verse found me yesterday. God, in His loving kindness and steadfast faithfulness, sought me out on my twitter feed. I know that sounds silly and unpoetic, but I had already decided that day that I didn't want to be joyful. I had already decided that my weakness couldn't be perfected by His strength. I had given-up before I had even gotten out of bed.
Thankfully, in my ever-growing walk with the Lord, seasons of doubt have generally gotten weaker and shorter, and seasons of confidence in God have grown longer and more robust. Unfortunately, doubt and sorrow have gotten sneakier and stealthier to accommodate such fluctuations, or so it seems.
But in my mindless scrolling-through-social-media (aka my ineffective and unnecessary attempt to not look to God), Desiring God's account had tweeted-out a verse. It stuck out like the sorest thumb. I started my day not wanting to think about God's Word. Nevertheless, it found me.
"Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord." Habakkuk 3:17-18
My husband and I work as church planters in Northeast Ohio. A beautiful place, with vivacious and kind people. It's also a place that is largely untilled for the Gospel. It is the demonstration of the harvest being ripe, with very few workers. A place where only 8 percent of the population is evangelical Christian. A quarter-million people live within a 2-mile radius of our church. Many of them have not heard the Gospel.
The burden of this ministry can seem prodigious. We are considered "parachuted" church planters, meaning that we weren't born and raised in the area. Which also happens to mean that we have, statistically, a 60 percent chance of "failure." We don't have family here. It can get lonely at times, and in emoting all of this, there are still people to reach. People that haven't heard.
I have been guilty of having a very presumptuous view of ministry. If you asked me when we got here in December of 2015 what our church would look like, I would have guessed there'd be scores of people in the congregation, self-sufficiency, and a full band of musicians. Instead, a normal head count is about 20 people in the sanctuary. We still depend heavily on the partnerships of other churches. It's still just me on stage with a guitar every week. Please don't mishear me: We are exceedingly thankful for the ministry that God has granted us to steward. We love each and every one of our people. We have seen God move and work in miraculous ways, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. But some days are harder than others.
We don't see the sun very often in the winter. We're cooped-up indoors because of the below-freezing temperatures and feet of snow that blanket the ground. Everything looks barren, and I still have days where things feel
barren as well. It's easy for all of us to have those days, where we fail to see the fruit. We look around and cannot find a rich and verdant pasture. For some of us, it's not simply a failure to see the crop, but it truly isn't there. Habakkuk describes a place completely barren, wholly void. Though there is no livelihood for him, he does not relent in rejoicing in the Lord. When I read this verse, my soul had no choice but to take heart and seize delight.
Planting analogies and parables are abundant in Scripture. For example, there's the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-23, there's the analogy of the tree planted by water in Psalm 1, and in Galatians 6:7 we learn that we reap what we sow. And while there are many more references to list, I'd like to draw our attention toward what Paul says to the church in Corinth:
"I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth." 1 Corinthians 3:6-7
The same imagery that Habakkuk uses to describe a sense of futility and helplessness, Paul uses to point to the sufficiency of God. What the prophet uses to illustrate despair, the apostle uses glorify God's omnipotent hand. This is the picture of the seed, isn't it? The seed must die in order to usher-in the life of a sapling. Likewise, we must often toil during sowing in order that other's may reap the life-giving news of the Gospel. Because of this we can continue on in faithful labor and obedience, knowing that God will grant the growth that He sees fit.
It is so easy, too
easy to feel like our labors for the Lord are in vain. It is effortless to think that we are unusable by God. And in one sense there's some truth to that. God doesn't need
us to accomplish anything. Yet, He still has decided that He wants
to use us. What a privilege it is to work with eternal purpose for our Creator and Sustainer! When we are truly faithful, truly obedient to what the Lord is convicting us of, we need not worry about the results being deemed "successful" by the world. True success is only measured by our steadfastness to the task at hand.
We can have the utmost confidence that the Lord will accomplish what He chooses, that He will grow what He sees fit to grow. We can have paramount certainty that when we are faithful to obey, we have accomplished what He's desirous of. And then He will bring growth. If He so chooses. And we can trust the God always chooses what is good.
"Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us". Romans 5:3-5
This we know and can be assertive in: when we persevere through hardship, we are granted a sanctified and refined character of godliness. Isn't this a precious thing to desire? Is it not pleasing to God when we are made more like Him through the suffering and hardship we incur? We will endure hardship in this life. Our eyes will be sore from the sorriest sights of unfruitful landscapes. I say with certainty that we will endure sorrow, and we will look upon barren land many times. With so much more certainty I say that God will provide the growth, even when the soil is sterile. I can say that He will endow flourishing, despite a fruitless vine. In this we rejoice.
Sarah Morrison is a staff writer for The Daily Grace Co.