“Thus the saying: ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true.”
(Jesus in John 4:37)
Regularly people ask me how many people I have seen come to faith in Christ through the ministry I’m involved in. When I respond that through my work I have not led anyone to Christ, some people begin to frown, while others make it explicitly clear that this means I’m doing something wrong. After all, is it not the will of the Lord that people come to faith in Jesus Christ? Did He not call me to serve Him to be His witness? ? So, if an evangelist does not lead people to Christ, after so many years, what should be the conclusion? Should he pack his bags and start doing something else? Should he spend an extended time in praying and fasting? Should he not conclude that there must be sin in his life as a result of which God cannot bless his work? Should he not conclude that perhaps his method is wrong? Should he join another ministry that seems to produce more fruit? Although these might be relevant questions, there might be more to it.
When Jesus tells His disciples that the saying ‘one sows and another reaps is true’, He seems to imply that you have ‘sowers’ and ‘reapers’. Those are not necessarily the same people. Would it not be odd when the reapers look down on the sowers and tell them: “Well, it is obvious that God is not blessing you, because you are not reaping?”
There is no reason for the sowers to be discouraged, when they do not reap the work of their hands, because if they sow in faith, they can trust the Lord of the Harvest.
Also, there is no reason for the reapers to become proud or to start writing books about ‘The success formula for reaping’, because they would not be reaping, had others not sown and had the Lord of the harvest not blessed the seed.
Instead of asking the question: ‘How many people have you led to Christ?’ a more helpful question might be: “How many people have had the opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ through your work?”
None of us can bring anyone to faith in Christ. Yes, we can be faithful witnesses; yes, can learn to overcome barriers to evangelize; yes, we can organize campaigns; yes, we distribute Bibles; yes, we can incarnate the Gospel etc. etc. But we cannot make the seed grow. God promises that those who serve Him faithfully will bear fruit. But he doesn’t promise that we will see this fruit in our lifetime! Also, we need to clarify what we’ll mean by fruit. It is very likely that someone else reaps the fruit of my labor.
Praise God for those who are called to reap. They are accountable to God for their labor. But we should not only praise God for the reapers. We should also praise him for the ‘sowers’. Their job might be less exiting, less fundable, but in agriculture as well as the Kingdom of God, the sowers are indispensable.
In fact, in the process of seed planting and harvesting, there are other roles as well.
In 1 Corinthians 3: 5-9 Paul speaks of ‘the man who plants’ and ‘the man who waters’. So, we’ll have a planter, a waterer and a reaper. All part of the same process, all performing a different task, all equally indispensable, and according to this passage all accountable to God for their own labor.
John the Baptist played another role in seeing people come to faith in Christ. He refers to himself as ‘the preparer of the road’ (John 1: 23) or as ‘the friend who attends the bridegroom’ (John 3: 29).
Apparently there are many roles one can play in the process of seeing others come to faith in Christ. It is important that we’ll find a role that fits our personality and the gifts that God has given us.
It is liberating to realize that everyone of God’s children can be an instrument in the Lord’s hands to accomplish His work on earth. Yes, some roles are more appealing than others, some are more demanding, some are more exciting, but none is without significant. We don’t have to become someone else in order to serve the Lord fruitfully.
I’ve come to see my role in evangelism, not primarily as a reaper, not even as a waterer, nor a sower, but most of all as one who prepares the ground before the seed can be sown. The agricultural instrument that most clearly explains my ministry is that of “a subsoiler”.
A subsoiler is used to loosen and break up soil as deep as 80 cm. It is used to deal with the problem of soil compaction. A subsoiler allows the crops to grow even in hot and dry seasons, because as a result of loosening the soil, the roots of the seed can penetrate soil layers deeper to reach moisture and nutrients. Also the use of a subsoiler reduces the possibility of crops drowning in wet conditions, because as a result of loosening the soil the water passes easier through the shattered areas.
I rejoice in being a subsoiler for the Lord in Europe, enabling others to plant the seeds in the hearts of their friends, followed by those that water and finally those that reap the fruit, namely people coming to faith in Christ.
So whatever role God has given you, serve Him with gladness because He has given you the privilege to be part of His renewing work in people’s lives.
Bert de Ruiter