The United States is a results oriented place. I mean, look at all the reports that are put out, the studies that are done, the goals that are outlined, in every field. Marketing, education, management, manufacturing… all about results. How do we go faster? How do we do better? How do we make more? These are the questions our country kind of runs on.
Obviously, that’s how Christianity must work too, right? How can we better time things, present ourselves, and appeal to people in order to have more and more people walk through our church doors or pray the right prayer with us? Well, I’ll tell you in three easy steps!
That’s how it works, isn’t it?
While it is so important that we are serving people through our ministries and through our personal lives, while it so important to be focused on individual needs and how to meet those needs, and while it is so important that we are trying to reach people for Christ, number orientations and defined outward success are not in the Bible.
Farmers are, though.
1 Corinthians 3 says this: “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.”
Benjamin and I have this itty, bitty garden out on our apartment patio that sits in pots, and I promise you, I have done absolutely nothing to make those plants grow. I planted the seeds (peas and tomatoes, by the way) and I water them when they need watered, but every day that they grow, I am absolutely surprised. Why did they grow today and not yesterday? I don’t know. No clue. They just did.
That’s one picture that God presents of our Christian life when it comes to telling others about Him. It’s our job to do the work God has given us. We need to be boldly telling people about Christ and to be living in such a way that we reflect Christ’s attributes, but that’s all we can really do. The rest is up to God. Sometimes God has set everything up just right so that we can see the fruits of our labors. Sometimes, we won’t know until Heaven what good it did, because that’s not our job. It’s God who “gives the increase.” We are rewarded, not for the increase that happens, but “according to our own labor” – for doing the job God gave us, for His glory.
This was something Elijah struggled with in the book of 1 Kings. He had just had this amazing showdown with the people who worshipped a supposed god called Baal up on Mount Carmel. They had set up their altar and called on Baal to send down fire to light it, but nothing had happened. When it was Elijah’s turn, he had drenched his altar with water and then prayed, asking God if He would show the people that He alone was the one true God. God immediately sent down fire that licked up all the water and burned on the altar bright and clear. “The Lord, He is God!” the spectators had yelled, and Elijah was sure this would turn into a revival.
The next day, however, the queen sent Elijah a note promising his death and Elijah bolted.
What had been the point of him risking his life to set up that demonstration of God’s power? Why had he even bothered to come out of hiding at all?
“It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life,” he prayed (1 Kings 19:4). He was fed up with doing all of this work, of standing so firmly for God and it doing no good. But God showed Him that He had been at work this whole time, that things weren’t nearly as desperate as they had seemed to his limited view (1 Kings 19: 15-18). Elijah hadn’t trusted that God could do more than just what he was able to see.
Sometimes, I worry that we get like that. I know that I often feel overwhelmingly hopeless looking at this world that seems to want nothing to do with God. I feel kind of like we’re losing, so why should I even bother? I have to remind myself that thoughts like those mean that I am giving up on the God who promised, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
I heard a quote once from John Quincy Adams that bowled me over with its succinct truth. He said, “Duty is ours, results are God’s.”
It’s that simple. We plant, God gives the increase. We obey, God works.
Results are His.