FIRST-PERSON: Lessons from a farmer
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (BP) -- My brother-in-law Travis, a farmer, daily dips his hands in the fertile south Texas soil that is his family's very provision.
He and his farmer-father and farmer-uncles have turned, tilled and molded the soil into neat rows, with acres and acres now fertilized and implanted with various species of seeds: sorghum, sugar cane, cotton, sesame or cabbage.
After planting, they scrupulously monitor the soil, coax it with aeration, search it for even the smallest of weeds or pests. And then they will wait for the sun and the rain and the miraculous work of seeds becoming sprouts becoming stalks.
A farmer, perhaps more than most, knows something about faith.
It's no wonder that Scripture encourages us to look to the farmer as an example. When the apostle Paul tells Timothy to be strong in the grace of Christ, he points to the hard-working farmer (2 Timothy 2:6). When he exhorts the Galatian churches toward endurance, he speaks of perennial planting and patient waiting for an inevitable harvest (Galatians 6:9).
In my own life, I recognize my need to look to the farmer. My husband and I have been married and in ministry for 16 years. We have parented for 13; we're completing our eighth year of planting and growing a church; and I'm staring ahead at years of more cultivating, weeding and watering.
At times, I feel trapped by the everydayness of life and how much work there is yet to do. I stand with the soil cupped in my hands, wondering if my labor will amount to anything in the end. How do I continue in all God has called me to do without growing weary, especially when the work is demanding and the harvest appears so far into the future?
I look to the farmer for answers:
A farmer has an unwavering commitment to the harvest.
Travis tells me farming is not a typical job where you can give your two-week notice and walk away. When you farm, you're connected to a specific land and you've invested in expensive equipment, a community and oftentimes previous generations of your family who have farmed. In other words, the farmer is covenanted to his work for a lifetime, working his land with the yearly harvest ever before him. Every investment in equipment, every decision regarding the precise planting time, every weed uprooted -- all of it is done with the harvest in mind.
This reminds me that I too am called to a lifelong commitment to the harvest, one that is played out in everyday acts of devotion. At its very center is a commitment to self-death -- to a deep-root, big picture where instant growth, instant fruit, instant reward can never be the goal but rather a steady pace over the long haul.
A farmer lives and works by faith.
Farming is backbreaking work -- dirty, detailed and, most of all, risky. A few years ago, Travis reminds me, when the crop stood bountiful in the fields, ready for harvest, a hurricane blew through the Rio Grande Valley and wiped it away. All that labor, all that waiting, for nothing.
We might ask, Why would we invest everything in a risky venture? The farmer, however, looks at his failed crop as a tangible reminder that the harvest inevitably belongs to the Lord. The farmer must be faithful to lay the groundwork for the harvest, but the harvest cannot be forced; it can only happen through the Lord's providence.
A farmer enjoys a unique reward.
I ask Travis if he thinks about the harvest every day. He says most days he does. On the days when you're knee-deep in manure? "Yes." When the irrigation line bursts? "Yes." When you're working sun-up to sun-down in the summer? "Yes, especially then. It's the time of the year that we work the hardest, but it's the most satisfying. You've made it another year, you've grown another crop. It's financially rewarding, but it's also the satisfaction of knowing that you've put it into the ground and you've harvested it."
There is joy in the harvest, and the greatest satisfaction belongs to the one who carefully cultivated it all along the way. The hard-working farmer, as Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:6, is the one "who ought to have the first share of the crops." I've taken that to mean that the farmer eats of his labor, but, in talking to Travis, I see that it means so much more.
Joy results from his long-term faithfulness. He is content in his work and in seeing what it's produced over the years. He has learned the secret joy of trusting in God's providence. But there is also joy for Travis in what he cannot see. He explains how one tiny seed becomes a huge plant that produces seeds a thousand fold. The harvest multiplies itself and goes out into the world in a way that he will never see with his own eyes.
In our work and in our weariness, let us look to the farmer. Let us keep the big picture in mind. If we don't give up, one day we will enjoy the final harvest and its bountiful rewards.