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Are You Paying Attention?

I love how God works. There is always such mystery behind what he does. Throughout the entire Bible, we continually see him disappoint people by acting in seemingly unexpected and opposing fashions than how they believed he would act. He never fails them of course, but over and over again we are shown that God is the only one who knows the plan. A great example of this is the coming of Jesus.


In Ephesians 1 we are told that God has made, "known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Ephesians 1:9-10). Fun fact for you, when this text, or others like it, refers to something as "mystery," it isn't like how we use the word today. Normally people would use it to describe something as being unclear. Paul, though, uses it past tense. God's will, in this context, is no longer a mystery. It used to be, but now, this mystery has been revealed: namely, to unite all things in Christ. When you see this word used in Scripture, it's communicating to you that what used to be mysterious is, coincidentally, no longer shrouded in mystery.


The point, though, is that it surely was a confusing and unorthodox plan. The people of God believed that he would send a Messiah to take his rightful place as king and restore peace to the broken world. They imagined his entrance would be magnificent, but instead, it was in a manger. They imagined him slaying their enemies in power, but instead, he remained silent in meekness. They imagined finding him standing in triumph, but instead, he was found hanging in shame. They imagined him ending on a throne, but instead, he ended in a tomb. Jesus was not what they expected, but it was what God had planned.


We now find ourselves in the middle, the already not yet. The mystery has been revealed, but the plan has not yet been completed. Why do I bring it up today? Mark 4:26-29 details the Kingdom of God in a short parable. Read it with me,


"And he said, 'The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.'"


The verses before this passage detail a command from Jesus to, "Pay attention to what you hear..." (Mark 4:24). It then delivers this parable of the Kingdom of God. This entire chapter is about hearing and understanding the word of God. My question to you today is, are you paying attention?


I believe that everyone is waiting. In some shape or form, we are waiting to see something come to fruition. It could be something concerning another person, or something personal about yourself. Maybe a conflict has yet to be settled, or a problem to be solved. It could be that you just simply aren't where you believe you should be. These journies, and others like it, can seem helpless at times. It can be impossible to see progress, or maybe you aren't sure if there has been any progress at all. How can you really tell?


When day by day nothing seems to change, it can be deflating. The sun will rise and set hundreds of times, but no matter how much time passes, things for you have stayed the same. Despite your best efforts, you just can't seem to make anything of significance happen. If you're one of those people, I hope this is found encouraging. I bring up God's mysterious plan because I think we can learn some valuable lessons from it.


The first lesson is, God is always working despite our understanding or awareness. Mark 4:26-27 says, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; (don't miss this part!) he knows not how." Most of God's activity happens without our understanding being necessary. You may not know the plan, or even what will ultimately happen, but one day you'll wake up and see God's hand has been at work all along. Jesus said, "My Father is working until now, and I am working" (John 5:17). He's always, "working salvation in the midst of the earth" (Psalm 74:12). God isn't taking a break anytime soon, he's always in the middle of it all working out his purposes. You can take comfort in knowing that despite what you see in your situation, God is working.


The second lesson is, God is patient, which to us can feel like nothing is happening at all, or at least, not happening fast enough. Mark 4:28 says, "The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear." This is where the question I asked you a little bit ago comes into play: Are you paying attention? God has a process of carrying out his plans. Setting things into motion piece by piece. Or as verse details: first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain. Are you paying attention to what God may be doing in your life right now through the people he brings in? Or the opportunities he opens up? Or the things he causes to happen?


I didn't know who I would marry when I was entering seventh grade, not many people do, but I did know I was going to a new school for the first time because my previous one was shutting down. I didn't know who would be at this new school, but I did learn that a certain family was returning just a year after my arrival. I came to be familiar with a classmate named Caleb, but I certainly didn't know that I would one day marry his older sister who I had never spoken to, and wouldn't until years later. I didn't know the full plan, but the pieces were being put together right before my eyes. Things were caused to happen that set up future realities, right beneath my nose. So I ask again, are you paying attention?


The third and last lesson is, God's timing is perfect. We read in Mark 4:28,

"But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come." God knows when to bring everything together, when the work has been finished, and the time for the plan to be completed. Like the first lesson taught, God is always working. And one day like a seed in the ground, it will suddenly sprout. This is why Paul encourages us to, "not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9). Those who walked around the walls of Jericho didn't see a brick fall or a foundation weaken. They were only told to walk, and suddenly, when the time came, when the work was finished, the walls fell. I believe we all have these moments etched out for us, some greater than others. Sometimes I lay in bed after a long day and I can see how God was working in that individual day. Through the conversations I had, the "random" inconveniences I experienced, or even through my failures - I see how it all worked together for a greater purpose. Other times the scope is a little bit bigger, like when I look at my daughter, Karis and I think back to when I was in seventh grade, how little I knew and how far God has brought me. To see her life be a fruit of his work in my life over the years that started when I was in middle school. It's unbelievable. God's timing is perfect. And I believe we all have moments where, suddenly, the grain will finally be ripe, and we will see what God has been up to.


So, take heart! God is always working, patiently and perfectly on time. Are you paying attention to what he is doing? What he is saying? God's greatest plan, summed up in this short parable concerning his son Jesus was full of mystery and a lot of disappointment. You will likely, as you already probably have, experience the same. The disappointment is momentary, but I can assure you, he will bring you to a place of peace. That's why the writer of Ecclesiastes explains, "He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Everything has a set date to elapse into beauty. Could be tomorrow, could be years from now - but it is, for sure, without a doubt, an eventuality. So keep hope, and remember:


God is always working, through a patient, plan, with perfect timing.