I’ve never farmed a day in my life. I have relatives who have worked a farm, but I’ve never been behind a plow. I do think I understand what a plow is for. You use a plow to break up the ground and prepare for a harvest. If the ground is not plowed, the seed will not get deep in the soil.
Two of the Old Testament prophets talked about the need for plowing. In Jeremiah 4:3 we read, “Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns.” In Hosea 10:12, God spoke through the prophet and said, “Sow with a view to righteousness, reap in accordance with kindness; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD until He comes to rain righteousness on you.” Anything God says once is important. Anything he says twice demands our full attention.
In his commentary on Hosea, Warren Wiersbe says, “‘Fallow ground’ is land that has lain idle and become hard and full of weeds. This appeal sounds like the preaching of John the Baptist: ‘Repent! Bear fruits worthy of repentance!’ (Matt. 3:1‑12). The plow of conviction must first break up hard hearts before the seed of the Word can be planted and the gracious rain he sent from heaven.”
Fallow ground has two characteristics. One, it is unproductive. There is no harvest. All you have is weeds and rocks. It may have once produced a harvest, but that day is long past. Two, it is undisturbed. It is being ignored or it’s been forgotten. It can be filled with weeds, thorns, or scrub bushes, but whatever the issue, it’s not fulfilling its purpose.
Fallow ground can be hard. Like the seed in Matthew 13, the Word falls on us, but never gets in us. The devil snatches away the seed. This can happen in a multitude of ways. It can be we always second-guess the preacher (“that’s his opinion”), or we actually place ourselves as a judge of Scripture. Fallow ground is the heart that says, “I’ll believe what I want to believe.” It is a denial that every part of the Word is inspired and profitable.
Fallow ground can be cluttered. We have more time-saving devices than any generation in history…and less time than ever. We’re busy, but rarely busy about things that matter for eternity. We’ve put family, football, fun, fellowship, food, and foolishness above the Word and our relationship with Christ. You can’t break up the fallow ground and bear spiritual fruit if you are only feeding on the Word with one sermon a week (if you are in town).
Fallow ground can be shallow. We know just enough about the things of God to be dangerous to ourselves and to others. We own the Bible, but we don’t read it. We carry it, but we never allow it to confront us. One danger is while we may have once been open to the Word and receptive to it, now we let it go in one ear and out the other.
Fallow ground can be critical and analytical. While we are to study to show ourselves approved, it doesn’t mean we are to pick the Word apart. Liberals refuse to let it say what it says. The carnal don’t want to know what it says. “I think” or “I feel” doesn’t matter when it comes to Scripture. The Bible sheds a whole lot of light on many people’s theology. It is wholly and fully inspired. Leviticus is as inspired as Romans. It is the infallible, indestructible, inexhaustible, incorruptible Word of God. Don’t pick at it. Dig deep in it and let the Holy Spirit speak to you. Mark Twain said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts I do understand.”
A. W. Tozer in his book, Paths to Ponder, wrote these words,
The fallow field is smug, contented, protected from the shock of the plow and the agitation of the harrow. Such a field, as it lies year after year, becomes a familiar landmark to the crow, and the blue jay. . . . Safe and undisturbed, it sprawls lazily in the sunshine, the picture of sleepy contentment. . . . Fruit it can never know because it is afraid of the plow and the harrow.
In the direct opposite of this, the cultivated field has yielded itself to the adventure of living. The protecting fence has opened to admit the plow, and the plow has come as plows always come, practical, cruel, business-like, and in a hurry. Peace has been shattered by the shouting farmer and the rattle of machinery.
The field…has been upset, turned over, bruised, and broken, but its rewards come hard upon its labor. The seed shoots up into the daylight. Its miracle of life, curious, exploring the new world above it. Nature’s wonders follow the plow. There are two kinds of lives also: the fallow and the plowed.
The man of fallow life is contented with himself and the fruit he once bore. He does not want to be disturbed. He smiles in silent superiority at revivals, fastings, self-searchings, and all the travail of fruit bearing and the anguish of advance. The spirit of adventure is dead within him…he has fenced himself in, and by the same act he has fenced out God and the miracle.
The plowed life is the life that has…thrown down the protecting fences and sent the plow of confession into the soul…such a life has put away defense and has forsaken the safety of death for the peril of life. Discontent, yearning, contrition, courageous obedience to the will of God: these have bruised and broken the soil til it is ready again for the seed. And as always fruit follows the plow.
We live in a tough world. If the Lord is going to send revival, he has to begin in the hearts of his people. It’s time to seek the Lord. Vance Havner said, “God will not waste his rain on briars and thorns.” We must prepare the soil if we want God to send the rain. We must uproot the attitudes and actions that cut off the Word in our hearts. We must remove the obstacles that continually cause us to stumble on our journey. We need a good plowing. It’s foolish for any believer to pray for blessings until they are willing to be broken.
(copyright 2012, Michael Catt)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.