds into place so that the Word spoken has a path to penetrate the heart. Breaking open the soul is intense spiritual work. Breaking open the soul pounded into hardness by the world requires weapons made mighty through God.
Study of any awakening will reveal a consistent, intense, strategic plowing prayer movement often characterized by intercessors whose entire effort in the kingdom is focused upon plowing the pathway: that is, they do little else but pray. This kind of prayer has fallen upon hard times, ridicule and devaluation in the spiritual economy of the kingdom. It is a currency so neglected that it is framed on the wall like obsolete bills or filed away as historic samples of previous generations; we tend to post plowing prayer like the first bill received to open a restaurant is displayed over the register.
Yet, plowing prayer is essential to the kingdom because the Word that produces life and harvest will be lost to swooping demons preying upon the preached Word sown on unplowed ground. These demons are not eating the bread of life with any thought of life; they are carrion consumers who empty the Word of life by hardening the hearts of those with unprepared spiritual soil. They are vultures who multiply on unprepared soil. “It is as if the Word was never spoken at all.” The pathways are dominated by territorial birds.
The level of unbelief in the atmosphere over unplowed ground is staggering! Because the path lies so close to and runs through the producing field, we would think this ground would be recognized for its potential for life, fruit, and harvest. Yet, this ground has often been forfeited or confiscated by those who does not understand its potential or purpose at all. It remains unplowed ground and is often ground violated by an unsuspecting public, unclaimed and untilled.
Plowing prayer has a violent, disruptive characteristic, plunging the hardened steel deeply into the pressed earth, it alters the conditions in ways that shake the soil. It is bold prayer! It is authoritative prayer! It is an agony of soul, pushing through limits and barriers, uncovering forgotten or never-before-seen elements in land defined and marked as “common” for many years. It is desert ground inches away from fruit-producing soil.
Plowing prayer is filled with as much passion for souls as preaching and demonstrations of power; it declares the same purpose as the sower. It is as legitimate prayer, as legitimate as preaching. It is as important and valuable as the sowing of seed that someone plow the field and prepare the ground.
While tens of millions may be spent on sowing, only prepared soil will receive the seed being sown! The attraction of the public portrayal of casting about the Word nearly always overwhelms the less desirable, more laborious work of piercing the ground, breaking open and breaking up the hardened ground that has been beaten down by weather and weight, used and abused by life, wind-swept and scoured by time.
The priority of preaching cannot be dismissed or diminished, but the sower of the Word is as often the carrier of seed received by preaching who can strategically insert the revelation of life into prepared soil (preaching isn’t only means of sowing). Yet, a sower may still see the seed remain exposed to the birds when shown on unplowed soil; the hearer fails to hear at heart, the place of germination. This is not a failure of the seed! It is not the failure of the sower! It is a failure or absence of the plow to penetrate.
Plow the Pathways!
We are entering a season of great sowing and harvest! Think of the Amos declaration of plows and sowers in the field at the same time! A supply of seed has arrived, ready for release! A company of seed sowers and harvesters are entering the fields. The need for plowing prayer has never been greater!
In reality, I believe, there is a super supply of sowing but a massive dearth of plowing prayer. Even the prayer movement has moved, to a large extent, into a form of recreational intercession that soaks in soulish emoting more than it rises to shake and shatter the unplowed ground. The Tent of David is filled with warriors who know worship, worshippers who know war. The Tent of David is a place of violence and victory as well as a spiritual spa for soaking in myrrh. The two things are not at odds, but any kind of prayer that does not produce a passion for sacrifice can be a distraction to purpose. The passion for Jesus that causes us to “love not our lives” will move us from the spa and into the war!
Certainly, the plowers are not an overwhelming percentage of the people of God. And, I would not expect that the plowers have manicured fingertips parading about in dramatic postures. I believe we do damage and bring unnecessary division by assuming that David’s Army coming from the restoration of David’s Tent must be compose only of sowers, only of plowman, only of reapers, or only of cultivators. This produces of sort of kingdom union mentality in which the Union of Harvesters demand more attention at the expense of the Union of Sowers they perceive are getting more attention or better working conditions and pay. The negotiations needed to return everyone to work comes at a high price to all involved and a staggering imbalance to the entire kingdom.
We should rather assume that a restoration of David’s Tent will raise an army of David’s that will pioneer plowed pathways in the nations. (David’s damage occurred when he stayed home from conquest.) David was prophet, priest, warrior, king, as well as worshipper. There should be no conflict or specialization in the army that causes us to settle into separate causes. If you can produce sowers, they should be partnered with plowman.
Having the best sowers in history does little for the seed that falls upon the pathway. Unless the plow has broken through the trampled surface and exposed the rich soil hidden beneath the packed earth pounded by rains and scoured by winds, the best seed will be demon fodder. Certainly we should continue seasonal plowing or strategic tilling of the good soil and the weedy soil, but someone will have an assignment to grind the gravel to powder and pierce the pathways with steel! If all we are good at is cultivating good soil, we have defined the limits of production more narrowly than God intended. Perhaps we have substituted tillers for plows, the machinery of our intercession is set to a depth that stirs up the same soil season after season. The plows that are necessary to open the prairies require a much more violent operation than garden tillers.
We often avoid and dismiss the pathways of unplowed ground, turning them over to the birds: in this scenario, the birds are demons who carry away the seed that lies on top of the pathways or roads that run through the fields. In this scenario, we limit our work to tilling good soil and weedy soil, preparing what has already been worked many times for sowing, and we leave the hard places to the enemy! In reality, we are just as responsible for the hard places! The pathways infested with preying birds are as good as the soil that has given us many seasons of welcomed harvests. We tend to tilling where the work is easiest instead of plowing the hard places.
A great deal of seed is wasted in Jesus’ account of the Sower – His revelation of how things work in the kingdom of God – the seed that falls on hardened pathways become the food of demons. Hard ground, stone piles and gravel, weed-infested soil – they waste the precious seed we set aside from the last harvests.
Plowing Prayer and Awakening
In one very specific way, I see awakening – in the technical sense, distinguished from revival – as the plow breaking open the hardened soil of the general population. They have received a greater bombardment of seed sown than at any time in history, but that seed sown has become the food of demons at a greater rate because the kind of plowing prayer need to break open the popular pathways has not occurred. Instead of influencing and impacting the culture, the church has been developing a subculture. The world is ignoring the subculture, and the good soil is receiving less and less proper fertilizer, less and less weed control initiatives, and the gravel and stone piles around the perimeter left to fads and fantasy that fade in the season of adversity. We have traded our plowshare for garden tillers.
While I seem to spend a lot of time in weed removal, with another special emphasis upon removing the stones and gravel so people can develop depth, the reality is that much of what I do internationally is plowing prayer, a breaker anointing to open hardened pathways to receive the preached and distributed Word. Not so much in America.
However, the season for plowing prayer has come to America! It is time for a breaker anointing to pierce the open pathways, the general culture must be pierced with steel! The plowing prayer that will break the Ecclesia into kingdom establishing differs significantly from the cultivators that stir up the same soil season after season!
History reveals a marked contrast between the prayers that cultivate good soil and the plowing prayer that pierces the broader atmospheres of cities and regions! This prayer is violent, intense, birth pangs of stretching and labor, contractions of the soul that cry for a something to be born that has been carried to full term. I am trying to avoid an “this or nothing” discussion as if people who are doing a different type of cultivation are wrong or unneeded. What I am attempting to say is that some people have abandoned or neglected plowing prayer because they discovered a gentler and more comfortable devotionalism, not realizing they are doing more emoting in their intimacy than warring or even cultivating. Some warriors went on R&R, got into a spa for soaking in myrrh, signed up for maternity leave as the bride, and went AWOL! They entered into a “devotional state of mind.”
We are in danger of dismissing plowing prayer altogether in favor of sentimentality and soulish devotionalism characterized by a massive emphasis upon ourselves, taking desk jobs and shuffling paper to avoid the frontlines of the warfare. In another setting and time, leaders would call what we are normalizing “cowardly,” and those who were sitting at desks and shuffling paper would feel left out of the “real war,” knowing they were at a desk because of assignment but understanding that their work was necessary support for the “real conflict.”
I know I’m getting into trouble here with a whole section of the kingdom, but we must face the reality that we are at war! Instead of redrawing our boundary lines again and again to avoid bloody confrontations of conquest, we need to get the warriors back in the battle! We cannot pioneer from a comfortable “good-soil” position, and during the seasons of conquest, like the one we are in, a great deal of emphasis, energy, and effort must be transferred to the priority of plowing because we are in conquest mode. We are expanding the field!
The genius and genuineness of deep passionate worship and intercession should bring every participant to a place of sacrifice and self-denial: true intercessors and worshippers should be more prepared to die for the Master! What we are now experiencing may be doing that to some extent, but there is a portion of the worship and prayer movement that is producing an addiction to parade march, polished brass buttons, and presentations of arms more than combat-ready warriors. In war time the soldiers become a priority. In seasons of conquest, the plow becomes a priority so we can break the hardened ground outside the boundaries of our present cultivation, expand the fields to increase good ground – removing stones and eliminating weeds – and stop feeding the birds.
Perhaps our attitude has become: “leave the hardened roads and pathways to the devil and his preying birds.” We see the good soil as the subcultural assignment and weaken it more and more with repeated cultivation. As we do, we begin to convince ourselves that the soil with weeds is not “so bad, inevitable,” and should be part of the field. We begin to say, “Well, this soil is not so bad. Let’s have more love for the weedy plots, make room in the field for these good plants.” We begin redefine the field by celebrating good plants instead of demanding fruit. We learn to put up with weeds until the weeds end up everywhere, choking the field of its harvest.
In other words, when the kingdom stops plowing hard places, it moves toward an inevitable redefinition of kingdom assignment and mission, of accepting a small, defined place, and redefining its purpose. By definition, the field accommodates good plants that produce no fruit without realizing this definition of purpose will soon mean that the entire field is choked with weeds. Sowing the Word becomes the end all. Weed removal falls out of favor. Stoney places are welcomed into the field in substitution for expansion – “Look how we’ve grown – now that we’ve included the gravel and stone piles inside the boundary markers!” At some point someone actually says, “The hardened pathways are not our responsibility.” A few protests are sounded, but soon everyone realizes how much better they feel. “If we are sowing good seed, we are doing our job. There will always be birds hovering over the hardened places. Not our problem.”
We fail to realize that when we lose the pioneering priority, we have already started down a pathway that will redefine the purpose of the field, reduce our passion for weed removal, and lure us into a new definition for “growth” that makes gravel and stone piles part of the “good soil.” [Some “church growth” involves trucking in top soil from someone else’s field.] Without pioneering and conquest, we have already begun a accepting the concept that weed removal is not our problem, interpreting Jesus’ discussion of wheat and tares to mean that we should just await the end time while holding our own! We fail to understand the wheat and tares as a seasonal discussion: at each harvest, we must separate wheat and tares so that the harvested seed we will use to sow isn’t a mixture so we are not guilty of sowing wheat and tares ourselves after the next plowing. Without this understanding, we harvest one season and plant mixed seed and the next generation grows up without knowing the difference between wheat and tares.
Some of our most advanced efforts at “taking to the streets” have produced an expanded shoulder of stone piles and gravel, people who received with joy but have not root to live long enough to get the weeds out and become good ground. Some are now defining Jesus’ discussion of the field as a picture of the church, saying that we should accept the hard ground, the shallow stone piles and gravel pits, along with the weed infestations as a new norm. The love, grace, and mercy of God is so great that He has welcomed all these soil types into His farm, and someday He will return to make them all good soil. “The field is the world, so that’s just the way it is. Go ahead and throw the seed around and hope for the best. As long as you are throwing seed around, you are doing your job.”
I’m pretty certain that the rest of the Bible clarifies that weeds need to be removed at the root, that stones that cause shallow soil should be shattered, and that God hasn’t normalized any areas of the earth as places that belong to the devil so the birds won’t go hungry. Just saying…
The Awakening Team
What most pioneers have learned is that a team is needed to plow the prairies. True pioneers do not envision tiny plots of family gardens dotting vast expanses of waste land. They see every square inch of the land as part of the production process. To the pioneer, rocks exist to make fences, not for piles of neglected land where thin soil coverage wastes precious seed. Pathways are needed, but they are strategic pathways, not open invitations to flocks of carrion consumers. [Pioneers bury their dead honorably.] Vultures should feel comfortable in the wilderness, not around the settlements, dealing with wild things, not living off poorly-devised agricultural processes.
What concerns us – and we cannot make the picture story parable walk on all fours, taking it too far in analogy since the parable has simple messages by definition – is not that the land will someday be populated by city-dwellers, but that we will become so comfortable with city dwelling that we leave vast tracts of the land to exposure. “The field is the world” does not speak of geography but of populations and cultures. Jesus is discussing the four soil types in terms of their state of preparation for the seed.
An awakening team will emerge when everyone is properly aligned and positioned in their alignment: Jesus has certainly called and chosen a proper proportion of plowmen and sowers to work the fields. However, the proportion of His strategy looks odd when we stop pioneering as a priority. Only when pioneering leadership governs both the city and the conquest will we see a proper balance in team proportion. In a completely different picture: when a company neglects research and development, it may already be entering a twilight of deterioration.
When I was growing up in Rush County, Indiana, the Pioneer Seed company had signs dotting the entire countryside. Some discussion could be given here to whether Jesus was asking us to produce hybrid seed that was better adapted to soil types or whether He was asking us to do the hard work of preparing the soil for His Pioneer Seed. Perhaps the constant here is the Seed, the Word of God, and the conquest before us is the preparation of the soil to produce the harvest of that Pioneer Seed every harvest. It stands to reason that Jesus has already designed a hybrid that will prosper in every type of properly prepared soil. He makes it clear that there is more to the kingdom than seed spreading.
Let me say in finishing that I understand the story to be an explanation to His disciples of why Jesus wasn’t speaking plainly to the crowds. He explains that He cannot be clear with them because they are not ready to receive His message. To me, that seems to support the idea that He really doesn’t wish to waste seed sowing in unprepared ground. I then picture the work of His disciples sent out to the cities to which Jesus would also visit as preparation of the populace for His personal seed sowing. In general, I guess I am speaking prophetically from the principles, but I don’t see any exegetical damage from this treatment of the parable.