Working really hard, but not sweating it

The following devotional was presented in a church leadership and planning meeting last night at Horizon Church. As I was putting this material together, I found my soul warmed and motivated by the truth of God’s Word. I think it was well accepted by the men and women gathered about the table last night. Perhaps it will be of some encouragement to you this morning. Perhaps the Lord will use it to encourage someone serving in your particular church.

Joe Franks – Horizon Church


Mark 4:26-29

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Who’s the main man?

It is understandable how one might see the farmer is the main man in this parable, but I encourage you to see someone else in this light. While the farmer is front and center, the parable is really about the Sovereign Monarch. God is the king. He is the one who owns the entire world. He is the one who providentially controls all that happens in his realm — from the hairs on man’s head to the heads of nations. God is the one who desires fruit. God is the one who summons and employs farmers and laborers in his service. Ultimately, this is a parable about the King, his kingdom, his laboring sons and daughters, and his fruit.

What is the fruit desired by the King?

Certainly, God desires the fruit of worship. He is the one who sends his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, and the Spirit is the one who inwardly fruits us and allows us to have godly desires, thoughts, words, and deeds. And when the Heavenly Father sees those unified with Christ, clothed in his righteousness, filled with his Spirit, and walking contrary to their old natures, he is pleased with his work and fruit showing forth in his sons and daughters.

However, more specifically, in this parable I believe God is speaking of people. God desires a huge quantity of high quality disciples. In the Gospel of John, God has told us how he seeks men and women who worship him in spirit and truth. In the Apocalypse of John, he shows how he engineers worshipers from every tribe, nation, language, tongue, gender, class, and culture. Yes, a huge quantity of high quality disciples is the passion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Together, the three Persons of the Godhead have been working towards this end for millennia, and they will make sure they receive a most bountiful harvest.

What is the fruit we should desire?

We are to love him who first loved us, and we are to love that which our loved-one loves. Because our King is so worthy and magnificent, we are to have his kingdom and his interests first and foremost on our minds. Jesus taught us to pray, “Not our will, but thine be done.” He taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done.” And he encouraged us to look at the fields, see how ripe they are for harvest, and passionately pray for even more laborers. Yes, our desires ought to be in-sync with his. A huge quantity of high quality disciples should be that which inwardly and outwardly moves us, especially seeing he has called us to be laborers in his field, fishers of men, royal ambassadors, heralds of the Gospel, salty and bright people with good-looking feet going out in obedience to his Great Commission,

What would the King have us do?

As his like-minded sons and daughters, he would have us work really hard. He would have us follow our passions, outline our dreams, select our strategies, plan our work, prepare for our work, and then work our plan. Men and women work incredibly hard for their own kingdom interests. So much effort is put forth to see success in political kingdoms here and there. How much harder ought men and women to labor for the King, his kingdom, and his cherished fruit — men, women, boys, girls brought out of darkness and into his marvelous light.

He would also have us work really smart. Understanding the desired crop of the King, we are wise to utilize the seed the brings forth the desired fruit. The all-wise king has already told us that which works best:

  • Sowing the Word of God
  • Watering it with prayer
  • Fertilizing it with sacramental worship
  • Cultivating it in the greenhouse of Christian community.

Yes, as the early church was “devoted” to the Apostles teaching, the breaking of bread, the prayers, and fellowship, so we are wise to be consumed with such. We have great liberty in how we utilize the means of grace, but we are not free to imagine success outside God’s appointed seed. We are to work hard, and we are to work smart, as we labor hard for a huge quantity of high quality disciples.

What would the King have us not do?

The King would have us work really hard, but he would not have us sweat it.

In that day, farmers “knew not how” everything worked. They did not understand the secret inner workings of plants. Sure, they knew much about the seasons, weather, soil, and best practices, but they had not the scientific information available today. Therefore, they did their job, said their prayers, and left the rest up to the “automatic” forces going on behind the scenes.

Friends, like the farmer, we cannot understand the secret working of God. We are not privy to his elective list. We know not the number and names of the predestined ones. We cannot read the Lamb’s Book of Life penned before the foundation of the world, and we cannot identify those who are given the gifts of faith and repentance. Who knows who is being softened and who is being hardened by the Word? It is beyond our comprehension to see those being irresistibly called or left alone and turned over to their own depravity. Friends, this is not within our pay-grade. This is not our business. There is a heavenly council meeting who determines this from above. Therefore, this is not to be our concern; this is not to keep us awake at nights. At the end of the day, we are the ones responsible for faithfully and fervently utilizing the means of grace. We are not the ones responsible for the fruit — the huge quantity of high quality disciples. We are to work really, really hard, but we are not to sweat the results.

How should this parable encourage us?

First, we should find ourselves encouraged to repent. As we review our hearts, we will surely find we do not always have God’s chief desires as primary passions. We have not the love for his glory that he has. We have not the love for the lost that we ought. We have not the work ethic he deserves. We use not the Means of Grace as he ordains. And we are far to busy working on our own kingdoms than focusing on “The Main Man” and his “Great Mission.” We are guilty of lusting for lesser fruit and not panting for a huge quantity of high quality disciples.

Second, we should be encouraged to rest. Last year, we did not perform well enough to hear, “Well done.” This year, we are not having any greater success on our own; we are not meeting our king’s high expectations. And truthfully, next year, we will not keep his Law. Bottom line, we never can perform well enough to hear, “Well done.” We are just not that good at our laborers in his kingdom field. However, because of the faithful work of Jesus Christ, all we ever hear at the end of every day is “Well done, my good and faithful servants!” And this has nothing to do with our labor; it is only due to Jesus Christ and his work on our behalf. So, regardless of your performance, nourish your wounded soul with the Gospel. Jesus saw your ecclesiastical and evangelical disobedience, and he died for all those sins as well.

Third, we should be encouraged to pray. After offering forth our prayers of confession, adoration, and thanksgiving, let us offer forth our prayers of supplication. The Father has already told us how he loves to answer prayers in accordance with his will. Therefore, since it is his stated will that we be faithful ambassadors and missionaries, it is very reasonable to expect him to transform us from the inside-out. Let us pray that we might be more like Jesus, more like Paul, more like the early church. Let us pray that we might be freshly filled with the Holy Spirit that we might burn white-hot with love for God’s glory and our lost neighbors.

Fourth, we should be encouraged to act upon our new affections. We should work very hard and very smart. As the Holy Spirit awakens us from our missional lethargy, we should find ourselves bearing forth the fruit of our repentance. We should plan, plow, sow, water, fertilizer, and nurture the king’s fruit like never before. We should place our trust in the king and his means of grace, and then we should wear ourselves out in seeking a huge quantity of high quality disciples.

Fifth, we should be encouraged to be humbly optimistic. We should be more humble realizing our place in God’s economy. We are not good enough to keep the elect out of the kingdom, and we are not good enough to get the non-elect in the kingdom. The labor is our duty, but the fruitfulness is God’s responsibility. Therefore, we do not find ourselves overly discouraged with a smaller crop than desired; we also do not find ourselves overly impressed with ourselves when we reap a bumper-crop. Neither depression nor arrogance have a place with us, because we don’t take ourselves so seriously. That being said, we are greatly optimistic. The King is sovereign, and he never fails. In his book, he has already told us the end of the matter:

  • His Kingdom will grow and grow and grow – like a mustard seed.
  • The gates of hell shall not prevail.
  • His church shall never perish.
  • All those foreknown, they are called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.
  • The Lamb’s Book of Life is without error and there are no eraser marks.
  • All Christ’s sheep will hear his voice and come to him.
  • He will not lose a one of them.
  • God decrees whatsoever comes to pass – including the size and scope of ministry.
  • God uses donkeys.
  • God uses disobedient prophets like Jonah.
  • God uses disappointing disciples like the Twelve.
  • God can even use us.

Therefore, friends, have gigantic dreams. Desire more and not less. Lust for a huge quantity of high quality disciples. And then labor diligently for that which is your shared passion with the king. However, as you work really hard, there is no need to sweat the results. Though this is in your heart, this is not in your hands.

 

 

 


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