When I was young, I developed a character flaw with which I
continue to struggle. I am afraid to fail. I am afraid to mess up,
afraid to strike out, afraid to fall on my face. Because of that,
I have rarely attempted things I wasnít absolutely certain I
could succeed at. I bailed from an honors class in fourth grade
because I was afraid the work would be too hard and I wouldnít
pass. I decided not to try out for the high school football team
because I feared I couldnít make the cut. I quit trying to learn
Greek when I started out preaching because I was afraid I just
would never get it. Every time, the problem was I was afraid to
fail. I was afraid I would invest my time in something and it
wouldnít work out. I know what you are thinking. ďEdwin,
thatís silly, since you didnít try you never did learn Greek,
you didnít make the football team, you didnít pass the honors
class. You failed in every single one.Ē I see that, but this
character defect plays a mind game with me. Since I didnít even
try, since I didnít work, I have a justifying excuse: ďOh
yeah, if I had worked at it, I probably could have done it, but I
didnít try that hard.Ē I know that sounds absolutely insane,
but that is exactly how my mind works.
My mind is working like that right now. Next Sunday is our
big evangelism day. Weíve certainly done things like this
before, but nothing exactly like this. Iíve prayed a lot about
it. Iíve talked it up with you. Iíve talked it up with others.
However, right now that fear of failure is starting to play in my
mind. Are you like me? Is it beginning to play in yours? My mind
has started to rehearse the reasons why this effort wonít work.
I hear the voices of those who have said, ďItís just too hard
to get people to invite folks these days.Ē
I hear the voices of those who have said, ďItís just
too hard to get people to accept an invitation these days.Ē I
think about how urbanized and transient a community we are. We
have looser connections than a more rural community like Lanton. I
think about how affluent our community is. Letís face it,
wealthy people simply donít see a spiritual need as quickly. I
could go on and on. This is about the point when my character
defect kicks in and starts to say, ďEdwin, quit trying so hard.
It will be one thing for this to go nowhere if you didnít put
any work in it. It would be completely different if you work
really hard and it goes nowhere.Ē My fear of failure is telling
me to give up and quit working. However, God has been good to me
this week. He had a good friend of mine remind me of Mark
4:26-29. As I read and reread that passage, I was reminded
of three things that have rallied my courage. I want to share them
with you because, if youíre like me, you need to see these
lessons too. If youíre not like me, I hope youíll be
We donít know how it works.
The farmer is an interesting man according to Mark
4:27. Day in and day out, he sows his seed, tends his
ground, and eventually brings in the harvest. However, for the
most part, he doesnít have any idea how the whole thing works.
How exactly does that seed germinate and grow? I know botanists
have made huge strides since the time of Jesus and we know a lot
more about what happens than Jesusí audience did (though we
donít know more than Jesus did). Yet, in reality who really
knows what causes that little seed when it enters the ground to
grow? The farmer goes out and scatters the seed but doesnít even
know how it works.
Here is the kicker about that. If he doesnít know how it
works, then in reality he doesnít actually know if it will work.
Dropping that seed in the ground is a tremendous leap of faith for
the farmer. But he does it anyway because he has seen in the past
that even though he doesnít know how it works, the only way it
will work is if he works.
This principle has helped me tremendously. It actually
attacks one of my other character defectsópride. In my pride
about evangelism and sowing the word of God, I am constantly
looking for that one exact right way that will work. Iím looking
for that in general. That is, I keep stirring about trying to find
some method that will produce amazing results with a bunch of
different people. Iím also looking for it in specific. That is,
with each person with whom I am in contact, I often get paralyzed.
I want to wait for the perfectly right moment or the perfectly
right approach. Iím sure that I can at some point divine exactly
how to sow the seed with someone to make sure theyíll listen.
The problem is, until I figure it out, I just keep silent. That is
my pride. That is me thinking I know how it all works. Therefore,
I end up making these lofty and grand statements about what will
and wonít work.
I have no problem with us trying to find approaches and
methods that seem to have more success. At the same time, I think
we need a healthy humility that says we just donít know what
makes the seed grow. Once that seed gets in the soil of
someoneís heart, we donít know what will cause it to grow. We
hear door-knocking doesnít work. But I know of people who have
baptized folks through door-knocking even recently. We hear
getting folks mad doesnít work, but I know folks who came to
Jesus because they were first made angry and wanted to prove the
person who made them angry wrong. We hear gospel meetings donít
save people anymore. When I was in Texas we had a gospel meeting
in which we baptized 17 people in 4 days. Do I know many times
when these things have not worked? Sure. Why did it work sometimes
and not others? I donít know. But that is the key. If I donít
know how it works, how can I make lofty statements about what will
work and what wonít ever work.
If I donít know what will work, if I donít know what
wonít work, if I donít know how it all works, what is the
final conclusion for me? I just need to get to work. Instead of
offering excuses, instead of assuming things wonít work, instead
of waiting for something Iím positive will work, I just need to
get to work. Thatís what the farmer does; thatís what I should
God does the hard work.
says something interesting. ďThe earth produces by itselfÖĒ
Strictly speaking is that true? No. Jesusí point is that is how
it seems to the farmer who doesnít know how it works. The true
fact is the earth does that work because God is doing His work.
Think about this. The farmer is actually doing the easy part of
the job. All he has to do is drop in the seed and tend the ground.
God is the one who gets the seed to germinate and grow. The farmer
could bend the might of all his will in the direction of that
seed, but he would never make the seed grow. However, he drops it
in the ground, tends to the land, and God makes it grow.
I know I donít have to remind you of I
Corinthians 3:5-7. Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God
caused the growth. Who did the hard work here? I recognize that
the planting and watering can often seem like hard work to us.
After all, the farmer who plows, plants, and tends is working
hard. But what is the really hard part of that? Plowing, planting,
and tending may take a great deal of manual labor, but they are
not the hard part of the work. The hard part is getting the seed
to grow. God hasnít asked us to do that. He does that.
Isnít that great? Someone else does the really hard part
of this work. We donít have to save people. We donít have to
make the seed germinate in their heart. Our job is simply to plant
and water the seed. God will tend to the seed once it is in the
This also brings up that character defect of pride. Sadly,
in a moment of rigorous honesty, I want us to have a couple
hundred guests so we can say, ďWow, look at all we did. Weíre
awesome.Ē The fact is, however, we canít do the really hard
work that needs to be done. Thatís why all of this work is
really about having faith in the working of God. Consider Matthew
19:24-26. Jesus said it was hard for rich people to enter
the kingdom. The disciples simply couldnít understand this. If
rich people had a hard time entering, then who could possibly
enter? Jesusí response was, ďWith man this is impossible, but
with God all things are possible.Ē Think about that for a
minute. It is impossible for us to do any amount of work and save
even one single person. We just canít do it. We can work and
work and work and work but not one single person will make it into
Christís kingdom. However, we are not working alone. God is
working with us and all things are possible with Him. Ephesians
3:20 brings it home for us. Our God can do far more
abundantly beyond all we ask or think. When it comes to this
evangelistic effort, what is the biggest thing you can think of?
God can do more than that.
We need to keep working because we are not working alone.
In fact, God is doing the hardest part. He can do more than we can
God works when we work.
Having said the above, however, I canít help but notice
that God did His work through the earth and seed only when the
farmer actually sowed the seed. God can make seeds grow however He
wants. God doesnít actually need farmers to provide food for us.
However, that is the way God has chosen to work. If we want to
eat, someone has to plant the seed. Then God does His work on the
seed. Do you see how it works in the agricultural world? God
wonít just work on His own. God works when we work.
The same is true in evangelism. God does the really hard
work. He does what we cannot possibly do. He could do it any way
He wanted to. However, He has chosen to work through us. God can
do far more abundantly beyond all we ask or think according to Ephesians
3:20, but notice it is by His power working in us. He will
only work far more abundantly beyond all we ask or think when we
Think of all the Bible stories youíve ever learned. What
did they stress? They stressed that God works when we work. God
delivered Noah when Noah built the ark (Genesis
6-8). God delivered Israel from Egypt when Moses finally
went to Pharaoh (Exodus). Goliath had taunted Israel for 40 days (I
Samuel 17:16) and God didnít kill him. But when David
stepped on to the battlefield with his sling, God slew Goliath (I
Samuel 17:46). God delivered Israel from Haman when Esther
went into the king (Esther
5-7). Do you see the point? God works when we work!
Two weeks ago, we issued the 21-day prayer
have to admit I havenít made three times a day, every day.
However, I have been praying for this one work more than Iíve
ever prayed for anything weíve done (which is a sad commentary
on my prayer life). My most fervent prayer has not been that God
will give us hundreds of visitors. My most fervent prayer has not
been that God will let us baptize dozens of people. My most
fervent prayer has not been that I will be able to speak
eloquently and move people. My most fervent prayer has been that
God will teach me and teach us, the Franklin church, that He works
when we work.
Here is the key for me though. Godís work may not be what
I have in mind. Godís work through this effort may not be that
we have numerous guests and baptize dozens. It may be that His
work is within us as we meet and grow in the challenge to pray. It
may be that His work is within us as we increase in the courage to
sow the seed. It may be that His work is simply to give folks
opportunity so that they are without excuse in the judgment. So
here is what gives me courage to keep working despite my fear of
failure. I am now convinced that as long as we are working, God is
working. We cannot possibly fail. It may not look like what we
want. But God is working. We have succeeded when we have done the
work. God will sanctify our work and it will not come back to Him
The reality is I have a bunch of character defects. God
continues to work on them as I continue to work with Him, relying
on His working. My natural tendency because of those defects is to
clam up, be paralyzed, quit working. Iím afraid to fail.
However, God is conquering that fear as He teaches me that when we
work, He works. I hope if you have that fear, you can overcome as
well by the grace of God. We have another week to work and succeed
in God with this particular evangelistic effort. If we work, so
will God. Letís get to work.
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ