Depending on your reading of the almanac and where you live, we are in sowing season. Last weekend, my family and I set up our little backyard garden. We are optimistically trying to grow tomatoes and peppers and herbs and blueberries and strawberries and figs. I was very glad to see the enthusiasm with which my boys carefully planted seeds. They have, for at least these first few days, looked forward to watering them. It was probably six hours after we planted that my eight-year-old asked if we thought they had grown yet, and he went out to check on the soil.
I smile even as I remember that. We all want to see growth! As we get older, we learn that growth takes time, and it costs something. Jesus explained the process of growth to us in John 12:24:
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
The prerequisite for growth is death. A seed can keep its own life, but it does not produce anything. However, if the seed dies, it can produce a plant, which can in turn produce fruit and many more seeds. When we think about seeds, this concept is simple enough. It is hard to imagine a seed so in love with itself that it would not want to become a plant! However, as people, dying to ourselves is much harder. We are afraid to lose what we have. Jesus goes on in v.25:
Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
This is a high price. We must be ready to lose our life in this world in order to gain the better and bigger life that Jesus is promising us – to grow. Certainly, Jesus is talking about being willing to lay down our earthly life to follow Him. However, this is not only about the final moment of physical death that we face. We must choose little deaths every day in order to see this happen. I must die to make room for the life that God wants to grow in me.
There is another challenge with what Jesus says. His language sounds strange. What does he mean, “hate our life in this world?” Does this mean to be dour and sad all the time? To be suicidal? No. As Chesterton says, the martyr’s motivation is the opposite of the suicide’s. They might look similar on the surface, but they are totally different. The suicide gives up his life because nothing is worth living for. The martyr gives his life because he loves something even more than life. Jesus is telling us here that we must be willing to make decisions based on more enduring values and priorities, such that a casual outside observer would think that we hate our life by the way we give it up.
What would motivate someone to live this way? The longing for growth. The confidence that many seeds and many plants will grow to fullness in our place. The confidence that if one loses his life in this world, another more lasting life will be given in its place.
God is at work today. He amazingly promises that He will work through those who follow Him and who are willing to die to give life to others (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus, as the sinless Son of God, modeled that perfectly. Now, saved by His grace, we are called to follow in His steps. Will you be a seed?