Breaking up the fallow ground

“For thus says the Lord to the people of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns.”

{Jeremiah 4.3, NRSV}

An agrarian reference familiar to the farmers who heard the prophet Jeremiah’s message, the call to “break up your fallow ground” might be far removed from our technological advances, high rise apartments and corner offices. With feet hitting city streets, asphalt seems more likely.  A harder substance, it might even make more sense given the state of belief, our hearts a concrete slab.  Still, the truth remains that we are only a few generations removed from family farms, originally from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and the like.  And while we can’t put these experiences on our resume, they have had a hand in shaping us just the same.

The move North combined with our upward mobility now seems contradictory to the slow pace and country roads our feet once traveled. But, without the experience of this dirt under our feet, we might not have an appreciation for where we are now.  It is a sure reminder that we worked hard to get where we are and “we have come this far by faith.”

However, faith does not come easily. The way to belief is not paved but like the asphalt, faith is hard.  Believing is not for the faint- hearted but those who know a thing or two about hard work.  It is a sweaty, dirty work.

More often than not, faith is not found in comfortable pews or behind stained glass windows. Faith is not fostered in timed programs or in neat musical arrangements.  Instead, the formation of faith occurs in the low places or in experiences that bring us to our knees.  Unlike the ladders of the corporate world, faith requires that we go lower, that we bow our heads and abase ourselves.

Having faith and keeping it is not easy for we will not be protected from the elements of life. We will believe and still feel the scorch of the sun.  We will believe and pray with calloused hands.  We will believe and worship with aching backs.

Breaking up the fallow ground of our hearts is not easy, quick or initially rewarding. Hearts left idle harden.  Lives untilled and without seed are a home for weeds and deeds that choke and stifle.

So, faith requires a shovel.  Because a relationship with God is not superficial or external.  Its changes are not cosmetic or some form of self- improvement.  Faith is for the soul’s benefit and if we are to believe, we must dig and dig deep—not reaching in our pockets but within ourselves.  True faith will require us to acknowledge, accept and address the overgrown, untended, undeveloped places within us.  Belief will ask us to point out the wild and troublesome areas.

And we don’t need to have grown up on a farm, to have a personal garden or even own a plant to understand that. The prophet Jeremiah’s words are worth repeating and they are found again the mouth of the prophet Hosea. [1]  I wonder who will say them now?

When a president won’t even give up lying during this season of Lent, when his counselors offer no correction but instead present “alternate facts,” when persons are fighting over dirt with hate crimes on the rise and graffiti keeping a record of those told to “go back to your country,” when we are building a wall to protect our piece of the earth, saying this dirt is my dirt, how then can we break up the fallow ground of our hearts?

Because if we are to return to God, then we will need to clean up our act. We will have to address that three- letter dirty word: sin.  We will have to accept that our actions put Christ on the cross, that we are not good people but that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[2]  This is not popular but it is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We travel the Roman Road because Christ walked up Calvary’s hill. He will buried for us so the least we can do is dig. 

With shovels, hoes and even our hands, we must break up our fallow ground if the seed of the word of God is to breakthrough. We must have our hands in it because it our fallow ground—not our parents’ or grandparents’ or spouses.’  So, break it up.

Touch and acknowledge where God can’t get to. Feel what sin has done to your heart over time.  Know that this is your ground and your sacred work.

And there is much to be uncovered and revealed, plenty to be discovered and removed. But, it will cost us some measure of belief in ourselves and who we thought ourselves to be.  We will need to tuck in our capes here.  Natural self- preservationists, we would kill God before we accept the death of our prideful selves.  We would prefer to create our own “ground of being” than to be rooted and grounded in God.[3]

It seems that we would rather bury God than dig up our past, rummage through our person to reveal our dirty little secrets or pull up anything contradictory to what we profess on Sunday mornings. But, this is the work of our salvation.[4]  The goal is not to make us look good but to bring glory to God.  It is a call to “break off your evil ways, repent of your sins (and) cease to do evil (so that) the good seed of the word will have room to grow and bear fruit.”[5]

Yes, the charge to “break up your fallow ground” is a call to make room for God. Because sin is too tight a space and it constricts the merciful movement of the Spirit.  If we would have God as our Gardener, then we will need to prepare our hearts for God’s presence.  Our brokenness extends the invitation.


Prayer of Commitment

God, our Farmer, who brings forth good things from dirt, we confess that we struggle with our own. We don’t know how You balance us, fallow ground and faithfully confessing, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”[6]  Teach us how to dig deep, to get lower, to humble ourselves; for in so doing, we get closer to You.  Give us the grace to model the example of Christ who humbled himself to the point of death,[7] who emptied his pockets of divinity in order to carry our dirt.  Surely, we can sift through our own.  Show us the shovel as we seek the resurrecting power of Your word.  In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen.


* I shared this meditation at noon today with the members of Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.


End notes

[1] Hosea 10.12

[2] Romans 3.23

[3] Colossians 2.7

[4] Philippians 2.12


[6] Psalm 51.17, NRSV

[7] Philippians 2.7

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Seeking to lead words and people to their highest and most authentic expression, I am the principal architect of a race/less world.

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