For in this case the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the hard work, and now you have taken up their labor.” John 7:27-29
Today’s red letter passage makes me think of my own efforts to share my faith. If I’m not careful, I can make personal work all about me and my efforts. I think I need to find someone to share with. Then, I need to actually talk to them. Then, I need to say the right thing. If they respond, I need to show them I care. I need to serve them. I need to study the Bible with them in the right way. And somehow, I need to get them over their obstacles so that they will come to a point of commitment.
Whew! When it’s all about me, it can feel heavy and intimidating.
But Jesus related a different concept in today’s red letter passage. He told his disciples that others had already done the hard work. They just needed to reap. They just needed to pick up where the others left off.
Who are the hard workers that Jesus was referring to? It was the prophets of the Old Testament, and also John the Baptist, who prepared hearts by communicating God’s word.
But I have to add that God did the hard work as well. How much do we see that He’s always active, always arranging things so people will reach out to him, or respond to the gospel?
It’s crazy for me to think of the innumerable ways God worked to bring me to a point of commitment. He put me in the right place to awaken my faith. He put my future husband in my life. When my heart was sad over my mom’s divorce, he drew me to him. When my husband and I got married, he led us to a church that would change our lives
When I’ve studied the Bible with others, it’s sobering to realize how much of their conversion was not up to me. One young woman said she was done, but then came to church one more time, and when she did, there was just the right sister visiting who talked to her for hours until she had a breakthrough. Another woman hit a wall, and I thought it was over, but then she called me out of the blue while I was on vacation, walking on the beach, and said she wanted to be baptized. Another started studying the Bible, and then disappeared for months. At some point, one of her friends threw out an invitation for her to come back. She came, made a commitment, and is still faithful today.
All of this reminds me that it’s NOT all about me and my efforts. There are some great verses that back this up.
- I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. I Cor. 3:6
- As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isa 55:10-11
I think one of the best illustrations of what we are to do is given in the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. One boy provided what he could, five loaves of bread and two fishes. God made what the boy gave increase exponentially. In the same way, we are to do what we can for God, and give him our best efforts. But then we need to realize that he is creating the increase, not us.
And he will create the increase on his time table.
Or he might not create an increase at all.
I think that’s the hardest part for me to understand. I have this bulldozer type of idealism, where I think, “I’ll just keep pushing forward and doing the good things for God, and he’s going to come through and work in amazing ways.”
But now I’ve realized that is actually telling God what he’s supposed to do. Instead, I should say, “I’m going to put my efforts out there. But what happens is up to God. He may bless my efforts. He may not. But he’s always good. I will trust him no matter what.”
The key is to put our efforts out there. God wants to use us. He wants to use the strengths and abilities he put in us. But we don’t know how exactly he’s going to use us, or where he’s going with our efforts. We want so badly to direct him, and tell him how to make our ventures successful. In my case, I’m addicted to productivity, and I’m very motivated to see the fruit of everything I do.
It’s hard to, instead, do what I can, and trust God when things are quiet, and I feel unproductive. It’s hard to be humble. It’s hard to not think I am failing.
One verse that I love that helps with this is Ecclesiastes 11:1-2. “Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return. Put your investments in several places–many places even–because you never know what kind of bad luck you are going to have in this world.” (NIV, GNT)
We just need to send our ships out. We just need to invest in several places. I know my husband and I don’t have all of our money for the future in one pot. We have savings. We have a 401K. We have some money in Vanguard funds. And even in the 401K, the money is in many different places. We don’t know when the market might go down, so we diversify.
We need to diversify for God as well. That’s another way of saying that we need to go about doing good and acting in faith in all sorts of ways.
Because, going back to the first point, our “investments” are just one piece of what’s happening. God has been working, and continues to do so. Others are contributing to the softening of hearts. It’s not up to us. We just do what we can, and give God something to work with.
One of our ships will return. Jesus promises that there are people who are ready, and we will find them at some point.
But if we don’t, we keep on going.
We keep investing, using what we’ve been given — our abilities, our time, our knowledge.
And we curl up, and find contentment in the Lord.
LORD, I have given up my pride and turned away from my arrogance. I am not concerned with great matters or with subjects too difficult for me. Instead, I am content and at peace. As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my heart is quiet within me. Israel, trust in the LORD now and forever! (Ps. 131 GNT)