I’ve heard the cliché too many times: you reap what you sow.
It’s basically become a haughty way of warning people to be nice. After all, mean people suffer and nice guys finish first.
Wait, what? The longer we live in our society and world the harder it is to believe a proverb that claims that we get what we give. It just doesn’t seem to work that way.
And that’s where we fall short in our understanding. Part of human nature is a longing to know everything, and another part is an arrogance that refuses to realize that such knowledge is not possible for us to attain. We look at the world and see how it seems to work, and we possess the highest knowledge we can imagine, so we must be right.
The concept of time fascinates me as we experience being moment by moment, while God is outside the constraints of time, allowing Him to “see” history all at once. For God, there is no “seems” to work that way when it comes to the world. God actually grasps the proverbial “bigger picture” in a way that we simply never can.
But that’s hardly any level of reassurance as we look around and see the world burning. Corruption wins out and the people who are willing to compromise everything seem to make it to the top. We try to sow goodness, but the constant defeat serves as heavy discouragement.
Yet we keep coming back to the simple realization that what we see is not necessarily how things are. We can read stories about the highest profile actors in crumbling relationships and falling into struggles with alcohol and drugs, but we still see them as defining success. We see cold, heartless businessmen crushing all resistance in their paths and somehow convince ourselves that their wealth equals happiness.
It really is true that our world revolves around the Darwinian notion of survival of the fittest. At our most basic level that is our existence. But that doesn’t mean that’s the definition and extent of living.
I think we can tend to see the truth of the cliché even on a small level when we look at our own personal relationships. When we treat people horribly and use them for our own selfish gain, we tend to end up alone without any friends. When we choose to sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of those we care about, we find friends that reach a level of family.
But looking at these examples and realizing the cliché is true somehow doesn’t reassure us as we wait for the harvest. Perhaps it’s because our culture has moved away from agriculture that we no longer fully understand the waiting period. I think it has a lot to do with that and even more to do with the technological advancements that have made us a microwave society.
We hear the cliché and think, okay, I will sow goodness and I will reap awesomeness. It will be great. And it will take a day, maybe two at the most.
Then we find that it really doesn’t work that way. And we get discouraged. In our discouragement, we fall into the trap of looking around us at all of the corruption that has led to “success.” We contemplate giving up, maybe just one little compromise.
But we press on a little longer. And a little longer. And it keeps wearing on us, because we keep sowing and there is no sign of a harvest.
It is at this point that we must make a choice. We can either go the way of the world and choose to abandon course or we can trust that God really does know better than us and will stick to His promises. Theoretically it sounds like a crazy choice; who would even consider the thought that we know better than God? But practically, it just seems so difficult to hold onto that faith.
Paul knew this better than most. He lived a pretty miserable life by our standards, constantly beaten, mocked, imprisoned, kicked out and worse. But he knew that what appeared to him as misery was only a very small part of a bigger picture he could not see. And he offered encouragement to all who seek to follow God.
“The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Galatians 6:8-10)
Paul offers a few tidbits of wisdom here, with all of them basically pointing to the notion that we simply can’t understand what’s really going on around us. First, he says that for those who sow to please the Spirit, the Spirit will allow them to reap eternal life. It’s easy to gloss over that based on how often we hear eternal life preached, but really we can’t understand it. Eternal life is so opposed to what we inherently are as temporal beings that we can grasp the vague notion of living forever, but we can’t get any further into what God means by eternal life.
Second, Paul says that we will reap a harvest “at the proper time.” Well, who’s setting the schedule?! I can’t imagine that anyone has never felt as if “the proper time” for something passed without the resolution they were looking for. Again, it goes back to the idea of the bigger picture beyond our comprehension. It must be God’s idea of the proper time, because it sure as heck is not ours.
Finally, Paul tells us not to give up and to continue doing good. We may feel like the harvest will never come. Discouragement may surround us on every side. But we are called to persevere, and we can only do that through a strength greater than our own. We must rely on God to help us continue as we press on to achieve a goal only God understands.
The harvest is coming. God promises that much. We cannot know when, but it is coming. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to hear from a good friend who is in many ways experiencing the harvest. After many months of struggles and perseverance, everything finally seemed to click recently and God opened her eyes to see the fruits of her labor.
I have many other friends who are not yet at that point. They are continuing to sow despite the discouragement, although it grows harder by the day. All I can offer is Paul’s promise in Galatians 6: at the proper time they will reap a harvest if they press on. I do not know the proper time any more than they do, but God does.
The world will beat us down and tell us it’s just a cliché. Society will point to the “successes” of all the people who exchanged their souls for worldly fame and wealth, and the voices will whisper that we need that same thing.
But God is calling us to something greater. God is calling us to persevere through the sowing season. God is calling us to continue sowing far past when we think that time should be done. God is calling us to wait for His timing, the proper timing.
Keep sowing. You will reap.