The hard work is knowing that it is not hard work

Yesterday I was with a co-worker in one of our local towns. 3 weeks ago this co-worker was preaching the Gospel on the streets of this same town and He met a man called Steve. Steve was ready to repent and be baptised so my co-worker baptised him in the local swimming pool and asked the gobsmacked pool attendant to film it. You can watch it here

As a team here in Somerset we are searching for people of peace – like Jesus tells us to in Matthew 10 and Luke 10. This guy Steve is a person of peace. He knows everyone in his town and we are now helping him to bring Christ to those He knows. Steve has certainly not had a “Christian upbringing” and very sadly is probably not the type of person most Christians would want in their Church! He’s exactly the kind of person Jesus wants in His Kingdom though and just the kind of team mate we have been searching for!

Here’s a photo of Steve and my co-worker Yan.

Yesterday we spent some time with Steve. We sat with him outside a cafe and he introduced us to all his friends. It was quite remarkable how many lost and broken people we encountered just because we were with our new friend Steve. We didn’t really do anything – apart from preach the Gospel, lay hands on the sick and cast out lots of demons.

Later that day we gathered for Church in the home of some other friends. Most of the disciples in this church were drug addicts 1-2 years ago. Now they are Jesus-following disciple makers who’ve been baptised and are baptising others they know. One guy has been clean for 4 months now and he shared how in recent years he had been caught up in a life of crime and drugs and had come to his senses one day while he was petrol bombing someone’s house! He hasn’t been baptised yet.

At the end of the day me and my co-worker sat in our car reflecting on the day and how incredibly fruitful it had been – despite the fact that we really didn’t feel we had done much! We’d read the story of the miraculous catch of fish in John 21 that afternoon and as we sat in the car we were feeling a bit like the disciples in that story. We agreed that we would try and continue to listen and obey Jesus this year rather than rely on our own efforts which often leads us to fish all night and catch nothing.

That got me thinking more about our last 10 years of mission and church planting and how really the spiritual fruit has increased as we have done less! There has often been times where we have toiled and labored hard and caught no fish. And yet the more we have waited on Jesus and just obeyed him in everything – the more fruit we have seen.

God reminded us of John chapter 4 where Jesus said these words to His disciples:

“Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike! You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.” (John 4:34-39)

It made me realise that the hard work in following and serving Jesus is getting to the point where we understand that it is not about hard work!

Jesus invites His disciples to wake up and look around them. The harvest is already ready – you don’t have to toil and work hard for 4 months. Spiritual fruit isn’t the logical product of linear hard work – it’s the miraculous increase that comes from God! It’s by His Grace and through his power – not the reward of any work we have done. Jesus went onto say that He has sent them to harvest where they didn’t plant – another indication that the key to being fruitful has nothing to do with their hard work or effort!

As I sat in the car last night I reflected that really the hard work needed is to humble yourself before God, to allow Him to break you and teach you His ways and to totally rely on Him and His work in people. For many years I am someone who has taken pride in my hard work and dedication to Jesus and His cause. However last night I was reminded again that God’s work increases as my work decreases! The hard work is allowing God to strip you down to nothing so you are able to simply obey Him and to offer people nothing except what he is saying and doing through you.

There is a great work for us to do – but it’s a different kind of work! It’s a work that comes out of being yoked with Jesus and His word. It’s a striving that is founded on God’s work in us and not our own – just like Paul said in Colossians 1:29. It’s a work that is done in peace and leads to great fruit. Not an all night fishing session that ends with empty nets!

So what is the work then?

I’ve been reading Colossians lately so here are some thoughts about what the real hard work is:

“So we have not stopped praying for you…” (Colossians 1:9)

Some of those we are working with are currently in a season of extended prayer and fasting at the start of the year so we are being reminded greatly about the importance of laboring in prayer! Without deep abiding prayer we will have no clue about what God is saying and doing and we will be fishing all night in vain! Through constant prayer , humble fasting and meditating on scripture we learn to see and hear what God is wanting to do and can yoke ourselves with Him rather than just following good ideas! The hard work is cultivating these spiritual disciplines into our lives when everything else is screaming for our attention! But if we do then the Spirit’s work in and through us will increase and our work will decrease.

“This same good news that came to you is going out all over the world…” (Colossians 1:6)

It often saddens me that churches and christians who desperately hope to make disciples place no confidence in the Gospel. Actually it angers me. I’m alarmed about how frequently I hear about churches who are adopting a “make friends” strategy rather than a “make disciples” strategy. It seems to have become popular – and almost taken for granted – that the mission of the church is to organise social groups and meet needs and to intentionally not share the Gospel with people. This week I have had already had two conversations with people where they have shared about the latest project at their church. They’ve been asked to get involved and told that they cannot share the Gospel with people because the aim is to build relationships with the people. I don’t know about you but when I look at the world around me and I see the depth of the brokenness and problems in people’s lives it gets me very upset that we as God’s people are not sharing the good news of salvation and transformation that is available through Jesus. I’m done with activity and so called ministry that contains no Gospel seed because it won’t lead to the fruit of disciples. Can you imagine a farmer planting no seed in his field but still hoping for a bumper harvest? You’d say the farmer was crazy. The hard work is overcoming fear and preaching the gospel boldly with signs and wonders. The hard work is finding the good soil people who will multiply the seed 30/60/100 times. People just like Steve above. The hard work is to not be satisfied with sowing a few seeds and then going home without finding good soil gospel partners who’ll continue to make disciples in the harvest when you’re not there.

“I want you to know how much I have agonized for you…” (Colossians 2:1)

It’s hard work taking responsibility to teach someone to be a disciple. It’s easy however to invite them to your church. We’ll leave that one there – but I will remind you that Jesus has called us all personally to make disciples and to labor in prayer and action to see Christ formed in those around us.

“Let the message about Christ, in all it’s richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom He gives…” (Colossians 3:16)

It’s hard work helping people to fill their lives with Christ’s message and teaching. But it’s harder work trying to solve people’s problems for them and trying to micro manage their christian development like most Christians and leaders try and do. Which one are you doing? Paul labored to see Christ formed in people. He didn’t try and take Christ’s place in their lives. Lots of people often use the phrase “go slow to go fast” when talking about making disciples. Very few actually live it out. We’ve started to see the fruit of this approach in our work. We take our time to help people hear and obey Jesus and to pass Him onto others. In the short term it’s laborious and hard work. In the long run it leads to fruitful multiplication. It’s hard work making Disciples of Jesus.

“Be sure to carry out the ministry the Lord gave you…” (Colossians 4:17)

Here we see the final nail in our coffin. If we truly understand that God’s work is not about our hard work then we will actually become people who equip others to fulfil their work. I’ve found – and still find – this lesson hard to learn. I’m an enthusiastic doer who gets a kick from serving. So if I see a need then I need to try really hard to not just jump in with both feet. The problem with this is that it means I jump into everything and no-one else gets to jump into anything. It’s better to jump into nothing and to help others jump into everything. Paul knew that the work was not His – it was God’s. Because of this he looked to empower others to do the work of Jesus in his absence. At the end of His letter to the church in Colosse he exhorted Archippus to carry out and fulfil the ministry the Lord had given him. It’s hard work to say No to people when they ask you to do everything for them. It’s hard work to look beyond our own God given ability and calling to make room for others to grow in theirs. It’s hard work to have courage and to call other potential leaders to account and to fulfil their God-given work. But it’s even harder work to do it all yourself!

Check out my book Accidental Apostle to find out more about these themes and the work we are doing. Buy it here