During his retirement years, my grandfather maintained a garden large enough to feed the family for weeks. Occasionally, we joined him in the work. We would plow the dirt, plant the seeds, and pull the harvest respectively. It was a painful privilege. Looking back, I realize I never truly experienced the labor like he did, but I was fortunate to get a taste of the toil, and the cucumbers.
Recently, I tasted the toil of a different king of planting—the church kind. Less than a year ago, our local church planted another in Parker, Colorado. At that time, we sent mission teams almost weekly for the first few months in order to help plow, plant, and pull. This trip was the beginning of our second wave of teams.
Tilling Through Turmoil
In Colorado, it’s easy to forget you are on a mission trip. While taking the gospel door-to-door, you can’t help but to periodically pause to absorb the majestic mountains in the distance. They truly are a sight to behold. Really, the only distraction from the snow-caps is the wildlife. It freely frolics throughout the neighborhoods seemingly oblivious to the humans around them. These splendid sights made the work a little lighter, but not easier.
In the garden of Parker, the spiritual ground is nearly impenetrable. Hearts are hardened and even hostile to the gospel. It made plowing difficult, planting arduous, and pulling sparse. We were, to creatively revive the old cliché, cultivating concrete. It was a painful privilege.
Each day, the unexpected happened, until it was expected. We knocked on doors to share the hope of salvation. Within a couple of hours, we had our first exciting conversation. A woman, so intrigued by the gospel, sat down on her doorstep with a charcoal mask on her face. After surrendering her life to Christ, she returned to her house to finish her skincare routine. Minutes later, a Roman Catholic confessed he had never heard about forgiveness in Christ. With one foot propping the screen door open, he was delivered from his guilt.
We could only hope to see more of the same. However, the thrill we experienced that first day turned into turmoil that lasted the rest of the week. Sickness ensued. Apathy arose. And enmity followed. We were reminded how hard hearts can really be.
“There are no gods,” one man yelled from behind the glass. Even through the tint I could see his veins bursting through his neck. Two houses down we could still hear him shouting things using language I wish my two daughters didn’t have to hear. Another man, desiring to make a public spectacle, snatched our tracts off his door and tossed them into his empty trash can at the end of his driveway. He was so furious he forgot to drag the can back up to the garage.
The gospel, although wonderfully good news, can often stir the pot of the hardened heart. “You know,” someone said to me, “he was right—there are no gods.” He meant to lighten the air, not to trivialize the sadness of sin. The Bible tells us that the call of Christ is a stumbling block to some. I suppose we didn’t think we’d see so many fall over it. It felt like we were tilling through turmoil.
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”Matthew 11:12
Tasting the Toil
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t always so toilsome at my grandfather’s farm. At the foot of the garden, there were blackberry vines woven into the fence that my grandmother used to the family’s favorite cobbler. It was also a tasty reward after a row of hard work. We ate one for every ten pulled. What came at a great cost to us, yielded and even greater reward.
In the garden of Parker, the labor was costly, but the reward was greater. There is an incredible sense of satisfaction that welcomed us at the end of each day. Doing the work of God clears the conscience, encourages the soul, and charges the heart, despite the conversations or lack thereof. It isn’t quite what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “it is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” (2 Tim. 2:6), but it’s close enough.
The first share of the crops is the taste of God’s goodness. Diligent Bible teachers know exactly what it tastes like. I think we did too. Christ gave us a taste of His saving grace, then we shared its fruit with others. The greatest reward was the presence of Christ who remained close throughout the thick of it all. My pastor says it often, “It’s not you at the door, it’s Christ through you.”
Gardening the fields of this world is challenging, but rewarding. It pains the body, but satisfies the soul. Maybe, this is where the goodness of God is tasted more fully, there in the fields among the thorns and thickets of this world just like my grandfather’s blessed blackberries.
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”Psalm 34:8
The Farmer Invites You
Christian, this is your painful privilege. The loving Farmer is working the fields, and He invites you to join Him in plowing the dirt, planting the seed, and pulling the harvest. He calls you by name and promises a satisfying reward.
If the fields are not your home, then remember those for whom it is. Our church planters and missionaries are tilling through turmoil and tasting the toil. The experiences we had in a week are their experiences for a lifetime. Remember them. Pray for them. Encourage them.
For those of you who live in the field, your labor is not in vain. The vineyards you plant will bear fruit. The fields will sing out and rejoice with the truth. For all that is old will alas be made new. God is with you.
“My beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”1 Corinthians 15:58