“Little Red Hen” Syndrome

As the Ohio corn and soybean planting season draws to a close, I am reminded of the children’s story “The Little Ren Hen”. That’s the one where a hen approaches her fellow farm animals multiple times, seeking help for sowing, reaping, and grinding her wheat crop but finds no takers. When the time comes to eat the hen’s freshly baked bread, those same animals volunteer to help with the consumption task. Unfortunately, their lack of willingness to invest earlier leads to them being excluded from the fruit of the hen’s season-long labor.

We Christians might be tempted to fall into the same trap as those farm animals. We want God to meet our needs–heal our hurts, calm our storms, pour out joy in the midst of our circumstances, and provide happiness and joy. However, we might find ourselves less willing to invest in the “sowing” work God desires so that His harvest might be produced at the proper time.

Consider Hosea 10:12: “Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.” Notice the order of the process—the sowing precedes reaping, and the breaking of the unplowed ground through seeking the Lord precedes the “until” of his response.

No farmer would expect to harvest before sowing or to reap a bumper crop from an uncultivated field. Simply put, breaking up the ground and planting the seed is a necessary prelude to a bountiful harvest. So how could we demand the fullness of God’s blessing without a corresponding heart to “do the work” of sowing righteousness through disciplined choices to obey?

“But life is hard and God can’t expect me to be selfless when things aren’t going my way,” we might say. The Psalmist responds with a process order correction: “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them” (Psalm 126:5-6). To paraphrase, those who do the work through the pain are the ones who can be certain of the gain.

Are we intentionally sowing loving obedience to God and service to others as we move through our moment-by-moment routines? The wise writer of Ecclesiastes 11:6 instructs, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” While God, who we can be sure is completely trustworthy to keep all His promises, stands outside the bounds of time, we live in a finite world in which our opportunities to “plow and sow” will someday come to an end. To borrow from Jesus, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).

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