What happens in the soil, in dark places between sowing and reaping—in the waiting between fall and spring, between death and resurrection? If the viewer was able to peek into the darkness where a seed is buried, one could glimpse it unfolding from death to life. But often we don’t get to witness this miracle.
Instead, we as planters must wait and watch above soil, praying with hope that one day what we have sown will sprout above ground and we will reap the fruits of our labor. But in the meantime, no matter what chaos ensues above the surface or how the climate changes, we must trust that God is at work in the unseen places under the soil, making things grow.
This journey is recorded beautifully in Psalm 126, and has been the subject of much of my meditation lately.This Psalm is a communal lament, one of the Psalms of Ascent that were sung along the long, hard road to Jerusalem.
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev. 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)
Like this Psalm, the journey hangs in the tension of the already and not yet. This passage is book-ended on the one end with praise and celebration for where the Israelites have experienced God’s deliverance and, on the other end, with a promise that what we sow in tears we will reap with songs of joy.
But in the middle is a petition. Sandwiched between songs of praise is a lament cast into the ground like the seed itself: “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.” In the middle, we are invited to sow in tears.
The Negev was a dry riverbed 11 months out of the year. There was little to no life in this dusty place most of the time. Many of us can relate to this. It’s the space between the spring and autumn rains—the arid silence of the desert heat. The place where we must sow in the cracked ground and the only water available is our own tears.
The Psalmist is pretty raw and open with the fact that planting can be painful. As someone who started planting in arts ministry, I’ve become pretty familiar with sowing in tears—and not just because we artists are a little sensitive! But because planting can be costly, it can be arduous. There is real spiritual resistance when you plant in unreached places—losses, failures, and struggles happen along the way.
Not every seed you sow produces fruit. People flake out, walk away from the faith when you least expect it, and make lifestyle choices that cause you to grieve. The event you had planned to make a transformative impact is sparsely attended, the people you deeply love and invest in end up leaving the ministry, or the hope you found in prayer for racial reconciliation is met with the harsh reality of the news of hate and violence. Things don’t always go as we desire or plan, and we find ourselves in the desert weeping.
We know this so well from Mark 4 and the parable of the soils, right? We know that not everything we sow produces fruit. There are many variables that affect this process—the climate, condition of the soil, condition of the seed, etc. But when we are in it, when we are the sower, seeing three-fourths of our crop die is tough to bear.
Some scholars say that sowing seed was often closely associated with the Ancient Near Eastern practice of burying the dead. Farmers would often weep as they planted the seed into the ground, knowing that it was a costly sacrifice. Seed at that time was precious, scarce, and valuable. So, to put it into the ground was a risk, an act of trust—not too unlike starting a new chapter, or sowing faithfully into the lives of college students.
But regardless of the uncertain outcome, you have to trust that this is what you’re supposed to do because fruit doesn’t crop up on its own afterall; it must be sown by the smallest, most seemingly insignificant thing. But if this small thing is the most valuable thing you have, it can be painful to put it into the ground. When we sow what is most precious—our time, our gifts, our hopes, our dreams, and our very selves—we die so that something else might live. And as we do, we must trust that God will take our death and make a resurrection, taking our little seeds and providing the rain to make it grow into new life.
The Negev in verse 4 was indeed a dry riverbed most of the year. But when the winter rains finally came in that twelfth month, it would become a raging river, transforming the desert into a lush, green landscape filled with life—a complete transformation. 
Is this not our petition for the lives and ministries that we sow into? For God to bring the surging rain that yields complete renewal? For deserts to be transformed into green, life giving pastures?
The reality is that the seeds will lay dormant underground until the rain comes. We can till the soil, fertilize, sow in the right time, and stay faithful on our end to this process, but we cannot control the transformation that happens within students any more than we can control whether or not it rains.
So here we find ourselves in the not yet—waiting and petitioning for God to intervene on behalf of our students or friends. In this place we are invited to stay faithful—to keep sowing in tears, laying ourselves down in trust to God in ministry. And a beautiful exchange happens as a result. In due time, God takes those little seeds and transforms them into life-giving, fruit-bearing plants and turns deserts into lush landscapes.
There is a promise in Psalm 126 that when we sow in tears, we will indeed reap with joy in the harvest, laughing with songs of joy. But will we join the psalmist in petitioning God for rain in the not yet? Will we have the patience to wait so that we might witness this transformation when the rain comes in that twelfth month? I hope so, because I believe the tears and pain in the waiting will pale in comparison to the songs and laughter and joy in the harvest when it comes.
“He that sows in tears is the likeliest to have sheaves worth gathering.” -Theologian Dr. Marcus Dods
What happens in us along the journey of sowing, waiting, and reaping? What happens in the soil in unseen places? Stay tuned for the rest of the series to find out…
“Seeds of Hope” Oil and Acrylic on Clayboard. Original work by Bette Dickinson.
Bette Lynn Dickinson has been on staff with InterVarsity for 5 years. She planted Imago Dei Arts Community, InterVarsity’s first Arts plant. As an artist, Bette connects her journey as a painter, photographer, and writer in Kalamazoo with ministry to artists. She graduated from WMU with a BA in 2008, a Masters of Divinity from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2011, and was ordained with the Reformed Church in America in 2014 as a Specialized Minister with InterVarsity. Bette and her husband love being parents for their son, Isaiah. You can read more from Bette at www.bettedickinson.com.
The blog is an avenue for staff and student leaders to hear from the visionary leaders of Collegiate Ministries about theological formation, discipleship, chapter planting, chapter growth, and other key ministry themes for campus work.