Over the weekend, I realized there are a range of similarities between the work I do in the garden and the work that I do in ministry. Since God can choose to speak to us in various ways, I would like to share what He revealed to me while doing seemingly ordinary work.
My wife and I have been blessed with an awesome doer-upper property with a large outdoor area that we have committed to maintaining and improving for God’s glory. Admittedly, my wife can find more motivation to do the hard yards a lot more often than I can when it comes to gardening, painting and the like, but once I get going then I can get right into it.
This weekend, while there was a break in the rain, I made it a priority to mow the lawns. Thankfully, the mower was good to go and, perhaps in a similar way to ministry, I could go right ahead and get the job started with the anticipation of enjoying the final result.
A Lot of Work
As I was mowing the lawn, I recognized the first similarity between grass-cutting and ministry: it is a lot of work! I am very thankful for the grounds, grass and space that we have around our home, but after already having spent a fair share of weekends gone by weeding and maintaining the garden in other ways, I found myself lamenting that I needed to cut the grass again. This was especially difficult since the grass had really thrived in the recent spring weather and there was a lot to do. I felt disheartened and low as I was mowing – there was even a patch of the garden I could not even attempt to mow as the ground was too soft from rain – but even beyond this, I felt the task that was in front of me seemed too big. For a moment, the entire property became daunting, and I felt completely out of my depth.
This is also true in ministry. At times, it can seem like our ministry is just too big a task; there is a lot to do and so many people to care for. The goals that we set ourselves with high hopes at the beginning of our ministry just don’t seem to be within arm’s reach at times, and all too often we feel like we are being crushed under the weight of the mission. We do our best to be practical and focus on one step at a time, doing the small things and trusting these make a larger impact in the long run, but every now and then we wake up and sometimes believe it all seems too much!
Although my musings have a happy ending, I have seen this before and have asked myself: How did I get here? What is the purpose of what I am doing every day? And if you work in ministry, I am sure you have been there too. When I have these thoughts, I am encouraged by Scripture:
Galatians 6:7-9 ESV
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Once Over the Top
Now my goal was twofold at this stage: I did not want to come back again to cut the grass too soon, but it also needed to look a lot better than I normally cut it. I achieved this by going over the grass twice: once at a higher height, and again at two levels lower (I use a ride-on mower). After the first cut, it revealed sticks and pinecones hiding beneath. I moved these out of the way in preparation for the deeper trimming (you do not want anything besides grass getting chopped up in that blade!) I also ended up having to use the side cutter/weed eater to get into areas that I could not do with the lawn mower. No matter how well you mow the area, it always needs extra attention.
In a similar way, ministry is not done and dusted in a ‘once-over-the-top’ motion where it all works out fine. Instead, while you work on the same area, goal, or mission in your ministry, it may take multiple attempts, approaches and even different tools to get toward the desired goal. You may have to get out in front and remove all the issues that are coming up, even if that means pausing what you are trying to accomplish. You may also have to bring someone in for a short time to help out, or step back and work out how you want to approach the next stage of ministry. At times, even if our plans are working well, it takes a few ‘goes’ for it all to come together.
This is why ministry requires a lifestyle devoted to God’s work. As Paul says:
Romans 12:1-2 ESV
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The Mess Before the Result
Finally, the grass was cut. The lawns had been gone over once, and then once again. But there was a problem: as I cut down to the desired length of grass, it unveiled the fact that the ground underneath was not even or flat. The blades of the mower had caught the dirt and the gaps where the grass was struggling to grow had no place to hide. When you stepped back, the overall look of the job was good, but looking at the details revealed an uneven and somewhat shabby mess.
This is true in ministry (and many areas in life). After working hard at something, and just before one gets to the result you are looking for, things can look a lot worse than they were before you started. Now, I was tempted to keep the grass taller to cover the mess and hide all the imperfections, but this would not have resulted in the long-term benefit of keeping the grass low and seeing the areas that needed work in the future.
In ministry, we may think it is easier to brush over the minor issues so as to keep areas of our ministry looking good and pretend that everything is okay; sometimes we know there are issues in our own work, or problems with certain relationships and people that we turn a blind eye to on purpose. The truth is, though, that to get our ministries, events and people to a better place for God’s glory and His kingdom, then all must be revealed. We must reveal the issues, the gaps and problems and look squarely at the details that just aren’t right, that make us uncomfortable, that aren’t working, because these could be decaying the ministry. The short-term outcome of revealing all this may show a ministry that looks broken, weak or even feels like all your hard work has been for nothing. But, when you put yourself in this position intentionally, you are enabled to better understand the areas that need your attention, where your ministry needs to exert its efforts, and what others can be praying about, for a long-term gain of a thriving and healthy ministry. At the end of the day, most people avoid peeling back these layers because they do not want to feel like a failure; we can’t bear to be wrong or vulnerable, and so we would rather carry on with a few small cracks (that are probably larger than we admit) than to expose ourselves or our ministries to scrutiny.
But what does Paul say?
2 Timothy 2:15 ESV
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
So here I am, with a nicely mowed lawn that has revealed all the gaps and problems I need to work on further. I have not done anything about the dirt patches yet, nor have I raked up the extra grass cuttings or thrown them away. However, even though I have big plans for this garden and the grass, I remember that Rome was not built in a day. Slowly, and over time, I will fill in these holes, level it all out and maybe even sow some more grass. In all honesty, there are probably more issues and weeds that are hiding even further inside the lawn, but I know I will get to this one day. And once I have settled this in my heart, I am at peace.
Although it all seems overwhelming, and it often requires a lifestyle of perseverance, determination and somewhat painful vulnerability, we need to admit that we can’t do everything in our ministry in one day, or even in one season. Many big plans can, and do, come together as we do our work for the Lord, and we should never stop keeping our eye on the goal. But, of all that I learned over this weekend, the most important lesson was this: we need time to rest, we can put our work down for a day to rest and pick them back up again tomorrow. We need to realise that the Lord is in control of our ministry, and He is doing the work. We need to “Be still, and know that [He is] God” – Psalm 46:10.