He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like: A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”—Mark 4:26-29
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.—2 Corinthians 6:1
Last week my Thursday Thoughts were about stress. I wrote that article on a Tuesday afternoon. Later that same afternoon I had an episode of vertigo, which is something I’m prone to. It had been such a long time since I had a severe episode (maybe 18 years?) that I had almost forgotten this was a part of my life. Carey actually had to remind me that this has happened before. This one was pretty severe, to the point of nausea, and I had to ask her to come pick me up from work. Vertigo can be triggered by a variety of things; I have had it happen simply from having my head turned in a funny direction for too long. This time, it would seem, it was triggered by—guess what?—stress.
Part of the issue is that I have been pushing myself too hard physically. Every couple of years I sign myself up for a ridiculously difficult race of some kind, because there is something wrong with me, and I enjoy testing my own limits. The one I’m doing at the end of this month involves gaining and losing 4000 feet of elevation over a 13-mile course while climbing over walls, crawling through mud, carrying tires, throwing spears, etc. It’s going to be awesome. I preparation for it, I climbed Mt. Lassen as fast as I possibly could a couple of weeks ago, and then did it again, and that may have knocked something loose in my head. (Some would say something was already loose, or I wouldn’t have done it to begin with.)
The other factor, though, is that as fall has crept nearer and nearer, I have felt my stress level rising with the growing awareness that it’s going to be a really busy season. Ministries are starting up right and left, and our family’s calendar is filling up with Honorbound, Awana, youth group, dance classes, and more. Busy is normal for our family, as it is for many families, but for some reason this time around it’s getting to me more than usual. And while all of the things on the church calendar are good and God-honoring signs of life and health, when you put them all together it’s a lot to manage.
But here’s the thing: I don’t actually have to manage them. Our Executive Pastor Rick Floyd carries probably 80% of the burden for overseeing the various ministries of our church. He was doing it well long before I got here. Shelbi McCartney, our business manager, is more than capable of keeping our finances in order. Melissa Downing, our new administrative assistant, is already a rock star. And Joey Whipple, Jamie Giles, Alice Babinski, Sheri Hagen, and a sea of amazing volunteers are making quality youth ministry and children’s ministry happen without any help from me. So what am I stressing about?
As I’ve been resting and reflecting, I’ve had to admit that the problem is that I’ve been carrying burdens that are not mine to carry. Leaders often find themselves in the position of feeling responsible for things they don’t really control. It’s easy for me to get overwhelmed with “everything that’s going on” when the truth is that the things God actually holds me accountable for haven’t changed. I have a job to do, in my home and in my church, but beyond the limits of my responsibility are a whole lot of things that are His job, or someone else’s job, not mine.
I’m responsible for how well I preach the sermon, not for how many people show up to listen to it. My job is to keep my children alive and healthy, and point them toward Jesus, not to make all their choices and map out their lives. Stress comes when I kid myself that I can control outcomes, instead of being content to just be faithful and leave the results in God’s hands.
That’s why I love the above parable from Mark 4. Jesus says “This is what the kingdom of God is like,” and then goes on to describe a situation where the most important work is done by God, not people. The farmer is responsible to scatter the seed, but not to make the plants grow. The mystery of what happens under the soil, and within the cells of a growing plant, is God’s department. The farmer is responsible to harvest the crop, but not to produce it. It’s a crucial difference. I have my part to play, and it’s an important one. God graciously makes us His “co-workers,” as Paul says. But God is the one who saves people and grows people. God is the one who brings people into His family, the church. I am responsible to the church, but He is responsible for it. Even my children belong to Him. There is freedom when I remember that I am just the farmer, not the Creator.
This week, I’m making it my goal to be faithful, not fretful. I want to serve well every day and then go to sleep without worrying about how it’s all going to turn out. I want to trust that good things are happening under the soil, and remember that when harvest time comes, I’ll have the privilege of bringing in what God has produced. Whatever you’re fretting about this week, ask yourself if you’re carrying a burden that rightfully belongs to God.