Reaping A Harvest
REAPING A HARVEST
I am not sure you all have guessed this by now, but I am not much of a farmer. Perhaps you imagined that I spent my youth bailing hay and milking cows in the Shenandoah Valley. If so, I am sorry to disappoint. In fact, my mother did grow up on a Dairy Farm in New York State, but I was raised by two college professors, so I spent most of my time harvesting knowledge rather than harvesting corn.
So it was a bit of a culture shock when I moved out to rural Indiana, to a town of a thousand people, where farming was one of the major occupations. I had farmers and cattle traders in my congregation. I got to ride a giant combine as it harvested soy and corn. Those things cost more than a house now, and they have GPS. And no I didn’t get to drive one.
Intellectually, I understood that food comes from the ground. But I had never actually gotten to know farmers who spent the majority of their time reaping a harvest from the Earth. I learned that farming could be very profitable. I had a couple of families that made a pretty good living from farming. But I also learned farming was not for those with high levels of anxiety. It was not for those who were paralyzed by what the future might hold. You could get the most technologically advanced combine, the best genetically engineered seed, and you could do everything right, but you were still at the mercy of Mother nature. There is an element of Reaping a Harvest in nature that no high tech combine can make any easier. There are some things about the harvest that people can’t control.
And when Jesus saw the crowds he had compassion on them for they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. And he declared, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.” This is Jesus’ pray for evangelism. His pray that His Kingdom may expand beyond the disciples he currently has. This is his pray that the Great Commission may be fulfilled. This is his prayer that we may make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28). The harvest is ready Jesus tells us. We must reap it. How do we reap a harvest? The principles Jesus teaches can be useful both for our church and for our personal lives.
Many in the Western world are no longer connected to agriculture. Our lives do not revolve around the Harvest. But for much of human history, and certainly for the history of Israel, the Harvest was essential for survival. What principles can we learn from agriculture to help us grow our church? I see three principles that we can apply.
- Prepare the Soil
- Grow Organically
- The Principle of Sowing and Reaping
First, we must prepare the soil. In nature farmers do this through fertilizers, different crop rotations, allowing the soil to not be used or lie fallow so it may regain its nutrients. In the spiritual realm we prepare the soil around us through prayer.
Perhaps you have heard of Dwight D. Moody. He was a famous American Evangelist who founded the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, among other ministries. In 1871 a great fire erupted in Chicago, destroying much of the city. Moody and his organization helped provide humanitarian aid. After the fire, Moody traveled to England to rest. He planned to listen to some of the great preachers of the day such as George Mueller, a man who founded an orphanage that provided for thousands of orphans by the grace of God.
Moody was asked to preach one Sunday in the Northern part of London. He preached that morning with great difficultly. He felt no power in his words. Indeed, he was tired and embarrassed. He was just glad it was over with. But then he remembered he had agreed to preach in the evening service as well. He went to that service with much dread. But the evening reaped an entirely different result. In Moody’s own words,
“I went to the evening service with a heavy heart. But I had not been preaching long when it seemed as if the powers of an unseen world had fallen upon my audience.” At the end of the sermon he asked for all those who wanted to receive Christ to stand. 500 people stood. Thinking it was a mistake he asked anyone who wanted to give their life to Christ to meet him in the vestry after the service. People poured into the vestry, which is like the office of the church. Still not believing the results, Moody said he had a trip to Ireland and that if they wanted to give their lives to Christ to meet the pastor the next day. When Moody got to Ireland he received a telegraph from the pastor in London. There were more people in the church Monday night then there were Sunday night. The pastor wrote to Moody, “A revival has broken out here in our church, and you must come back and help me.” (Paradigm Shift: Rediscovering God’s Plan For Spiritual Harvest, 143)
I’ve been preaching on prayer since August 20th. Now prayer is a big and diverse topic and we have been learning about a variety of different scriptures, but you might be saying, “Pastor Will that’s a long time to be preaching on prayer.” But I have been soaking the seed, preparing the soil, tilling the ground, in preparation for a harvest. Since I have been here I have preached on the letter of Ephesians, which talks about the foundations of church life, spiritual disciplines, which are how we live out our faith, and prayer, which is how we ask God to do what we cannot do. Because Jesus is Lord of the Harvest. Even with all the money in the world, all the best laid plans, and all the volunteers with all the talents, there is nothing that can replace Jesus making the ground ready for the harvest. The only way to do that is to pray earnestly. The word here means to pray with a sense of urgency. Do you pray with a sense of urgency for your church? Do your insides turn with compassion for the needs you see around you? We are to pray that the Lord would send laborers into the harvest. At first I thought this was praying that new people would come. And sure it is good to do that. But right after this passage Jesus calls out his twelve disciples from among the many that followed him and sent them out to proclaim the Gospel, to reap the Harvest. What this passage says is to pray that we would have the courage to go out and reap the harvest.
Second, we are to grow organically. Plants grow through sunlight and water. How do people grow? In the spiritual realm this is done through showing compassion. The word here means a deep feeling of love that moves you in your gut. The harvest that Jesus is talking about in this passage doesn’t seem all that appealing. The sick and the afflicted. People who cast down and cast out. Instead of a harvest of strawberries it seems like Jesus wants to harvest wild berries with thorns. Showing compassion is as easy as giving and receiving invitations. Your invitation to a friend to come to Calvin is more valuable than any social media campaign, radio advertisement, or outreach event.
About every other day or so I think about my biggest regret in my first call. I had a lot to learn back then and I still have a lot to learn. But one mistake still stands out to me. I probably think about it twice a week if not more. I think it was a Saturday during the summer and I was running around the small town of Pierceton, where I lived. The town only had a thousand people, a thousand and one including me. I could probably run around the town three times in the period of an hour. They had a saying in Indiana. “Wait a minute and the weather will change.” Meaning, because Indiana was in the center of multiple weather currents, weather could change very quickly. And as I was running around town it began to rain. It was a light rain. More than a drizzle but not a downpour. I was running past a house I often ran past. It had a volley ball net and some folks were playing volleyball. Usually the garage was closed. But this time it was open. I knew one of the men in the garage. He was a friend of one of my members and I had talked with him on occasion. He invited me in to get out of the rain. But I must have had a long week or something. I just wasn’t in the mood. So I told him I was fine and I would just run back to my house, which was not far away. And that is what I did. But afterward I kicked myself. Being the new guy in a small close knit town is pretty hard. It is hard to be accepted if you are an outsider from Virginia who has moved to a small town in Indiana. I had been praying for doors to be opened. But I wasn’t thinking. It wasn’t a house door, but it was a literal garage that was open to me. But I had turned off my “pastor mode”. So I turned down the invitation. Looking back on it I think that was a turning point in my ministry. That man had shown compassion on me and I had refused his compassion because I was too busy, or because I felt like an outsider, or because whatever reason. The scripture say a single man has plenty of time to give to the Lord (1 Cor 7). I used to resent that. Now I appreciate it. Because my time isn’t my time. Your time isn’t your time. It’s the Lord’s. He is the Lord of the Harvest, the land, and time. We all have our responsibilities and limits to our time. But when we are willing to give the Lord our time, to receive an invitation and go off the beaten path, or to make time to give an invitation to those in need of it, the Lord will work through our invitation.
Finally, we must learn the lesson of sowing and reaping. You reap what you sow is a powerful metaphor that in my experience is often used to describe the effects of negative decisions people make. But the Bible uses it in both a positive and negative fashion. You get out of the ground what you put into it. If you put in good seed you get a harvest. If you put in bad seed you get weeds.
But I think it important that we distinguish the idea of reaping and sowing from the idea of karma, which has become popular in our culture with rise in popularity of Eastern Religions. Karma is the idea where good deeds and actions influence ones future and bad ideas and actions influence ones future. The idea is if you do a good deed, like help a homeless person, you build up good karma. And if something good happens to you later that might be a direct result of you helping that homeless person. Likewise, if you do something bad, and then something bad happens to you, that might be a result of the bad thing you did. There is a direct cause and effect between what we do and the consequences of those actions upon us.
Sowing and reaping differs because the effects are not automatic. And in life we see this. Just because you help a homeless once doesn’t mean that action will have any effect on your life. Just because you make one bad decision doesn’t mean you will reap the consequences of that decision later down the line. Sowing seed is an intentional act that continues over time. A farmer doesn’t just plant his or her crops and then say, “well my job is done.” Being a farmer is a year round process. It never stops. There are just different seasons. Some of the hardest working people I have ever met were in my last congregation. To me making a living out of things that sprouted out of the ground was almost magical. It was like making something out of nothing. But the farmers in my last congregation didn’t make something out of nothing. They used seed. And they didn’t believe that Karma would maintain their fields, they believed that hard work would maintain their fields. There is a great value in persistence. I have invited many people to church since I have been here. Thus far only one has taking me up on the offer. But it is a continual process. We don’t just hold an event and then say we are done. Our lives become about laying the seed of the Word of God in the lives of others. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:6-9). Much of life, I have found, is about good timing. It is about knowing what season you are in. I believe a season of revival is coming for this church. I believe prayer is key. I believe this is a praying church. I believe we need to pray more, we need to love more, we need to hope more. People have commented to me that sometimes they feel like they are in a revival service. And I know that is an unusual feeling for a traditional service. But revival is something I need, it is something you need, it is something this church needs, it is something this nation needs, it is something this world needs. I keep saying it because I don’t believe in Karma. I believe we reap what we sow. And we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
To quote Fultz and Ford, “ The Value of a Seed lies in what it does on its own.” (Fultz and Ford, pg 131). No one can make a seed grow. Indeed, Paul says neither the one who plants a church or who waters the church matters, only God who gives the growth ( 1 Corinthians 3:7). Man can only alter the environment to make growing conditions better. The Kingdom of God is much like a seed Jesus tells us. In Mark 4 Jesus tells a story of a man who scatters seed on the ground. As the man sleeps the plant grows, and the man knows not how (Mark 4:26). Indeed, many have planted seeds of faith in our lives. Maybe we didn’t believe those people when they tried to minister to us but down the line we remember their influence on our lives. We feel bad that we couldn’t see the truth they were trying to impart to us. But a seed grows on its own. God gives the growth. We can only help with the right conditions. So just because you haven’t reaped a harvest yet doesn’t mean you are a failure. It just means it is not the season for harvest yet.
We all have people who have sown seed into our lives. In my life my grandmother, Louise Roberts, sowed a seed in my life. Louise Roberts was an English Professor. I believe she taught Beowolf till she was 84 years old. She made the best pancakes which explains my obsession with pancakes. She died from cancer my sophomore year of college. The last time I saw her was on my birthday. And the first sermon I ever preached was at her eulogy. A couple of months after she passed away I was driving back to Harrisonburg from Charlottesville with my mother one night. I told my mother that I wanted to go to seminary and become a minister. And I was afraid. Because my grandfather was a minister and my father and him had a falling out. My father was not a fan of organized religion. But my mother told me that my grandmother believed I would become a minister. And that planted a seed in me. That gave me courage. And my father was fine with it. He just wanted me to be happy.
And it took a lot longer than I thought to reach that goal. From the time I decided to go to seminary to the time I was ordained it was about 12 years. There were ups and downs. Moments of light and moments of darkness. There were moments I doubted if I was on the right path. But I held onto my grandmother’s words. The seed she planted in me. And when I was ordained in Indiana I learned something from my mother that I had not known before. I thought that my grandmother had said to my mother that I would become a minister as my mother took care of her as my grandmother died of cancer. But my mother corrected me after my ordination. My grandmother had said I would become a minister when I was eleven years old. When I didn’t know how to speak. When I didn’t know God, when I had done nothing, my grandmother saw something in me and she planted a seed. And she did not get to see a harvest.
And we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. Many have invested in this church. And maybe this is not our best days. Maybe we have not seen the fullness of our ministry. But we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. If you are feeling like giving up hold on, we will reap a harvest. We cannot control the seed but let us not tire of doing good. The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. And there are many who are harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. But they do not have to be without a shepherd because we know a Good Shepherd and it is time that we introduce them to Him. So let us not tire of doing good for we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)