Why bumpy roads and seed planting are good

Some roads are deceptive. When you first start walking, the path is relatively straight and even, but the longer you walk that path, the more difficult it becomes.

When I was down in Guatemala the last time, we did a lot of driving, some highway but the rest was on these crazy back roads in the middle of nowhere. We’re talking rough roads with bumps and rocks and steep hills and sharp turns. When we left El Chal that morning, the road looked easy, but getting to where we were going took effort and patience and no small amount of discomfort.

Rough road to San Miguel - Peten, Guatemala

Rough road to San Miguel – Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are James 5:7-8.

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.

What is it about people that makes us think life is supposed to be easy? Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only one who has this weird idea that life should be easier than it is. And if that’s the case, I should probably just stop talking. But I don’t think I’m alone.

Something inside us tells us that we’re not supposed to have to struggle like this. Or if we struggle, we’re supposed to be guaranteed a reward. But life has no guarantees. Even if you work your butt off, even if you do your very best, you aren’t guaranteed a job. You aren’t guaranteed success. You aren’t guaranteed advancement.

So why do we put ourselves through it?

On that trip in Guatemala, we killed ourselves getting to these remote Kekchi villages, and the goal was introduce people to Jesus. Not to convert anyone. If a conversion happened, that was awesome, but we weren’t exactly expecting it. The Kekchi culture rarely makes spontaneous decisions.

So if you think about it from a normal “evangelistic” mindset, we were busting our buns for no return on our investment. We were walking, hiking, driving, forging through jungle and back roads to get to these villages–one of which had never seen a white person before–and we weren’t going to see anyone come to faith in Jesus.

We were planting seeds.

Planting seeds is just a fancy Christian phrase for introducing people to Jesus or shedding light on who Jesus really is.

That’s the part of following Jesus I think we skip over sometimes. You can do everything you’re supposed to do for God and never see anyone choose to follow Jesus, at least not in your lifetime. Sometimes it takes multiple lifetimes, multiple generations for someone to realize their need for Christ.

And that works the same way in other circumstances too. Just because you don’t get instant results doesn’t mean your work and your sacrifice has been in vain. It just means you’ve planted a seed, and someone else will get to harvest it.

To be honest, that kind of sucks. Because when I plant something, I want to be around to watch it grow and reach the point where it can be harvested. But that’s for my own pride. That has nothing to do with honoring God.

And how many times have I harvested something planted by someone else? That’s how this process works. We plant seeds in people’s lives, and then we step back and let them grow–often without our supervision–and someone else gets to harvest the results.

The village we were going to in this photograph had no church. We wore ourselves out getting there and giving our presentation. And the village packed the tiny little building we were in. There were people hanging from the rafters. We did our thing, and we left.

A few months later, that village started a church. Many people have come to know Christ, and they’re still growing.

What’s the point?

Roads have bumps. Some bumps are bigger than others. Some bumps can be so large you have to slow down to get over them. Sometimes you have to stop and go around them. And even when you get to the end of that road, when you reach your destination, you aren’t guaranteed success.

But that doesn’t mean you haven’t been successful. And that doesn’t mean God won’t still do something fantastic with what you accomplished. Granted, you might never see it. But you don’t have to. Once you do something for God, it never fades. The people you affect for Christ are eternal. The tasks you accomplish for Christ will withstand the greatest storm. And once you plant a seed, nobody can unplant it.

And don’t think it’s just about leading people to Christ. We’re supposed to do all things to God’s glory, and that means our relationships, our jobs, everything.

A lot of the Christian life is planting seeds and praying for the harvesters who come after you. So when you get the chance to finish something for Christ, take a moment to be thankful for the people who planted the seeds before you. Because you didn’t get where you are by yourself.

So if your road is turning out a little bumpier than you expected and you aren’t getting to see results from everything you’ve sacrificed, don’t be discouraged. You’re leaving behind a legacy that other people can use to achieve great things for God. And if you ask me, that’s awesome.

Kekchi home in Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Living for what you can’t take with you

In our lives, we face challenges and disappointments, but the greater part of our lives on Earth is usually pretty incredible. Most of us have opportunities others like us could only dream of. Life may be hard at times, but there are so many amazing things God has given us in this life to enjoy.

People and places and, nature and city life, the beach and the mountain, friends and family, movies and books and music and theatre. The list goes on and on, and we all have access to all of it, and it’s all there for us to enjoy. But not at the expense of forgetting what really matters.

Kekchi home in Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Kekchi home in Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Psalm 84:10.

A single day in your courts
    is better than a thousand anywhere else!
I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God
    than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.

This is one of those verses that always makes me cringe a little when I read it. I like to be able to read the Psalms like I’m actually saying them, like they’re coming from my heart. But sometimes when I hit this one, I hesitate because I have days where I struggle believing that a day with God can be better than life here.

I mean, I know a day in God’s presence will surpass my best week of life on Earth. That’s obvious. But it’s difficult to compare when I have experienced life on Earth and I haven’t experienced with life in heaven. So some days it’s hard to feel it, even if I know it.

What’s important about this verse is perspective. If you don’t believe that live in eternity with God will be better than life on Earth, you aren’t going to live like it. If you believe life will be better here, you’re going to live for this life. You’re going to invest in things that matter down here, and you’re going to ignore the things that matter in heaven.

When I was at college in Florida, there were all sorts of things I could have bought to make my stay more comfortable, especially in my second semester. But I didn’t because I knew I was coming home to Kansas, and I wouldn’t have room in the car. Our lives down here are the same way.

If we look at heaven as our home and Earth as our college dorm or as our rental house, it changes the way you look at a lot of things. You can’t hang pictures in a leased apartment. Or at least, you probably shouldn’t. In a home you know is temporary, you shouldn’t invest a lot of time changing it because you know you are going to leave. Instead, use your time to invest in the things that last, like the people who live around you. Even if you’re living in a dorm or in an apartment complex, you’ve got people on all sides. You’ve got a short amount of time to make a difference to them, and then when you’re gone, you may never see them again.

If you know you’re moving, you only want to invest time in the things you can actually take with you. If heaven is our final destination, what do we get to take with us? Not our money or our homes, not our possessions or our status. We take our own soul. That’s it. And if you’re fortunate and very blessed, you won’t have to go alone. You’ll get to go home with your friends and your family members. And those are the treasures that really matter.

Do you believe that a day in God’s presence is better than a lifetime on Earth? Would you rather be the lowliest servant in God’s house than a wealthy person here? It’s time to make up your mind.

Epic tree in Se'Tul - Peten, Guatemala

What’s the big deal with strong roots?

Some days I wonder what takes God so long to work. Does anyone else catch themselves thinking that? It’s like you’ve done everything you need to do and you just have to sit tight and wait for God to keep up his end of the bargain. And He doesn’t. Or if He does, He doesn’t do it in a way you expect. But either way, it always takes much longer than you think it will. Either that or it happens much sooner than you expect and you end up scrambling.

But for me, it always seems to take forever. Forever and a day. At least it does for the really important things I want. There’s rarely an immediate answer. And the longer I wait, the more impatient I get. But recently I had something of a revelation. What if it’s me God is waiting on?

Epic tree in Se'Tul - Peten, Guatemala

Epic tree in Se’Tul – Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Ephesians 3:17.

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.

There are many times in the Christian life where we have to wait. Waiting is part of faith. And I hate waiting, but it’s good for me because I’m such a control freak that I will rush into any situation and try to control the outcome whether I truly understand what’s going on or not.

But sometimes waiting isn’t the answer. Sometimes taking the initiative is right, and God is waiting for us to step up and accomplish certain things in our own life and in our own Christian walk before He lets us take the next step. Because if I haven’t done everything I’m supposed to, if I haven’t taken all the steps I need to, I’m not ready for what God has for me.

The Bible talks about trees a lot in Scripture. Christians are compared to trees that grow by rivers, with deep roots that reach into the waters and are always nourished even in droughts. Even today’s verse says that we need to be deeply rooted in God’s love so that we will be strong.

What’s the big deal with roots?

Well, a tree is only as strong and as healthy as its root system. Trees with weak, shallow roots are easy to tip over. Trees with unhealthy roots are easy to break. But a tree with strong, healthy roots isn’t moving. It might lose some branches in a storm, but its trunk will remain strong even in the worst winds.

And it’s the same with Christians.

Our effectiveness as Christians is directly proportional to how deep we allow Christ into our lives. Have you ever thought about that? Many times we allow Christ into our hearts and into our lives but we put up barricades and tell Him that certain areas are off limits. We block off and compartmentalize certain aspects of our lives and tell Jesus to keep His distance from those, either because we’re not willing to give them up or because we don’t think He can actually help. Or in some cases, we don’t think we’re worthy of being healed.

But if you want to be a strong Christian, you have to let God heal your roots all the way. You can only grow as tall as your roots can grow deep.

I have realized that there are areas in my own heart that I have blocked Christ from healing, many of them dealing with fear and major insecurity issues. And I can rationalize and hypothesize those issues away, but that won’t heal them. That will just allow me to hide them like I always have. But opening that part of my heart to Christ and allowing Him to fix what’s wrong will not only result in peace but will also allow me to take the next steps in my walk with God. But until I let Him fix me, I won’t be ready to do what He’s planned for me to do.

Oh, yes, I can continue to bump along the bottom, still doing good things for Him and helping others. But God has a dream for me that’s bigger than I can wrap my head around. And I’m not living that dream right now. For so long, I thought I was waiting on Him. But now I’m beginning to realize that He’s waiting on me.

If there’s a part of your heart that you’ve closed off to God for any reason, consider opening it up. It hurts, but every wound has to hurt before it can heal. And the stronger your roots grow, the more effective you will be and the more storms you can weather and the more you can accomplish for God.