By Julian Wells
Series: Lessons From The Cotton Field
“Other seed fell among thorns which grew up and choked the plants. … The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” (Matt. 13: 7, 22)
I vividly recall my first day working in my father’s cotton fields. When I was around eight years old, Daddy decided it was time I learned how to “chop cotton”. After he shortened the handle of my own personal hoe, I crawled into the back of our 1950 Chevy pickup truck along with several other workers and we headed to the field just above our house.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, chopping cotton is the first hoeing that occurs after the young cotton plants become sturdy enough to withstand the process. It involves thinning out excess plants, leaving groups of two or three spaced apart by about the width of the hoe blade. The crusty soil is then tilled with the hoe and gathered to reinforce the remaining plants while removing various weeds, such as Johnson grass, coffee weeds, and thorns. The end result is similar to the photo shown here.
I was actually pretty excited over the thoughts of spending the day working alongside my father and maybe earning a little spending money. The prevailing wage for chopping cotton at the time was $3/day. (I soon discovered to my dismay that it did not apply to family members!) However, the excitement I felt that morning quickly faded as the heat of the midday Georgia sun began to take its toll and the length of the rows increased, taking us far from the next refreshing drink from the communal water jug.
A few weeks later, we would return to the fields to remove any additional weeds that had sprouted up around the cotton plants since the initial chopping. Daddy would then plow the ground between the rows one last time and speak those words that soon became music to my ears, declaring the crop to be “laid by”, meaning work in the cotton fields was complete until the harvest.
Little did I know at the time that I was learning a foundational Biblical principle found in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. We spent many hours in those fields removing weeds that if left unattended would have choked the young cotton plants and greatly reduced the yield at harvest time. Thanks to meticulous soil preparation and timely hoeing and plowing, Daddy rarely failed to achieve his goal of harvesting at least a bale (500 lbs.) of cotton per acre planted.
In the Parable of the Weeds, also found in Matthew 13, our Lord revealed Satan as the sower of weeds designed to make our lives unfruitful. Those weeds may be sins that entangle us, restricting our spiritual growth, and hindering our testimony. (Heb. 12:1) They usually involve activities more aligned with the world’s values than with God’s.
Weeds may be nothing more than trivial pursuits which keep us from setting aside a daily quiet time of spiritual refreshment alone with the Lord, praying and studying His Word. In this day of 200 television stations available 24 hours a day with a simple click of the remote control, and smartphones beckoning us to check out the latest text message, tweet, or Facebook post, we are bombarded with more potential distractions than ever before.
Our personal time bandits may even be worthwhile activities. But just as overly crowded cotton plants strip limited nutrients from the soil and block out sunlight needed for maximum blossoming, too many worthwhile activities can rob us of spiritual nourishment when they leave little time for rest or appropriate quiet time with the Lord. That was Martha’s mistake when she asked Jesus to tell her sister Mary to help her in the kitchen. Our Lord was quick to inform Martha that by sitting “at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he said“, Mary had “chosen what is better“. (Luke 10:39, 42)
Ephesians 5:15-16 (ESV) says “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” No matter where you are in your spiritual walk, you will always encounter those weeds that can choke the impact of the gospel and make you unfruitful. In fact, the stronger we grow in our relationship with the Lord, the more weeds Satan seems to sow.
You will never hear the Lord declare you “laid by” until the day he calls you home. The work we’ve been called to do is too important and the enemy is too formidable.
What people, places, or activities take up the space in your life that is meant for God? Is it time for you to start chopping?
“Time is the most valuable coin in your life. You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent. Be careful that you do not let other people spend it for you.” – Carl Sandburg
Note: All Scripture from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise noted.