How many of you remember these from last week? [Hold up Jena’s garden tools.] My wife, Lori, corrected me and informed me that these are not “purple female utensils.” Rather, they are lavender garden tools. (Sometimes we can all get a bit tongue-tied.) I used these lavender garden tools to illustrate that we are merely tools in God’s garden. God the Father is the Gardener and the church is the garden. Instead of awe over a garden tool, like a preacher, we ought to be in awe of the Gardener. After all, the Gardener is the One who is responsible for all the work. Therefore, I suggested that the mark of successful tools is: Do we point others to the Gardener (see John 3:30)?
Now I would like to go back to the passage that we looked at last week and approach it from another angle. As we anticipate Easter this next Sunday, it is imperative that we understand the process God uses to bring people into relationship with Jesus Christ. As we consider this process we will discover the important role that the church plays. Turn with me again to 1 Cor 3:5-9 and we will learn that a fruitful harvest requires a faithful witness. Paul writes, “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
By way of refresher, let’s reflect on several principles in this text.
First, we are servants. We are nothing in and of ourselves. We are simply God’s mouthpieces through whom people come to believe.
Second, we all have different roles and responsibilities in God’s garden. Some plant, some water, some have up-front gifts, and some serve behind the scenes. However, all servants are equally significant.
Third, God is the One who causes the growth. Twice in 3:6-7, Paul states, “…but God was causing the growth.” We are the means by which people believe, but God is the cause. He alone determines if and when a person believes in Jesus Christ.
Fourth, we are all one in God’s program. We are not to compete against each other; instead, we are to complement each other. We all need one another to fulfill God’s work. To the degree that we are faithful garden tools, God will grant us eternal rewards (3:8).
Finally, we work for God. In 3:9a Paul calls us “God’s fellow workers.” We do not work for ourselves or even for one another; we work for God.
With the above understanding, we are able to move forward and consider four gardening tips. Before doing so, I must ask, “Are you a gardener?” I’m not, but I appreciate those who are. Lori and my kids like to work in our garden and they like to watch “Gardening with Ciscoe” on KING 5 TV.1 Ciscoe Morris is an avid gardener who goes bezerk over gardening! He says things like “Ou-la-la!” Even if you’re like me and don’t like gardening, you’ll find Ciscoe fascinating. The man is so passionate about gardening that he can inspire almost anyone to become a gardener. Similarly, my hope and prayer is that the Holy Spirit will inspire you and me to have the same zeal for soul gardening that Ciscoe has for soil gardening. With that goal in mind, we will consider the four steps of spiritual gardening: (1) prepare the soil, (2) sow the seed, (3) cultivate the soil, and (4) reap the harvest.2 First…
1. Prepare the Soil. We are not living in a result-oriented society. We are living in an instant result-oriented society.3 Nearly every store carries instant coffee, instant oatmeal, instamatic cameras, and instant breakfasts. We use instant messenger, drive-up windows, automatic teller machines, credit cards, and fax machines. If we have to wait more than five minutes, it’s considered a travesty of justice! However, in the spiritual realm patience is a part of God’s program. Nowhere is this more evident than in the conversion of a man or woman. Although conversion is the miracle of a moment, the Bible uses agricultural imagery to portray the dynamic process of evangelism. Crops do not simply “happen”—reaping a harvest is the outcome of a lengthy series of events that cannot be bypassed or overlooked. Unless the ground is cleared and plowed it will not be ready to receive the seed.
Likewise, in the spiritual realm, before people are ready to receive the seed of the Word their souls must be prepared. Often God uses trials and tragedies to tear down any illusions of autonomy so people can begin to see their true condition of spiritual need. Divorce, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, and a major move all prepare souls for Christ. These trials and transitions in life are often what God uses to draw people to Christ.
Although God is the One who ultimately does the work of transforming a person’s soul, He invites each one of us to participate with Him. Notice, the key word is participate. In any area of life and ministry we should understand that we contribute nothing to the purposes of God. He has no lack or deficiency, and for us to make a contribution would mean that we bring something to the table that He does not already possess. However, God does invite us to participate in His purposes by being a part of what His Spirit is accomplishing in the lives of people.
There are a number of ways that we can participate with God in His work of preparing the soil. First, we can and must pray. In 1 Thess 5:17, Paul commands us to pray without ceasing. This is a present imperative, which means that we are commanded to pray continually. Thus, God’s heart is that prayer becomes as natural to us as breathing. What does God want us to pray for? In Matt 9:37-38, Jesus urged His disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out workers into His harvest. The greatest way to see God’s kingdom advance in our sphere of influence is to pray that the Lord would raise up other Christians to impact our family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. In 1 Tim 2:1-4, Paul commands Timothy (and us) to pray for all people because God desires all men to be saved.
I know a number of people in our congregation who have prayed for unsaved spouses and relatives for years. This is where the real work is found—preparing the soil through prayer. The Lord uses His servants in each of these phases as they pray for people without Christ. Prayer is part and parcel of seeing individuals believe in Christ. We must never forget or neglect this critical step.
The second human element of preparing the soil is: we must have a presence. We must go to sinners if we expect sinners to come to the Savior. Many Christians assume that it is the job of the pastoral staff to save the lost when in reality, it is the job of the body to go out into the world and share Christ and then bring those that they have led to Christ to the church for growth and discipleship. This means we must love lost people enough to go after them. Loving the lost is the first step in leading the lost to Christ.
Our very own Virgil Hanstead is an extraordinary pool player who goes into taverns to play pool and to be around lost people. Every year Virgil sends out Christmas cards to his fellow pool players. Inside each Christmas card is a gospel tract and a copy of his personal testimony. Virgil loves lost people and wants to meet them on common ground. His heart is to provide a flesh and blood witness to pool sharks that may never enter the church. I’m sure Virgil would say, “If can do it, you can do it.” The question for each of us must be: What activity do I enjoy that I could do alongside lost people? What interest do I have that I could pursue with the unchurched? What an impact we could have!
Our church now has two men’s groups that are seeking to infiltrate Thurston County. Both groups meet in Hawks Prairie, the most unchurched part of our county. We are seeking to witness with our lives by bringing our Bibles into coffee shops and restaurants and bowing in prayer. This is preparing the soil of those around us. It really does have an impact. One of our groups has already been able to share Christ with people who have observed them.
Many of the ministries in our church have a presence that leads to proclamation. We have two ministries that feed the homeless in downtown Olympia. We have a clothes closet ministry that meets the physical needs of those who need warm clothing. We go into jail and minister to those who need to be set free from spiritual captivity. We minister to unwed pregnant women at CareNet. All of these ministries prepare the soil of people that God is drawing to Himself.
[After the soil is harrowed and furrowed, the second phase is to…]
2. Sow the Seed. After preparing the soil, it is imperative to sow the seed. This is simply putting the Word before people. It may be leaving a gospel of John booklet or tract at a restaurant. It may be giving a person a Christian book that has been especially meaningful to you. Often, it is simply sharing your personal testimony and the gospel. Is this easy? No, it is not. It can be downright scary, but the rewards of witnessing are worth the risks. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Do the thing you fear—and the death of fear is certain.” We simply need to step out in faith and be obedient to the Lord.
This past week, Mark Miller, one of our members, was on jury duty and was able to share the gospel with three people. How did he do it? Instead of listening to his iPod as he waited in the jury waiting room, he decided to read a book on heaven. This book was a conversation magnet. Mark capitalized and faithfully and boldly proclaimed Christ. He told me this past week that he is excited to go back for jury duty this week because he may have further opportunities to talk with these same people.
Tony Allen travels frequently in his job for the state. In my six years at the church, I have heard several testimonies of how Tony was willing to boldly speak to people about Christ on one of his plane trips. Whenever Tony travels I am confident that the Lord places the right people in the seat next to him, because He knows that Tony will share Christ if there is an opportunity.
Dan Bates, one of our youth staff, has shared his faith with between 40-50 students at South Puget Sound Community College. In a mission field that is even more difficult than Evergreen College, Dan refuses to back down and compromise his faith. He is a zealous witness who is making a huge difference on this campus. If you were to talk to Dan you would find out that the results have been few and the persecution has been great. Nevertheless, Dan is sowing the seed of God’s Word and God will bring the increase in His time and in His way.
Kendal Keating is a stay-at-home mom that loves to have her boys’ friends in their home. Kendal and her husband, Craig, bless these young men and then share Christ with them. Kendal is a passionate and gifted evangelist who wants every one of her boys’ friends to hear the gospel and have the opportunity to respond. They have already seen young men trust in Christ and then grow up in Him in their home!
Olivia Goodin is another example of a faithful witness. Ever since Olivia was a young child she has shared Christ with her friends and classmates. She has seen astounding results over the years. I suspected that this fervor would wear off when Olivia approached middle school and high school, yet the Lord continues to give her a burden for the lost. It is a thing of beauty! My wife disciples Olivia and has told me several times that every week Olivia’s prayer request is the same: “Help me to live my faith before my classmates and share Christ with them.” This type of heart for lost people is contagious.
Are you willing to make Olivia’s prayer your prayer? If so, I believe God will begin to bless your efforts. Even if He chooses not to, for whatever reason, you can rest assured that you are being obedient to Him. Remember that a fruitful harvest requires a faithful witness.
[We have been calledz to prepare the soil and sow the seed of God’s Word. The third stage is to…]
3. Cultivate the Soil. Cultivation is the lengthiest part of the agricultural process since it involves irrigation, fertilization, and weed control. The cultivation phase is illustrated in the fact that Jesus was called “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt 11:19) and in Paul’s desire to find areas of common ground in order to win Jews and Gentiles to Christ (1 Cor 9:19-23). Again, if we are to be faithful witnesses we must learn to love lost people. We must not see lost people as trophies to be won. If this is our mindset we will find ourselves quickly and easily discouraged. Most people do not believe in Christ instantaneously. The average person requires 7-14 presentations of the gospel before they are finally persuaded. Therefore, we need to be content with being number five in a process of ten or number eleven in a process of fourteen.
When I think of cultivating the soil, I think of two businesses in our church. The first is our preschool.4 For 25 years, Jan Zachary and her staff built a ministry that would reach out to our community. For the last several years, Maria Goodin has taken the baton from Jan and led us into the 21st century. Over the years, approximately one-third or more of the preschool families have been unchurched. Every week these children are hearing the good news about Jesus. This then permeates their home. Consequently, many preschool families have attended our church and some families have become a part of our church body. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen because our preschool staff loves children and families and is committed to a process of cultivation.
A second example is Barefoot Lawn.5 Kirk & Kelly Anderson, owners of Barefoot Lawn, have been in business for ten years. During this time, the Andersons have sought to ensure that their business is a ministry. As lawn care professionals, the stages of gardening are familiar to them. The Andersons use their gifts to share Christ with their employees and customers. Several families have come to our church because the Andersons have reached out to them. Kirk and Kelly understand the need to be patient and see God’s work as a process. Like the Andersons, God has also brought newer couples to our church who are seeking to use their businesses to draw people to Christ. A mentality like this God is bound to bless.
Another example that will challenge you is that of Don & Arlene Hoggatt. The Hoggatts have been committed to the neighborhood they live in for years. They share Christ, they serve, and they love each and every one of their neighbors. They have even been bold enough to say, “This is our neighborhood.” They take total ownership for their lost neighbors hearing about Christ. This is an incredibly intoxicating testimony. I pray that as I continue to age, I do so just like Don & Arlene. They are finishing strong in their Christian faith. One of the reasons I believe God has granted them so much grace and strength is because they want to share Christ and serve others.
I have used examples from all over our church. Both men and women have been mentioned. Every age category has been represented. This is a reminder that reaching out is for every one of us. Remember that a fruitful harvest requires a faithful witness.
We have looked at three stages: preparing the soil, sowing the seed, and cultivating the soil. We have learned that we must pray for laborers and specific lost people. We have also learned that we must spread the Word through any available means. We have also been reminded that evangelism is a process that often takes years. Yet we must be patient and persevere in each of these stages, for a fruitful harvest requires a faithful witness.
[We have considered three stages of gardening; we are now ready to undergo the brief fourth phase.]
4. Reap the Harvest. Crops go through three stages: green, ripe, rotten. Harvest is effective only at one stage. If we prematurely harvest the fruit before it is ripe, we run the risk of ruining the fruit. However, if we wait too long to harvest the fruit it may be too late. The key is sensitivity to the Spirit and timely intervention. Many of us need to simply remove the pressure and guilt that we feel under. God expects for sharing our faith with others to be fun and natural. He also wants us to know that it is His work. I have yet to convert a single soul; the only conversion that takes place is through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. This is helping me to relax and not take so much personal responsibility. If I accept the blame when a person rejects Christ, quite naturally, I would need to accept some of the credit when a person believed Christ.
The key concept to be gleaned from this process principle is the liberating truth that if we are involved in any one of these four phases, we are doing evangelism. Believers who prepare the soil, sow the seed, or cultivate the planted soil are as much a part of the evangelistic process as those who are given the privilege of reaping the harvest. In addition, when we are sensitive and responsive to the opportunities God places in our path, we will find ourselves participating in different phases of the process, depending on the individual and the purposes of God. With one person we may be given an opportunity to participate in the seed-planting phase by sharing truths from Scripture. In another case, we may have an opportunity to water or fertilize the spiritual truth that has already been sown. While our desire is to see our friends come to Christ (the harvest), we can be assured that whether we are involved in preparing, sowing, watering, or reaping, we are part of that process.
So how do these four stages of gardening work in action? Jesus will show us in John 4. Jesus “prepared the soil” when He asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of well water (4:7-10). Even in speaking to her, Jesus overcame three barriers: first, the racial barrier (Jews had no dealings with Samaritans), second, the gender barrier (Jewish rabbis would not address women as Jesus did), and third, the social barrier (this woman had a poor reputation among her own people). Jesus sowed the seed. Jesus knew everything she had done, and yet He gently and lovingly offered her the living water of eternal life (4:10). Jesus cultivated the seed by getting intimately involved in this woman’s personal circumstances and then answering her theological questions (4:16-26). Finally, Jesus reaped the harvest. After telling this woman that He was the Christ (4:26), the woman left Him. The disciples then approached Jesus and urged Him to eat (4:31). Jesus responded with these powerful words in John 4:34-39:
“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.’ From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all the things that I have done.’”
We are tools in the hand of the master Gardener. [Hold up Jena’s lavender gardening tools.] God is using many of us in remarkable ways, but God is anxious for a greater harvest because the fields of Thurston County are white unto harvest. This Easter season God wants to do an incredible work in our church. He wants to use you and me to participate with Him in bringing about a bumper crop! We are praying for a harvest a week from today, but I am praying for each of us to enter into the work of soul gardening. Remember, a fruitful harvest requires a faithful witness.
Copyright © 2007 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved. All Scripture quotations, unless indicated, are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, and are used by permission.
1 Corinthians 15:1-19
1 Corinthians 15:20-34
1 Corinthians 15:35-49
1 Corinthians 15:50-58
1. Do I see myself as God’s “servant,” called to proclaim Jesus Christ? Why or why not? Is my first priority to God or to others (e.g., my spouse, my children, my employer)? How can I preach Christ in adverse circumstances? What is my responsibility in the midst of these situations?
2. If salvation is solely a work of God, why do I put unnecessary pressure upon myself to make sure that people respond? Is this my responsibility? Why or why not? How do I balance the tension of having an effective witness (content, delivery, relationship) with the reality that the Spirit of God must do the work?
3. Over the course of my Christian life, have I seen sharing Christ as a process or an event? If I have seen it as an event, what can I do to correct my faulty thinking? What struggles have I experienced in sharing my faith that stem from perceiving sharing Christ as an event?
4. Have I felt frustrated with myself when people reject Christ? Have I felt proud of myself when people have believed in Christ? How can I temper both of these errors? What is the properly balanced biblical mindset?
5. Do I see the human harvest of souls as “white?” If so, how does this encourage me as I live in Thurston County? Will I change my attitude and perspective this week so I become more optimistic and Holy Spirit dependent? If so, how will this be evident in my thoughts, words, and mood?
2 These steps comes from Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 390-393.
3 R. Larry Moyer, 31 Days with the Master Fisherman (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1997), 56.