Thursday, July 11, 2019

Putting Emphasis in the Wrong Place?

“We expect results!” Have you ever heard someone say that? In the business world, it’s said by a boss, client, or investor. It’s expressed – or at least implied – in the sports world, by a manager bringing in a relief pitcher and a coach putting in a player off the bench. If you’re a consumer, if you don’t say it, at least you’re thinking it when you buy a new car or glitzy smartphone, or try a new diet. It’s about results.

We do live in a results-oriented world. We expect a lot of others – and might expect even more from ourselves. If we go to the gym, we want to become instantly fit and shed excess pounds immediately, if not sooner. Maybe that’s why so many people start physical fitness programs and then stop so quickly. They didn’t get the results they wanted.

In a marriage, we often do things with an expected return. Sensing some tension in the home, a husband decides to do a good deed for his wife or buy her flowers, candy or something else. He suspects that will salve any wounds – even if Clueless Clem doesn’t know what he did to cause them. But when the “easy fix” doesn’t come about, hubby gets frustrated. “What do you want from me?” he thinks. And if he actually utters those words, there’s more trouble coming, so he better zip his lip.

This is often the case spiritually as well. We spend a few minutes reading the Bible and expect to become instant spiritual giants, or pause a moment or two in deep, fervent prayer, and look for God’s fast-response team to arrive. But it doesn’t work that way. Spiritual growth isn’t necessarily a cause-and-effect pursuit. If you see someone you really admire for their godliness and depth of faith, you can be assured that didn’t happen overnight. It’s the result of much pain and strain, daily devotion, and perseverance during the hard times.

Results, after all, are greatly overrated. Even if you succeed today, whether it’s completing a presentation or winning a round of golf, you’ll have to prove yourself over again tomorrow. So it’s best to appreciate the small, incremental steps of progress when they occur, recognizing some days we soar and other days we barely limp along.

We can gain an important lesson from the world of vegetation. Not every seed we plant will germinate, and the expected growth may take much longer than anticipated. Nevertheless, the secret to success is simply pressing on. Novelist Robert Louis Stevenson made the wise observation, “Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”

A veteran farmer or skilled gardener understands that sometimes the crop will be bountiful, other times it won’t amount to much at all. And often they’re not in control of the outcome.

This holds true for us spiritually, as the Scriptures affirm. The apostle Paul wrote, I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).

We have the privilege of participating in the work the Lord is doing in the world around us, but it’s not up to us to dictate outcomes or how quickly they come about. All we can do is our part – and remain patient. The results are up to Him.

Speaking to his disciples, Jesus offered the parable of the sower, telling about the farmer who went out sowing seed that fell on different types of soils. Some seeds fell on the path and were devoured by birds. Others fell on rocky ground and sprang up quickly, only to wither due to heat and lack of water. Still other seeds were choked out by thorns that overwhelmed them.

At that point the farmer could have thrown up his hands and declared, “What’s the use?!” Results expected but not realized. Yet the agricultural expert kept on sowing; seeds that fell onto good, fertile soil resulted in an abundant harvest.

There’s a good lesson in there for us. If we’re seeking to grow spiritually ourselves, not every worship service or conference we attend will be a sacred gold mine. Not every time we read the Bible will bring us “Wow!” or “Aha!” moments. If our desire is to see our children – or grandchildren – well-grounded in faith, we won’t observe dramatic results every time we interact with them. And if there’s a friend, or relative, or coworker we’re concerned about spiritually, we’re wise not to expect results. At least not immediately.

Most things that are really important take time. And nothing’s more important than someone’s relationship with God. A lifetime of faithfulness can’t be accomplished in a day, a week, or even a month. Because as Paul said, it’s God who makes things grow. He gives the increase.

So take Stevenson’s advice. Don't evaluate today by the harvest you’ll reap. Just worry about the seeds you plant. We never know which will take root and flourish.

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