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As Hard As Iron

Editor's Note: This post was written by our Associate, Mark Howson, a follower of Jesus and a farmer. He wrote this post at the height of the drought in August. Do join with him in his prayer, "Let it rain, Lord, let it rain . . . "

“Boy, ass as hud as ion!” declared Will, the pigman, kicking the soil.

We stood on the edge of the field, looking out at some of the driest conditions on record. Our pigman, “a good old Suffolk boy,” knows what he’s talking about. The earth was hud as ion.

This summer, we’ve observed our gardens drying up, the leaves on the trees turning in August as they normally do in late September. To make matters worse, some parts of the country have been affected by hosepipe bans. None of us has escaped the effects of the drought . . . with the possible exception of the Scottish Highlands.

Lack of rain brings a whole host of challenges. This summer, we finished harvest earlier than ever before. We harvested our last field on 29 July—the week we would ordinarily be starting. Which brings me back to Will, the pigman.

Ass as hud as ion.

In late August, as I write this, we would normally have prepared the land for planting the oil seed rape. Indeed, we would have finished planting it. But as our pigman pointed out, “ass as hud as ion.” You cannot plant in soil that’s rock hard. It’s impossible. Until we get a substantial rain, lawns will remain brown, rivers will continue to dry up, and the seed will stay in the store.

A phrase sometimes used by insurance companies is “an act of God.” It describes an event, often weather-related, which could not have been foreseen or prevented, and for which no one can be held responsible. As we feel the frustration arising from fields where the ground is simply too hard to work on, we are conscious that only God can bring the rain. We are completely dependent on him. We need “an act of God.”

In Exodus, we read about many “acts of God.” Mostly, we focus on the plagues, but it’s worth remembering the act of God in hardening Pharoah’s heart. You may also remember this section from John 12.

Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message

and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”[h]

For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

“He has blinded their eyes

and hardened their hearts,

so they can neither see with their eyes,

nor understand with their hearts,

nor turn—and I would heal them.”[i]

Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

John 12.37-41

According to Jesus, it is by an act of God that the people are blind. As hard as that might be to read, it surely only makes sense in the light of verse 37. It is the people’s unbelief that renders them blind; their sin is at the root of verses 40-41. They need to turn to God in faith.

During this season, we are completely dependent on an act of God to bring rain that will soften the soil. Only then can we work to produce the food upon which we all depend. No wonder farmers are fascinated by the weather! The most visited app on a farmer’s smartphone is the weather app.

In the same way, as leaders in the church, we are also completely dependent upon the grace and mercy of God to bring the softening work of the Spirit on hard hearts. Only when God acts are people receptive to the wonderful life-giving gospel.


Last week, I noticed a large plume of dust rising from my neighbour’s field. Upon investigation, I discovered that he had run out of patience and decided to plant his oil seed rape. He had calculated that his precious seed would be better off in the ground than in the store. Who knows? Maybe God will show him mercy and send rain so that the seed can germinate. If the rain doesn’t arrive, however, he will have expended a great deal of time and labour to produce very little. At worst, he may have to re-plant the whole field again in the spring.

In ministry, I have made similar mistakes. I have tried by my own efforts to break through to hard hearts, and that’s been especially true where loved ones are concerned. Often, I have done more harm than good. In spite of the best intentions, I have not always been patient, and have instead resorted to nagging in an attempt to reach a loved one. I have learned painful lessons through it all. It is humbling to confess this, yet I can also testify that God has been very gracious to me. When I have lacked patience, he has demonstrated it in spades. His grace and his mercy towards me is the air I breathe. I have learned—and am learning—to be dependent on God’s patient, longsuffering love.

Now let me strike a balance. Paul wrote to Timothy,

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—

2 Tim 4.2a

It is good to be prepared and to preach the word. It is good to encourage and to take the opportunity, when presented, to share the gospel with those who don’t yet know Jesus. But then he finishes off the verse as follows:

. . . with great patience and careful instruction.

2 Tim 4.2b

Be prepared, yes, but also be patient.

So here I am writing this in August when I would normally be out on the farm. Lessons in patience are hard, not just for me but for others. A fellow believer—also a farmer—said to me last Sunday, “Mark, we need to pray that God will bring rain!” I could feel his desperation.

Yet how much more do we need to pray for God’s Holy Spirit to soften hearts so they can respond to the life-giving message of the gospel! And we do pray, even as we learn to be patient and depend on our gracious and merciful God.

How we pray for rain right now. Please, Lord, bring rain, which is so desperately needed by so many. And as we depend on you, Father, for rain, so we also pray for you to act in the hearts of those we love. To reveal the wonder of the Lord Jesus. Only you can break through and soften the soil of a hard heart.


Be encouraged. The Lord IS at work. He’s always at work in this world to bring in his kingdom. His will can never be thwarted. Remember Lydia, and be encouraged.

One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.

Acts 16.14-15a

The Lord bless you as you serve him this week.


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