A second reason that we sometimes harvest too soon is lack of faith. As a child I had to trust my grandfather to know the proper time to dig the potatoes. As a believer zealous to see souls won for Christ, it is sometimes difficult to trust that God will bring it about in his time, not mine.
A young woman began to attend our church with her children. Occasionally she and her husband would invite me for supper, and we began to develop a friendship. As I shared the gospel with her she told me, "We prayed something like that once. We were trying to rent a house and they told us to pray this prayer. We just thought it was something we had to do to be able to rent."
As a result of their previous confusion and her husband's disinterest in spiritual things, I didn't push the gospel with them, but I discussed spiritual things as the opportunities arose. Eventually the husband was saved, and the entire family became active in the church—but only after I had moved on. The next pastor was able to reap where I had sown.
Another reason for a premature harvest is attempting to be someone we're not. A friend used to tell the story of his first preaching experience: When my friend was a teenager, his father told the boys in their small church that he would like some of them to try their hand at preaching. My friend claims that he memorized one of Billy Graham's sermons word for word and preached it like his own. Everything went great until he came to the part where he said, "Thousands are coming down to the front … "
True or not, my friend's story always draws laughs and it makes a point: Trying to fit someone else's mold will never work. It is better to discover your own style of ministry.
Knowing When to Dig
My wife and I planted a garden just after we married. I was so eager to harvest that I dug up the first thing that sent out green shoots. I asked my wife to cook it. I learned from my mistake. You only eat a rotten seed potato once.
I learned to watch closely as the mound grew. I learned to probe gently. I came to understand the subtle changes that occurred as the plant developed and the potatoes grew.
In one community I developed a friendship with a young man who did not attend church. I helped him remodel a storefront for his business, and I worked with him on the fire department. I occasionally went 'coon hunting with him late at night.
One evening, as we were listening to his hounds bay in the distance, I decided it was time to probe. "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?" He agreed, so I probed a little deeper, "How do you view your relationship with God?" He gave an honest and open response, so I was encouraged to probe deeper still, "If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure that you would go to heaven?" Before morning, I had a new brother in Christ.
Sometimes we need to push back the dirt gently and see if the crop is ready yet. If so, it's time to dig. If not, we back off and trust God for the right time. We also need a bigger view of God. When we believe the harvest is largely dependent on us, we find ourselves fearful and anxious, and we usually fail.
At one point in my ministry I made it my goal to knock on every door in our little town to share the gospel. It was a knee-knocking, heart-pounding experience for me as I raised my knuckles to each door in that community. I never did finish, although I came close. Unfortunately, the harvest basket was empty.