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.

What My Grandchildren Have Taught Me About Life, Love, and Faith

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3)


One of the greatest blessings of having lived as long as I have is experiencing the joy of having grandchildren. As a Christian father and grandfather, I have always understood and accepted my biblical responsibility to pass on my faith and valuable life lessons to the generations that follow. But one of the unexpected benefits of being a grandfather has been the lessons my grandchildren have taught me through the years!

As I have pondered what it means to change and become like little children, I have usually interpreted Christ’s words as referring to having a child-like faith. And that certainly is what I believe was first on our Lord’s mind. Little children have a faith that trusts completely, without hesitation, and without conditions. God places a high value on that kind of faith. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us that “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb. 11:6)

That kind of God-pleasing faith seems to come more naturally for children than for adults. But I believe Jesus had more than just faith in mind when He encouraged us to “become as little children”. As I have watched my grandchildren grow, God has revealed some of those deeper truths that are embodied in that simple little teaching.

The more malleable we are, the better God can mold us

As parents, it has been very gratifying to watch our children pass on their faith to the next generation, being DSC00763obedient to God in training our grandchildren in the way they should go. (Prov. 22:6) But the molding process in our lives should not stop when we pass from childhood to adulthood. Isaiah and Jeremiah both spoke of our relationship to God as one of a potter and clay.

But the older we get and the more set in our ways we become, the harder it is for God to mold us into the person He wants us to be. We can become so fixated on certain doctrines of men or the interpretations of certain teachers and preachers that we fail to follow the example of the Bereans whom the apostle Paul commended in Acts 17:11 for examining “the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” By failing in this, we deny the Holy Spirit the opportunity to fulfill one of His primary roles of teaching us all things. (John 14:26)

We are all unique in the eyes of God

imagePs 139:14 says “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. In 2004, our daughter gave birth to triplet boys. From the day they were born, it was clear that each one had been endowed with unique personality traits, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. As you can see from this photo, they each even support different college teams. It is also clear that the one in the middle is the smart one! (Sorry, Dawg fans – I just couldn’t resist!)

God made each one of us unique. The world tries to make us all alike, and it can stifle our creativity and interfere with God’s personal plan for our lives. But I believe one of the keys to living the “abundant life” (John 10:10) that Jesus desires us to have is to recognize our unique God-given design, and employ those unique gifts to serve others.

Growth requires persistence

When children are learning to walk, they fall down. Then they get up, and they fall down again, and again, and again … until they get it right. They don’t fall down and say “Well I’m never going to try that again!” It’s how they grow. It’s also how we grow. James 1:4 says “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”.

Little children are not afraid of failure, but how often do we let the fear of failure keep us from exploring new and exciting adventures. Or perhaps it keeps us from serving the Lord in the way He has in mind for us. A healthy, Spirit-led sense of risk can be beneficial. It helps us grow. It makes life more exciting and it keeps us young.

The antidote for worry is trust

My grandchildren don’t worry about anything. They take life’s ups and downs much better than the grownups in their lives. They know innately that their earthly mother and father are going to take care of their every need. And so will our Heavenly Father.

Phil. 4:6-7 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. Jesus said in Matt. 6:27, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

The truth is that worry takes years off our lives. Studies of those who live to the age of 100 reveal that they tend to be relaxed, optimistic, and even-tempered. As adults we need to develop that same level of trust in our Heavenly Father that my grandchildren have in their parents. After all, our Heavenly Father is perfect in his love, infinite in his wisdom, and sovereign in his control. How can we not trust a Father like that?

Don’t hold on to anger and bitterness

“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (Eph. 4:26)  Kids can have the worst argument and swear to never speak to one another ever again. Then a half hour later they act like nothing ever happened. They release their anger and move on without holding grudges. And when they are wronged, they quickly forgive, without keeping a record. 1 Cor. 13:5 says that love “is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”  Kids just seem to get that better than adults do!

Never lose your sense of wonder

Gen 1:31 says “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”  I love to watch my grandchildren discover the miracles of nature that we tend to overlook or take for granted. The triplets saw mountains for the first time when they visited in 2013. One of my grandsons is fascinated with bugs, reptiles, and rocks. He’s old enough now that when he encounters something new, he will spend hours looking up information on the internet about his discovery.

Last February, three of our grandchildren visiting from Florida experienced snow for theIMG_1149 first time. They had their first snowball fight. And our long downhill driveway that is such a pain to shovel this time of year turned into an exciting sled run. Needless to say, it was the most fun in snow I’ve had in years as I was able to experience it through their eyes. As an added benefit, I had help shoveling afterward!

Sometimes we adults tend to get so preoccupied with the cares and anxieties of our lives that we ignore the simple miracles taking place all around us. Several years ago on a visit to Colorado with friends, we came to a beautiful spot between Leadville and Copper Mountain just at the moment the sun was setting between a couple of peaks in the distance. As we stood there and took in that scene, God reminded me that a very similar experience occurs right outside my back door every night and I often just ignore it.

These are just a few of the things my grandchildren have taught me. I’m sure you have more lessons you can add to the conversation. Feel free to post them in the comments below. I would love to hear them. Remember, I don’t want this blog to be a one way conversation.

Until next time, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. (Matt. 19:14)

*All Scripture references are from the New International Version (NIV)