J.D. Greear wrote:

Farmers in Oklahoma during the late 1930s faced an excruciating choice.

Throughout the 1920s, rain had been plentiful and the harvests abundant, and many city workers had left their factory jobs in the Northeast for a chance of a fortune in the great American Midwest. The stock market crash of 1929 motivated even more to take the journey west.

But in 1931, the rains stopped. To make matters worse, years of poor farming techniques had destroyed the grasses that preserved moisture during times of drought. The dry ground resulted in massive dust storms, which destroyed remaining fields. Fortunes were swept away in the clouds of terrifying, dull gray blizzards.

By the fall of 1939, thousands of farmers returned empty-handed to the East Coast. Some that remained faced an excruciating choice: they had just enough grain to feed themselves and their families for another year — but probably not much longer than that. If they planted these seeds and no rains came, their families would not survive the year. But if they held on to these seeds, grinding them into flour for bread, they forfeited any chance of receiving back a harvest.

Many planted, in faith — in hope — that rain would come.

In the fall of 1939, it did.

Planting always involves risk. We release control of something we need in the hopes that it will come back to us in multiplied measure. But once we let go of it, we forfeit any ability to use it for ourselves. Seeds you plant you can no longer consume. Yet without the act of planting, there will never be a harvest.

Jesus turned to this principle of the harvest when he wanted to teach his followers how to extend his kingdom on earth:

“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.” (John 12:24)

I’ve always thought it was odd that Jesus described the seed going into the ground as “dying,” because I don’t think of a seed going into the ground as “dying.” I think of it as just beginning to live.

But in one sense, a planted seed is dying. As its outer shell disintegrates, it ceases its self-contained existence as a seed. It has been given over to the earth.

In the same way, God grows his kingdom only as we take our hands off of what little portion he’s given to us, “die” to our control of it, and plant it into the world. That feels just as scary to us as to those farmers planting their precious, remaining seed in the dusty plains of Oklahoma and praying for rain.

J.D. Greear and Larry Osborne, Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015).