The Apostle Paul loved to communicate by painting pictures with words. In 2 Timothy 2:6, he writes: “The hardworking farmer ought to be the first to get a share of the crops.” (CSB). As a spiritual mentor and friend to a young man learning to become a pastor, he liked to make his teaching memorable and meaningful.
A life of faith and leadership, Paul reminded Timothy, is like being a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. A soldier’s life is marked by a quest for glory. An athlete is chasing the dream of gold, fame, and honor. But the farmer’s journey is different. There is no honour and no glory in the field. There are just mud, sweat, and tears. But after lots of hard work, at the right time, in the right season, there is a harvest, and the farmer gets to enjoy it first.
The life of faith is a messy business. Discipleship is a lot more like farming than we realize.
The life of faith is a messy business.
Hard and Messy Work
I grew up in Northern Ireland. Aside from one or two large urban areas, the rest of the land is for agriculture and farming. This is why Ireland is known as the land of forty shades of green. I still remember vividly as a child the drive to my grandparent’s house in the countryside. One memory sticks out in particular. It was Christmas Day, and as we made the journey, we passed some fields. And there, working in his tractor, was a farmer.
Work in agriculture is relentless and yet rewarding. When I think about farmers, I think about how hard working they are, how committed they are to the process and how dependent they are upon the one who causes the increase. I have never read any statistics, but I think it would be an interesting study to research the connection between farming and faith. Almost every farmer that I have ever met has a sort of “don’t be silly, of course, there is a God” kind of faith. These men, and sometimes women, are right at the front line of creation’s goodness. And it seems that they understand something of the tension between the hard work of getting the seeds into the ground and then trusting in the soil, the sun, the rain and seasons to do their good work.
Something else I have noticed about farmers, and I pastor in a rural/agricultural community these days, so I pay attention to things like this – farmer’s hands are always dirty! They are stained, cracked, rough, cut, with dirt embedded in the fingernails. Those hands, as broken as they are, are filled with raw strength. One of my least favorite things to do as a pastor is the customary shaking of hands as a greeting. If I am not paying attention and my hand ends up in the grip of one of the many farmers in our congregation, I am not going to be able to pick up a cup for days. Crunch!
Relentless Yet Rewarding
Farming is very different today than at the time Paul is writing this letter to Timothy, but I think there are some timeless truths that any reader can apply to their own understanding of life and leadership and Christian ministry.
Christian ministry is hard, messy work.
I have always loved King Solomon’s wisdom in the book of Proverbs. In Proverbs 14:4, we read, “Where no oxen are, the trough is clean.” When our lives are filled with people – wounded, hurting, lost, and lonely people; transforming, sin-fighting, trying to follow Jesus people – then there is a lot of mess. And it is our job to muck out the stables. Leadership is relentless.
Leadership is also rewarding.
Farmers understand the seasons. They know when it is time to sow and time to reap, time to rest, and time to get stuck in. There is something about living life and doing leadership in the right way, at the right time, that is rewarding. Paul encouraged Timothy that there is much joy to be found in the fruit of his labor.
Being a leader is a messy business. We find ourselves with dirty hands from a life of shaping and forming ourselves and others. We are working in the muck and yuck of broken lives. There are seasons when it is all sweat and tears. The hardworking farmer knows that the harvest is coming, and he is close enough to the action to be able to appreciate it first.
Don’t run away from the hard work of ministry brothers. Roll your sleeves up and get mucked in!
God give me a farmer’s heart. Help me understand what season I am in and to trust you that the harvest is coming.