“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:9-10 (NIV)
It is harvest time in southern Minnesota. The fields are full of tall corn with brown, dry leaves, with the last hints of green. The fields are full of short, golden brown bean plants, as the warm winds gradually draw the moisture from their leaves. Some fields have already been harvested; some are not quite ready. Many farmers expect an abundant crop.
Harvest time is a time filled with anticipation and reward. But we all know that the harvest did not just happen. Much hard work went into producing this crop. The spring began with an abundance of rain, and fields too wet to plant. Throughout the summer there were anxious times when rain was scarce. Farmers did all that they could to work toward a good harvest. Now they are reaping the benefit of their diligent efforts.
The Bible equates our lives to a farmer’s field. Throughout our lives we plant seeds that we hope will produce a positive harvest. There are times when this seems very difficult; times when the conditions of life seem to work against us. There are times when we see great progress and promise. There are anxious times when we see little progress or promise. Our job, like that of farmers, is to be faithful to the task; to persevere when times are tough and to be diligent about all the small details of life. It is this diligence that will yield a spiritual harvest.
Sometimes we get tired of dealing with all the small details. We wonder if they really matter. We are tempted to let them slide. But, if we neglect the small things, we often pay a high price.
I learned that lesson in a very tangible way several years ago. We had asked a young couple to house-sit for us while we were on vacation. Before we left town, I showed the young man how to run the riding mower. We were to be gone for two weeks, so the lawn would need to be mowed at least once. What I failed to stress was that you had to mix oil with the gas when you were running the mower. It was just a little thing, but... when we got home, I discovered a repentant young man, and a ruined mower. He had failed to put oil in the gas and had blown a hole the size of a baseball through the side of the engine. Being diligent about the small things does matter.
Paul tells us that, if we want to reap a spiritual harvest, we need to be diligent. We need to keep our eyes on the goal and deal with all the details along the way. We cannot just hope for the best, we must diligently work toward the best.
There are many things that can discourage us along the way. We can become discouraged when we do not perceive significant progress. We can become discouraged when we do not see immediate, tangible results. We can become discouraged when the effort we exert does not seem to be rewarded. At these times, Paul tells us not to become weary of doing good.
As one person has put it, we can become weary in doing good, but not weary of doing good. I know both sides of that equation intimately. There are times when I get tired while doing the work to which God has called me. I expend much energy in Kingdom work, which then requires times of refreshment and rejuvenation. That kind of weariness has a pleasant taste. It is the weariness of giving all you have and feeling good about it. But, there are also times when I just get tired of putting out the effort. Progress is often slow and costly. I begin to wonder if my efforts are worth all the struggle.
When I find myself in one of these down times, I need to be reminded of the big picture. There will be a harvest, if I do not give up. Paul reminds us that the harvest will come in its proper time. We get discouraged because we get impatient. But, we cannot rush the harvest. It takes time. If we give up, if we stop short of the goal, we will lose out.
Every year we plant a garden. The reason that we do this is to produce a crop. We plant tomatoes, beans, onions, squash, cucumbers. What if, in the middle of the summer, we went out to our garden to survey our progress. We look at all of the green plants, but find no fruit. If we decide at that point to give up on the garden, to pull up all the plants, and till the soil, we will lose out on the harvest. Because, the harvest comes, not on our time table, but at the proper time.
The harvest that we are working for is not measured in bushels of corn or baskets of tomatoes. The harvest we are working toward is measured in lives transformed but the love of Christ. That harvest does not come all at once, like the fall harvest in southern Minnesota. That harvest comes a little at a time, over time. It requires that we faithfully cultivate relationships, so when the time of harvest comes, we are ready.
Paul challenges us to take advantage of every opportunity we have to do good. I have learned that doing good, in the norm, takes the form of doing small things. Most of the good we do comes in bite sized pieces. I cannot think of anything that I have done that could be called grand or magnificent. My ministry has been a string of small things, done over time. The key is not the size, but the act. Paul says, whenever you have the chance, do good. We often miss more chances than we realize. But, each time we intentionally reach out to another person in the name of Jesus, we plant a seed in our spiritual garden. God, the master gardener, cares for those seeds so that one day we can reap the harvest. But, it is up to us to plant the seeds. If we do not plant the seeds, there will be nothing for God to nurture on our behalf. As Paul says, we need to take every chance we have to plant the seeds of good deeds.
If we are faithful, the harvest will come. That is a promise from God.