Chopping Cotton

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)

imageI 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.

imageLittle 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.

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Making God Visible

Series: Reflections From John

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! … I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God. … He must become greater; I must become less.’” (John 1:29, 34, 3:30)image

We live in a time of great anticipation of Christ’s promised return. John the Baptist came along at a time of great anticipation of Christ’s first appearance. In fact, the anticipation was so great that when John began to preach in the Judean Desert, Luke tells us that “The people were waiting expectantly and wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.” (Luke 3:15)

John put those speculations to rest quickly, deflecting attention from himself, and declaring his unworthiness to even untie the sandals of the One who would come after him. When the priests and Levites pressed him about his own identity, John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.'” (John 1:23)

All the Gospel accounts mark the appearance of John the Baptist as the beginning of Christ’s ministry. John had come to the desert preaching a baptism of repentance and had gained a following of his own. But once God revealed to him at his baptism of Jesus that the long awaited Messiah had come, John’s primary message changed immediately to “Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36)

When John’s disciples later began to complain that everyone was flocking to Jesus, John replied with those familiar words that are so rich with application for anyone who considers themselves followers of Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  (John 3:30 KJV) John understood that a true disciple humbles himself and exalts Christ.

Our culture today is enamored with celebrity and all too often that fleshly desire for fame and fortune bleeds over into Christian ministry, where it has no place. Preaching a message that tickles the ears, promotes book sales, and elevates man has created many Christian celebrities today. But their lifestyles often stand in stark contrast to the heroes of our faith found in the Scriptures- men like John the Baptist. John understood that there should be only one celebrity in the Christian faith, and his name is Jesus Christ, King of kings, and Lord of lords.

In my last posting, I said that my sister made God visible to a world desperate for the hope that only he can provide. At the time of John’s ministry, the invisible God made himself visible in the person of Jesus Christ. John was simply called to introduce him. But his actions and words reveal the key to being effective witnesses of Christ ourselves, making God visible through our character and the conduct of our lives.

When John’s ministry was growing, it must have been tempting for him to exalt himself. His disciples had obviously grown concerned that the size of his congregation had begun to dwindle as people started to flock to “that man”. (John 3:26)  But John understood that “that man” was none other than the Son of God. Knowing that his moment in the spotlight and his declining popularity were all a part of God’s sovereign plan and purpose, John’s new focus became making Christ preeminent.

Just as John knew his God-ordained role, those of us who follow Christ know ours as well. We are called to be witnesses, deflecting attention from ourselves while pointing others to our Lord. Those familiar words, “He must increase, but I must decrease” create a vivid word picture of the process of sanctification, which begins at the moment of our conversion and continues throughout our lives. To be sanctified is to give the Holy Spirit greater control over our hearts and minds, while making less provision for the flesh.

In Galatians 5:16 Paul writes, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” When we are intentional about that, Christ increases His impact in and through us while our sinful nature decreases its hold. As that takes place, we are transformed more into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), making Him more visible to a world searching for the hope that we have.

Make God visible to someone God places in your path this week.

“How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it!” – G.K. Chesterton

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all referenced Scripture is from the New International Version (NIV).