In our backyard, there are weeds, overgrown bushes, holes made by the previous owner’s dog, and an infestation of morning glories (a seemingly cute flower that is actually an invasive weed). The kindest comment I can make is that it is a work in progress.
But there are also a few unexpected beauties. In the spring rhubarb grows in the back corner. A cherry tree and pear tree produce fruit each summer. And a vibrant grape vine wraps itself around our fence, extending its reach each year.
Last weekend, I could smell their sweet elementary school-juice-box fragrance from the driveway; it was time to harvest. No longer a dull green, they were a deep shade of indigo. With sheers in hand and a large bowl tucked under my arm, I got to work. As I was snipping, a few of the bunches- green or barely light purple- weren’t ready to be picked. Others were on the verge of over ripening on the vine; another day and they would have been mushy and useless.
As I filled my bowl, I sensed God urging me to pay attention in this ordinary moment.
The harvest is indeed plentiful right now. Many of these bunches are ready. But some are not. Be mindful and attentive, harvest only the ones that are ready. Leave the others to me.
Ready to Be Picked or Still too Green?
On campus, I regularly meet students who seem interested in our ministry and others who are simply not. The students I expect to be “ripe” (a pastor’s kid, a church youth group alum) sometimes turn out to be green. And students that seem unlikely (a student with no spiritual background, a woman active in a different religion) are curious and receptive.
A few days before my harvesting project, our campus ministry held a Kick-Off BBQ. We spent a lot of time preparing: having conversations with many people who seemed interested and getting the word out as best we could. When the day arrived, we prepared for 30 and served only eight. The harvest did not seem plentiful and certainly not ripe. Admittedly, I was disappointed and wanted to pack up early.
Yet, I sensed God urging me to trust him and pay attention to what he was doing. As I looked around, I saw signs of fruit that was ready to be harvested. Our core leaders were excited to be together as a community. Over hot dogs and cokes, they shared their hopes and anxieties for the school year. Organically, they began to encourage and spur one another on to be more invitational for future events. And in the last 10 minutes, God surprised us with some new fruit- three freshmen unexpectedly showed up.
The Lord of the Harvest
In the NIV, the word “harvest” appears over 100 times in a variety of contexts. Several of the Old Testament references involve God instructing the Israelites when and how to harvest their crops. There is a clear method that God wants them to take when sowing and reaping. In all of these references there is a thread of consistency that weaves them together: God is the one who blesses the fields, God is the one who provides them with what they need. The Israelites job is to be faithful stewards of what God is giving them- sowing and harvesting at the right times.
In the New Testament, Jesus calls himself the Lord of the Harvest (Mt. 9:38, Luke 10:2) using the illustrations of reaping, sowing, and pruning to help his disciples understand what it means to partner with him in ministry.
As my 4th bowl overflowed with grapes, God was reminding me that He is the Lord of the harvest. He is the one who ripens and matures. I am the one who waits patiently and expectantly, ready to harvest at the right moment.
As a ministry leader, I need to be aware of who is ready and who is not. I can’t force people to come to events or be curious about Jesus no more than a farmer can will his crops to mature. I need to harvest what is ripe and leave the rest to God, trusting that he will continue to grow and develop those who are not ready.
With my purple sticky hands, I offered a prayer to the Lord of the Harvest:
Father, help me to have eyes to see which people and opportunities are ripe and which need more time on the vine. Help me to be patient and discerning as I follow your lead.
God’s invitation for us as leaders is to be attentive and patient with the people we are entrusted to lead. Rather than forcing things to develop, we are invited to join God in the things he is already doing, sowing and reaping according to his timing.