Kevin Cowan - The Vineyard of our Lives - Wattamondera, Australia - 2013

There are two different portions of Scripture that I will read this afternoon. Proverbs 24:30, “I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding, and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well, I looked upon it, and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep, so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.”


The other one is Matthew 21:28, “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons, and he came to the first, and said, 'Son, go work today in my vineyard.' He answered and said, 'I will not,' but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise, and he answered and said, 'I go, sir,' and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, 'The first.'” I was thinking about this father that had two sons, and this father also has a vineyard and there is work to be done in the vineyard. He has two boys that are strong and able and he wants them to help him in the vineyard.


One morning, he goes to the bedroom of the first boy. He opens the door and the boy is still in bed and the father says, “Son, go work in my vineyard today,” and this boy says, “I will not. I don’t have time, I have other plans, my day is full.” The father is sad and he backs out of the room and closes the door, then goes on down the hall to the bedroom of the second boy, he opens the door, the boy is in bed and the father says, “Son, go work in my vineyard today.” This boy says, “Okay, I will do that.” His father says, “Okay, I will meet you out in the vineyard in two minutes.” “Okay dad,” so dad is happy, he pulls the door shut behind him and the boy turns over in bed and goes back to sleep.


The father goes out to the vineyard and he is waiting for the second boy and he does not come and here comes the first boy, the one who had said “No.” He says, “Sorry, dad, I have changed my mind. I will help you in the vineyard today. Now what is it that you want me to do?” I am thinking of this vineyard, and of course that is where the vine grows. This father says in the morning, “Go work in my vineyard today,” and I am thinking that your life and mine is a little bit like a vineyard and that is where the vine has been planted and we read about Jesus being the vine.


I wonder if our Father comes to us in the morning, every morning and says to us, “You go and work in the vineyard today.” Maybe there are some times when we say, “Yes,” and maybe there are some times when we say, “No.” So what is He going to do in the vineyard? What do we do in the vineyard? I do not know very much about vineyards and the work that needs to be done in them but I was thinking of three things that are in the vineyard. There is the soil, there are the branches, and there is the fruit. Maybe we need to work a bit with the soil, soften the soil up a bit to make it easier for the vine, maybe some work with the branches, or maybe we need to examine the fruit.


Looking into our own lives, the soil, I was thinking of what is says about Jesus. Isaiah 53:2, “For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground.” He is a root that is growing out of dry ground that is like the vine growing out of ground that is very dry. This vine Jesus has been planted in our life, planted in our heart and have you ever come to the conclusion of how dry the soil of your heart is, how base, how embarrassing it is at times?


Maybe it surprises us, because sometimes we get a little glimpse of it. We are shocked at our reaction, we are shocked at what we have said, we are shocked at what we did and we see that this ground is very, very dry. Maybe it leaves us discouraged at times when we see how dry and how base this ground of our heart is but this verse gives me a lot of comfort because it was out of dry ground that this root, this vine was growing.


God will not turn us away because the ground is dry and that wonderful vine is still able to survive even though this human is so dry. So maybe what we have to do in the vineyard today is work with this dry ground and break it up a little, so today we need to deny it; that is one way that we can break it. Another way we can break this dry ground is we can refuse it, we can resist it, we can restrain it, we can push it back. It is just like breaking up the dry ground, making it a little easier for the vine to survive.


Another thing that we might have to do in the vineyard is to deal with the branches. I do not have to say anything more about that, but this means pruning the things that need to be cut away. This is part of the work today. Then there is the fruit and that is what the vine is all about, the fruit, and maybe what we need to do is to take a look at the fruit and see how it is doing and above all things, we want to encourage the fruit, encourage the fruit to keep developing.


What is the fruit? What is the fruit that is going to be produced by the branches of our vine? The fruit is just the likeness to Jesus, the resemblance to Jesus. That is what it is all about, that is what the Lord is wanting to be produced in your life and mine. We have an excellent chapter in our Bible that helps us when it comes to examining the fruit. I Corinthians 13:4, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind, charity envieth not, charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth. Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth, but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail, whether there be tongues, they shall cease, whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”


When it comes to examining the fruit, there is a little exercise you can do and I can do. You get yourself into a quiet environment and give yourself some time and maybe get all alone and pick up your Bible and go through these verses and where the word charity is you put the name "Jesus" there. “Jesus suffered long and is kind,” and you stop and you think about that, you think about each one of those statements and you put Jesus’ name there and you stop and think about it. Jesus envied not, Jesus vaunted not Himself, Jesus was not puffed up, and when you go through this list one at a time very slowly, you may have to get a dictionary out to find what some of those words mean, but you just think about Jesus.


What you will have when you have finished this exercise is a picture of perfect fruit. When you have finished that, go back to the beginning and you go through that list again and now put your own name in there and stop with each one and think about it and go on to the next one. It is an excellent way to examine the fruit in your life. You know what it will probably do when you get to the end, it will probably humble you and you’ll probably see how far you have to go yet, how far the fruit has to develop, but that is okay, that is the purpose of all this, examining the fruit, and I think when we come to the end of it we won't have any thoughts in our mind of what we need to do in the vineyard today. It will give us plenty of work to do. Now we go over to Proverbs and I get another little picture when I read this story. This time I have a picture of a man that is on a journey. He is walking along the dusty road and he is passing a lot of places where people live, he is passing a lot of paddocks that maybe have cattle feeding or maybe some goats, maybe some sheep and he continues walking along and he sees where grain has been planted. He then goes along and he sees something that stops him in his tracks, he is so shocked and astonished with what he sees and stands there and stares. So what is it that he sees?


Here among all these other fields, other paddocks where they have been well cared for, worked with, in the midst of all of them here is this one and it is one terrible mess. All the weeds are growing wild and he is just standing there and staring at it. It says, "he looked on it and he considered it well and he received instruction." He is getting some lessons as he stands there and as he looks at this awful mess. So what is he thinking? What thoughts are coming into his mind? Maybe he is thinking about the neighbours. Here is this awful mess. Somebody is living over here, and someone is living over there, so what must they think? It must be awfully embarrassing to them, to have this awful mess right there in the neighbourhood next to them.


Maybe his thoughts go then to his own little paddock back home and he is thinking to himself, “Is that what my field looks like?” Maybe he is thinking to himself that, “When I come home, I have got some cleaning up to do for I wonder what my neighbours are thinking of my property?” Then I wonder if he goes deeper and starts looking into his own heart, not just thinking about that field back home but now thinking of his own heart. That is what this is really all about, what does the field look like that is inside of me?


Maybe we think it is hidden but we have got neighbours. You know who the neighbours are, the ones that live close to us, that live next to us and so your neighbours are right there next to you, maybe right in your house, maybe your husband or your wife or your children or your parents, they are your neighbours. For us in the Work, it is the one, our companion who labours at our side, our co-Worker. I wonder what they think of my field. Are my neighbours embarrassed by what they see in my field? Maybe we have got some work to do.


So I am thinking of the things that he sees as he is standing there and looking at this field, this awful mess. One of the first things that he sees is that it is all grown over with thorns. It wasn’t just weeds. I suppose there were all kinds of weeds growing there, too, but what he noticed in particular were the thorns. Thorns are a special breed of plants and thorns give out a very special message, and the very definite message that a thorn gives off is, “Don’t touch me. Don’t get close to me. Keep your distance.” That is what a thorn will say.


Jesus spoke about thorns. Do you remember when Jesus spoke of the sower and of the seed, that one kind of soil that the seed fell on was the thorny soil, and it says two things about the thorny soil: the seed fell there, then the thorns sprang up and choked the good seed. That word "sprang" is an action word and it just means it grew quickly, it sprang up, came up fast. They grew up thick, so thick that they were able to choke out the good seed. Afterwards Jesus explained what He was talking about and you remember that He mentioned what the thorns represent. Mark 4: 18, “And these are they which are sown among thorns, such as hear the word, and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.” So there are three things that Jesus said the thorns were like: the cares of this world. You all have them and I have them, all God’s servants have them. We all have cares, things that we need to care about that have to do with this life. Many of you have the care of making a living, many of you have the care of raising a family, the care of maintaining a home, the care of maintaining a vehicle, maybe the care of your health, maybe the care of someone else’s health. Those are all cares of this world and there is nothing wrong with cares, we all have them.


The thing that is wrong about them is when they start to choke out the word, when they start to choke out the good seed, that is when there is something wrong with cares. Then there is the deceitfulness of riches and that word "deceitful" means that there is a lie attached to it, there is a trick in here and it is going to lead us to something, to a destination or to a direction that we don’t want to go. It is going to deceive us, trick us. Paul wrote to Timothy about those who will be rich falling into temptation and a snare, so what are the temptations of riches?


I thought of four of them, four temptations that rich people are tempted with. One thing that rich people are tempted with is to be lifted up in pride, the thought in their heart, “Look what I was able to accomplish.” The second thing that people could be tempted by is to feel that somehow they are at a higher level than people who are not as well off as they are. The third temptation is the temptation to be exclusive in the kind of company that they keep and that they will only choose to keep company with people who are wealthy like them. Maybe the fourth temptation that rich people face is the temptation to show off or to flaunt their successes.


Any of those things could be a hindrance to the word of God and the seed; they are temptations that rich people need to overcome, especially when the rich people are the wealthy Friends inside the Kingdom of God because it could be a threat to the seed. The other thorn that Jesus mentioned was the lust of other things and that word "lust" just means "strong desire." Maybe most of all we are prone to associate it with something to do with the flesh that is unclean and hateful to God, and indeed that is part of it but it does not necessarily only mean that. There are other things that we could have a strong desire towards that could be a hindrance to the seed, that our desire, appetite, and craving for things even could choke out the good seed.


Here is this man now and he is standing on the road and looking at the thorns that are growing in this field. Another thing he sees that is growing there are nettles. Some are called stinging nettles and you find them in the bush, you go hiking through the bush and you had better keep your eye out for the stinging nettles. If they brush against your bare skin they will leave an itchy rash. The message of the nettles is, “Don’t rub me the wrong way,” and that is something that could be growing in our field and it just makes it miserable for others, just being extremely sensitive, so that people have to be careful how they rub us.


Another thing he noticed as he is looking on this field is the wall; the stone wall is all broken down and maybe it took him quite a while to see that there even was a wall because all the underbrush had grown over, all the thorns and nettles were covering it up and you could hardly see that there was once a boundary here. There used to be some boundaries here and that wall that had once been in good repair was there for the purpose of keeping what was on the inside, inside and keeping on the outside what belonged to the outside. The wall was there so that the outside would not come into the inside and now here is the wall all broken down and everything from the outside is just pouring into the inside.There is one more thing that he noticed as he looked at the field and it is a little hard, he did not see it at first, but when he looked at that field he saw that it was a vineyard. He is standing there looking at it and in the tangle of all those thorns and nettles there is a vine in here, and here is that poor vine struggling to survive in the midst of all that tangle of other things. So we think of our life, we think of that vine, the vine Jesus, and maybe that is just what it is like for that vine, struggling to survive, and all these other things, the weeds, the thorns and the nettles, they are all crowding in and choking out that vine.


I wonder if this man, as he is looking at this field, thinks to himself, “Whose field is this, anyway?” and he looks over there at the gate, there is little sign by the gate, and the little sign says, “The slothful man.” It has the man’s name on it, and then he says, “Now, I understand.” Do you suppose that this takes you back to that boy, and he is still in bed and says, “Yes, I will go, I will be right out there dad.” Dad closes the door and he turns over and goes back to sleep, and he is thinking to himself, "I am not going to care for the vineyard today. I will do it tomorrow."


Tomorrow comes and it is a repeat of the same thing, “I don’t feel like working in the vineyard today, the vine will be okay, it will survive,” and he leaves it a second day and a third day and a week and three weeks. That’s how it goes, the field of the slothful, the field of the lazy, and that’s just the people that say, “I do not feel like working with the vine today.” That would be sad if that was the feeling in our heart in the morning, maybe the thought would be in our minds, “I don’t feel like reading this morning, I am kind of late for work, I’ll just leave it till tomorrow.” Tomorrow comes and the same thing, next day the same thing and that is just the way it is and what it really boils down to is this, the field of the slothful, laziness.


So where do you begin? Here the field is an awful mess, so where to begin to clean this up? One of the first things that you need to do is to free the vine and that just means we are going to have to get in there and it is going to be a lot of hard work. We’re just going to start cutting some things back. Some of those thorns, maybe some of those cares that have been pressing in too close, I’ll cut them back.


Did you ever notice when you are running late in the morning and you do not have time to do everything that you would like to do in the morning, did you ever notice what will usually get omitted is your reading and your praying? It is never the other things that get cut back. We have to learn to free the vine and it is some of those other things that we need to cut back so that the vine can prosper, so that the vine can be freed.


Another thing we are going to have to do is to get in there with the spade and you know what that is like, you take a scoop of earth and turn it upside down and that is just like making some very definite drastic changes, turning some things completely upside down in our life. The other day, I had some quiet time and was lying on my bed and I was just thinking of these Conventions that I have been at. This is number nine now. I have heard a lot of things and I have forgotten a lot of what I have heard, but what I was thinking is, “What are you going to do, what changes are there going to be when you get back to Canada, what is going to be different?” It is the same for all of us. We are all here at Convention and we hear a lot of nice things but what is going to happen? What is going to be turned completely upside down? That is where the changes begin. Then there is the wall, that wall that needs to be rebuilt. We need to set the boundaries again and set some limits. I was just thinking of one thing that I remember when I was a boy growing up in a professing home and I had the very wonderful privilege of there being a meeting in the home for as long as I can remember. There was a little boundary that my parents set. It wasn’t a hard and fast rule but it was a guideline, that Sunday morning begins at nine o’clock Saturday night.


Saturday night is the world’s night. That is when the world comes alive, but what about for God’s people? For God’s people it is the time for preparation and for meeting with Him the next morning, and maybe that is where we need to build the wall and make a boundary, set some limits. “Now this is all going to stop for I need to give time for tomorrow.” And maybe not only Saturday night, what about Friday night, Thursday night, all the other nights? I am going to set some limits so that I will have time to read and I can have time to pray.


In one of our fields, we were staying with a young family with three little kids. Dad left to go to work in the morning and one day he was kind of feeling discouraged and he said to me, “I just don’t know what I am going to do. I find it so hard to get time to pray and read in the morning. The kids are cranky and it is busy. We are trying to get the kids up and get them dressed ready for school and trying to get breakfast, just the whole thing, and I am trying to get ready to go off to work. I get in the car and head off to work. I have about a half hour to get to work. I have the radio turned on and get the news going and that is always so depressing, so I hardly have time to read, to meditate.”


I just told him, “You have a golden opportunity, and your golden opportunity is that half hour when you are on your way to work. You do not have to have the radio on, you don’t have to listen to the news. There you are all alone in the quietness of your car so what better opportunity to just meditate and to have thoughts towards the word of God to feed your soul.” You set some limits, you set some boundaries because it is all about protecting the vine, freeing the vine. I hope that we will have a prosperous year as we go out to look after this precious vine.