I remember hearing an African-American preacher named Fred Samson share a personal story from his past about the summer days he experienced as a boy. His grandparents lived on a farm in the country and he would flee from city life to a very different world. His granddad would wake him about 4:00 AM and with the dim light of a lantern they would walk a familiar path to the barn. Upon arriving they milked several cows, fed the livestock, slopped the hogs, broadcast feed for the chickens and gathered eggs. They delivered their fresh produce to the kitchen then returned to the woodpile where they chopped and stacked firewood until the bell rank. They washed their hands and faces then promptly found a seat at the kitchen table where a hearty country breakfast awaited them. Eggs. Grits. Fresh milk. Cathead biscuits. Molasses. Smoked bacon. Red-eye gravy. It was a feast!
After breakfast Fred would fall back into bed full and exhausted only to be shaken by his grandfather once again. “Get up boy! It’s time to go to work.” Fred protested, “Work! We have been working all morning.” It was then he learned a lesson from his granddad he never forgot. “Son, everything you do in the house, around the house and for the house are chores. The work is in the fields.”
I am afraid that much we call “the work of the Lord” is nothing more than chores. Chores are important but when they keep us from working in the fields where the real harvest awaits, then something is wrong. Paul W. Powell, in his book The Complete Disciple, agrees.
"Many churches today remind me of a laboring crew trying to gather in a harvest while they sit in the tool shed. They go to the tool shed every Sunday and they study bigger and better methods of agriculture, sharpen their hoes, grease their tractors, and then get up and go home. Then they come back that night, study bigger and better methods of agriculture, sharpen their hoes, grease their tractors, and go home again. They comeback Wednesday night, and again study bigger and better methods of agriculture, sharpen their hoes, grease their tractors, and get up and go home. They do this week in and week out, year in and year out, and nobody ever goes out into the fields to gather in the harvest.”
Certainly no one denies the fact that chores are essential. Sharpening tools and improving skills are mandatory. However, these vital tasks should never keep us from working in the fields where the harvest awaits our presence. Our Lord knew the difference between chores and work in the field. He knew when to withdraw and when to engage. Someone calculated that the gospel writers record 132 contacts that Jesus had with people. Six were in the Temple, four in the synagogue and 122 were with people in the mainstream of life. Perhaps that is why Jesus said “to his disciples, the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (Matthew 9:37-38)
Lieutenant Clebe McLeary lost his arms, an eye, an ear and half his face in Vietnam. Twenty-four surgeries later his face was rebuilt. The men under his command gave him a plaque inscribed with these words: “In this world of give and take, there are so few who are willing to give what it takes.”
In a world of give and take, the Lord of the harvest is still looking for those who are willing to give what it takes.