Today’s guest post author is Stuart Sheehan, president of World Hope Ministries International and director of the World Hope Bible Institute. The Institute focuses on facilitating pastors and professors who want to do short-term pastoral training in international centers. To learn more about World Hope, go to http://www.whmi.org.
“For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” John 4:37-38
Pride and discouragement are two great enemies of ministry. For many of us, we are often battling one or the other. The reasons for this are many, but I suspect that Jesus may have hit the taproot of both in these few words about the nature of Kingdom work.
The issue lies in how we see our part in His work. While God may intend for us to see great harvest in our place of ministry, it may also be true He intends for others to reap the fruit of our labor. Let’s be honest; harvesting is the fun part. Conversely, labor without results can be frustrating. Success becomes a temptation to self-congratulation, and a lack of productivity becomes an invitation to despair and indifference.
This highlights the problem of seeing our work in isolation, not vitally connected to others who came before us, work beside us, or will work after we are gone. Such a view is myopic and fails to recognize our place in the workforce of a timeless, Almighty God.
Embracing a proper perspective in ministry can go a long way in keeping our spirits up and our hearts humble. John 4:37-38 provides two important reminders:
1.The right perspective protects me from pride in the middle of apparent success. If we are gathering fruit, there is one thing of which we can be sure: the success is not ours. Rather, the harvest is possible because in most cases, others labored before us. Even if we are the first to reach the unreached, we stand on the shoulders of many others. In ministry, no one is an island to himself. Apart from the work of God (often through others), we would neither be in the field nor have any fruit to pick. Instead, if we have any harvest whatsoever, we should reap with deep gratitude for God and others. The right perspective of ministry helps check our pride.
2.The right perspective protects me from discouragement when there is no apparent success. We often become so focused on reaping that we lose sight of the value of planting. A call to ministry is not solely a call to reap. Some may faithfully labor and see little or no fruit. This does not mean that God is not working. We would do well to realize that a call to ministry is first a call to faithfulness, not a call to results. When you have no visible fruit, keep sowing. Do so in faith that God, in His time, will send other harvesters. That kind of perspective can help fill the long days of ministry with hope rather than despair.
Whether we are picking fruit we did not plant or planting so that others may harvest, we must remember that we are not called to success—we are called to faithfulness. “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 1 Cor. 3:7