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“In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” — Proverbs 14:23

I get what Proverbs is saying. Talking about what needs to be done doesn’t get it done. (There’s a point for preachers — and to preachers — in that wisdom!)

I confess even still that sometimes I wonder if it’s true that “in all labor there is profit.” There are times when I can wonder if labor for the Lord is at all “profitable,” when results seem slow in coming if they ever come at all. I know there are easier ways to make a living.  Anyone who follows a call into ministry better know that up front.  But, did you ever look up from the mass of responsibilities you’re carrying and, in a moment of lucidity (or perhaps more accurately: a moment of thoughtful doubt?) just say to yourself, “What on earth am I doing this for?”  

I believe the Lord gave me a parable in the last couple of weeks to help add perspective.  I’ll call it “Jesse and the Nutsedge.”

Jesse is my youngest son. And nutsedge is a grassy weed that grows in our yard. Now, to people like me, nutsedge just looks like grass; but to people like my wife, it’s a different green, a weed that grows taller than the “good grass,” and for the yard to look good, it needs to go.

Anyway, Jesse’s chores include mowing the lawn and doing the weed whacking in the summer. One day a couple of weeks ago, we told him we’d give him a little more than his normal allowance if, as part of the lawn care that week, he pulled up the nutsedge, too.

Now, keep in mind that this is taking place in the dog days of August, mid-90 degrees. And I won’t say this boy of mine is incapable of complaint, but on this day he went out without a grumble and pulled up the nutsedge for two solid hours.  After which, he came in and told me matter-of-factly that he didn’t think he’d be able get it all done in one day.  I went out to take a look.

Now, I knew he’d been out there for two hours in the hot sun. The back yard where he was working is right outside the window of my office. But, when I went out to check more closely the results of his labor . . . truth is, if I didn’t know better, I would never even have known he’d been out there at all. Two hours of hard labor had not put so much as a dent in the still-flourishing-and-taking-over-the-yard nutsedge.

He had been sent on an utterly futile mission . . . by me. He’d labored hard in the field. He was covered in sweat and dirt. But as far as the task assigned was concerned, it was doomed for failure from the start, and that through no fault of his own.

I felt a tinge of embarrassment. But I was extremely proud of him. He’d worked hard without complaint and did so just because I’d asked him to — obviously not at all out of any pride gained from a task accomplished. Given his persistency in such conditions and the utter absence of any immediate rewards, I took a deep breath and said, “OK, son, you can stop.  We’ll have some professionals come and spray it with some strong stuff; you’ve obviously done all you can and it’s just impossible. No problem. Oh — and on your allowance sheet for this week, put ‘+$50 for nutsedge job, per Dad’” [that’s a lot of money in our house].  (Big smile.)

By the way, here’s what our yard looks like now that we’ve had it sprayed (which cost me another $50):

That’s got to be the most expensive bare spot of dirt in the history of lawn care.

The lessons from all this are proving invaluable, though. I’m still ruminating on them. I think I got a glimpse of some of what God may be up to in sending us on such a mission impossible as “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel,” “Make disciples of every nation,” and “Go out as sheep among wolves.”…

Glamorous sermon illustrations aside, when there’s little to no response from a post-Christian or anti-Christian culture, these are just not fun tasks. Often there’s little to show by way of accomplishment.

But the Father looks down and sees His children laboring in the field, covered in sweat and dirt, stabbing at hard clay, weeds every inch and a half, passers-by jeering and ridiculing besides.

It can be all-too-understandable to look up and say, “What the heck am I doing this for?”

But look all the way up. The Father is watching. And what a reward there must be when He gets His chance to express His pride at how you did it even when the results were painfully slow in coming or absent altogether.

But for now . . . back to work. And remember that fields freshly furrowed always look at first like nothing more than row after row of dirt. The bountiful harvest is a season away.


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, co-author of Blessed are the Balanced, and author of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.

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