My grandpa had a large garden. One spring he showed me how to cut seed potatoes so that each piece had at least one eye, and we planted them in the soil behind the house. The waiting was agony. At first there was no progress at all, but Grandpa encouraged me to be patient. When the first green plants started growing, I was ready to start digging. If there is a plant, then there must be potatoes, I thought.
Grandpa had to gently dig up one potato just to show me it was too early. As the potatoes began to form, he would gently brush back the dirt and show me that the potatoes were there, but they weren't ready yet. A few new potatoes were good to eat, but if we were to have enough for the coming year, we needed to let them grow to maturity.
The process was so long that I gave up checking my potatoes. It wasn't exciting anymore. It took too long.
But on the day Grandpa announced the harvest, we unearthed sacks of potatoes. The harvest was exciting! Every mound was a new discovery. And I found more than potatoes that day. The lesson I learned has served me well in ministry. The harvest was worth the wait, but without the wait there would have been no harvest.
Everything Has a Season
As a young pastor in northern California, I had made a habit of visiting the local café for lunch. The owner grew to know me, and we began to talk. One day she asked me, "Do you do any counseling?"
I was inexperienced, but I had Bible College training, a couple of counseling classes, and a couple years in the ministry. "I haven't done a lot, but I do some."
We set an appointment, and she and her husband came to my study. Their daughter had gotten in with the wrong crowd, and they were worried about her. What could they do to help her?
I listened carefully, trying to think what I was supposed to do next. For some reason I kept thinking, always present the gospel, always present the gospel. So I began, "The only way you can help your daughter is by making sure that your relationship to God is right. If you were to die tonight … "
It was the strangest sensation. The more I talked the bigger that little room became and the farther from me the couple seemed to be sitting. It began to feel as though an immeasurable gulf divided us. No one got saved that day, and I was of no help to them whatsoever. I pulled up every one of the seeds I had planted in my lunch counter conversations. And I preempted the possibility of any future harvest. I continued to eat lunch in their café, but they avoided me. The next pastor in that community had no better response. They were closed to the gospel. I had mistaken planting season for harvesting and ended up with nothing.
An Almanac of Excuses
If a premature harvest is so dangerous, why do we insist on plucking up sprouts before the fruit is ripe? One reason is zeal.
While attending Bible College, a friend and I decided to make an evangelistic foray onto the local university campus. We wandered around until we saw a student who seemed like a good prospect. We gave little prayer to this effort, and there was no plan for follow up, let alone building relationships beforehand. We were going to turn that campus upside down for Christ!
The evening ended a dismal failure. Our student preferred to discuss fascism rather than Christianity. If we presented the gospel at all, we did so poorly with no positive response. We had zeal, but no experience, no wisdom, no preparation, and worst of all, no harvest.