Slow and Steady

Last week, we were challenged to move faith-forward.  We learned that faith is not about the results, but about our obedience and trust in God as we follow Him.  This morning, we’re being reminded of that old fable that ‘slow and steady’ wins the race.

Paul wrote several times about this race of faith that we are running.  Of course, we’re well aware that this race that we are running isn’t a 40 yard dash, but rather, a life-long marathon.  To run this race requires perseverance, endurance, and yes, that fruit of the Spirit that we desire the least; patience!

Sure, God’s plans and purposes for your life may be far grander than you can even imagine, but we achieve those plans and purposes by obediently following Him one step at a time.  Even as we were reminded two weeks ago, many miraculous acts of God’s provision occurred progressively as it was being given out without even realizing that a miracle was taking place until afterwards.

There’s only six more weeks left in the regular NFL season.  As painful as this reality might be, the Ravens have us beat by 2 games so far…  At least we’re still beating the Browns overall, right?  We’ll soon be getting ready for that pinnacle game that every team sets out to play in every year; the super bowl!

The super bowl might be the end goal, but it is achieved one game at a time.  Winning the game might be the goal, but it is achieved one touchdown or field goal at a time.  The end zone might be the goal, but it is achieved 10 yards at a time. 

First down might be the goal, but it is achieved as each individual player does their part and executes the play as planned.  Executing the play might be the goal, but it achieved as each player memorizes those plays and disciplines themselves through practice and intense training.

The super bowl is ultimately won and lost in the weight room, during the morning run, at the dinner table, and at off-season practices.

Sure, we all love those 75 yard runs and hail Mary passes caught while diving into the end zone!  However, in all truthfulness, those championship rings are earned through consistently executing plays one yard at a time.

Winning the race that Christ has called us to is no different.  We win this race through one step of obedience and integrity at a time.  Yes, we must faithfully do our part, but then we need to patiently wait on God to do His part.

James 5:7-11

7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.

Talk about patience!  None of us want to wait that long, right!?!?  The Greek word used here is parousia which does mean the future, physical return of Jesus.  However, this word is also defined simply as the presence of God.  In other words, don’t get ahead of God and try to force things to happen – even if those things are His will.  Be patient until the Lord’s coming!  We continue on as James gives us a natural example of this spiritual reality.

See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

The farmer does their part.  They plow and plant and water.  Then, the longest part of the farming process?  They wait and wait and wait until God grows their crop and it eventually bears fruit.  Then, at just the right time – not too early and not too late – they harvest that crop.  Jesus taught that this is what the Kingdom of God is also like.

Mark 4:26-29

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

The farmer watches and prays with pride in their work as it slowly grows.

What do we often do while we’re waiting on the Lord?  Well, James addresses that, too.

9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

When the harvest doesn’t come right after planting seeds, does the farmer start blaming others for it?  Does he complain about the store owner for not selling his crop faster?  Does he complain because the neighbor planted his field too early?  Does he blame his wife for being too naggy while he was spending his time planting? 

No!  He doesn’t blame anyone for anything, he just patiently waits.  Would grumbling against others cause the farmer’s crop to grow faster or healthier?  Has grumbling against one another ever produced a single fruit of the Spirit?  Then why do it?  Why not instead faithfully do our part and patiently wait on God to do His?

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Not only is the Lord full of compassion and mercy, but He is also patient.  We praise God for His patience in dealing with us, so why not also praise Him in return with our patience toward Him also?  After all:

2 Peter 3:9

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

The Lord wants everyone to be saved.  Yes, we need to do our part in sharing the good news about Jesus with others and living a life worthy of His salvation.  We likely don’t share it often enough with those around us.

However, we also need to be patient with them.  The scriptures often use the analogy of how we are like that farmer’s field.  It takes times and seasons before we produce the fruits of the Spirit in our lives.  Let’s do our part, but also give people space and allow time for the Holy Spirit to do His work in their lives as well.

It takes someone to plow up our hard heartedness and hard headedness.  It takes someone to preach and teach us the word to put seeds in our lives.  It takes someone to encourage us as the seed is watered.  It takes someone weeding and pruning with tenderness and extreme care as we grow in our faith.  Only after all of this do we bear fruit and repeat the cycle.

Isaiah 28:23-29

23 Listen and hear my voice;
pay attention and hear what I say.
24 When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually?
Does he keep on breaking up and working the soil?
25 When he has leveled the surface,
does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin?
Does he not plant wheat in its place,
barley in its plot,
and spelt in its field?
26 His God instructs him
and teaches him the right way.

27 Caraway is not threshed with a sledge,
nor is the wheel of a cart rolled over cumin;
caraway is beaten out with a rod,
and cumin with a stick.
28 Grain must be ground to make bread;
so one does not go on threshing it forever.
The wheels of a threshing cart may be rolled over it,
but one does not use horses to grind grain.
29 All this also comes from the Lord Almighty,
whose plan is wonderful,
whose wisdom is magnificent.

God will instruct us and teach us the right way.  He will guide us in how to be effective at reaching the lost with the gospel.  A plow is a good tool, not an evil one.  A plow is the absolute best tool for its job.  However, if the plow continues to plow, it will bring destruction to what it was once building up. 

It is so critically important for us to understand who we are in the body of Christ.  If we try to use our gift at the wrong time or in the wrong way, the very gift that God gave us to build will instead destroy.  It’s not that the gift is bad and it’s not that we are bad or even that we have bad motives, it is simply that there is a time and a purpose and a season for everything.  We must, must, must discern the times and seasons of God and what role we play within them to be effective in our ministry!

The good news is that in a healthy church, all seasons are happening at the same time.  Therefore, all gifts are necessary and valuable.  Although the church may generally be in a specific season, there will always be individuals who are in different seasons in their life. 

This is the beauty and wonder of God’s church – unity expressed through diversity.  There are people who need plowed and need planted and need watered and need pruned and need weeded and need harvested and need replanted and on and on and on. 

There is always work to be done, but there is also always harvesting to rejoice in.  There is never lack and we never fail to bear fruit.  This is why the Bible teaches us to be ready in and out of season because in the body of Christ, there simply is no off season.  There is always someone in a season of life who needs the gifts that God has given us. 

Jesus called this wonderful process discipleship.  We are always simultaneously being discipled by someone and also discipling someone.  We are learning from someone and we are teaching someone.  We are being pruned by someone and we are pruning someone.  We are bearing fruit in our lives and we are planting seeds in others.

Hence our vision here to Gather, Grow, and Go!

For the church to be fruitful, it requires all types of people working in cooperation depending on the season. 

We need apostles to show us where to build our fields – where people are ready to receive the gospel.  We need fire and brimstone evangelists to boldly plow up hard hearts and minds.  We need pastors and teachers to plant the seed of God’s word in our lives and to carefully and lovingly prune and weed us as we grow.  We need prophets who water us with encouragement when our faith is fragile and to show us our potential future.

It takes all of us using our unique gifts and personalities to humbly serve one another to be effective and to truly represent Jesus to those around us.

1 Corinthians 3:5-9

5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field…

This morning, God is challenging us to take a step back in life and to allow Him to bring some revelation to us. 

Have you grown frustrated with someone and feel like giving up on them?  Perhaps you should!  Perhaps your plowing season has ended and it’s time to allow someone else to come along and do some planting. 

Do you feel like you’re not sure where you fit in?  We have resources to help you discern your role in this process and are here to plug you in where you fit.

Do you feel like you’re weary and haven’t seen much fruit for your efforts?  Maybe it’s time to start investing in a different person or to try a new role.

Are you excited and see the spiritual fruit in the lives of those around you?  Awesome!  Invite someone to join you as they learn how to be successful in ministry!

Wherever you are, God has a purpose for it.  Pray about those around you and their needs.  Pray about what role you play in the body of Christ.  Together, let’s cooperate with God to grow into the whole measure of the fullness of Christ!  Slow and steady will win the race!