It is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. (1st Corinthians 4:2)
There was once a man who owned an orchard. In this orchard were ten apple trees. One day in early spring, the man left town to go on a long trip. But before he left, he told one of his field hands to take care of his orchard in his absence.
Each day the field hand was careful to cultivate the owner’s orchard. He kept the surrounding ground aerated and watered. And at the proper times, he fertilized the root system with just the right ratio of nutrients.
As the summer passed, however, the field hand became greatly troubled because he saw absolutely no fruit. Not one apple. Week after week, the worker faithfully cultivated the trees. But that fall, there were still no apples to be seen. “Surely, my boss will not be pleased with me,” he thought.
Word came that the owner’s absence was to be extended. “Whew!” said the worker. “Perhaps next fall, there will be a harvest of apples.” And so, the next spring he got an early start. He aerated. He watered. He fertilized. He covered the trees to prevent damage from a late freeze. He prevented insects and disease from harming them. But that fall there were, once again, no apples.
Each year, the owner’s absence was extended. And each year the field hand carefully cultivated the orchard. Yet, there were never any apples. Finally, after seven years, the owner returned. One by one, each worker was called into his office to give an account of their assigned tasks. Expecting to be fired, the field hand packed his suitcase and, with hat in hand, walked into his employer’s office. But to his utter amazement, his boss praised him! And promoted him! And gave him a raise!
And that next fall, there were ten apple trees with branches weighed down with hundreds upon hundreds of bright, red, juicy apples.
There is coming a day when every reborn Christ-follower will bow before the Judgment Seat of God. And there his level of faithfulness will be evaluated. Concerning that appointment, I have never met a believer who did not want to hear his Master say,
“Well done, good and faithful servant”
But if that is what we want to hear, there is something we need to come to grips with. For faithfulness to be dyed into the fabric of our souls, situations must exist that tempt us to give up … to throw in the towel … to quit being and doing what Christ has given us to be and do. This is the reality of stewardship. It is impossible to cultivate faithfulness without going through trials that demand perseverance.
To be aware of that fact goes a long way in understanding why troubles … and weariness … and circumstances that don’t make any sense are so vital to the Christian life. It explains why God (seems to be) so slow and so silent and so aloof at times.
One thing that tends to discourage us is a certain false expectation. We have been promised that those who remain in intimate fellowship with God through faith and obedience – those who “abide” in Christ – will bear “much fruit.”
I am the Vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
The false assumption we have is that we will see that fruit. But when Jesus said that fertile soil will yield a crop “some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty,” He did not assure the sower that he would see these results in full, at least on this side of the Resurrection. Maybe he will. But more than likely he will not. And if he does not, he will be in very good company. Many missionaries have ministered on the field for 20, 30, some even 40 years, yet do not live to see most of the fruit of their labors.
In fact, I don’t think I have ever met an effective servant of Christ that has not asked himself at one time or another,
“Am I really doing any good?”
“Should I continue to languish in this ministry that’s ‘going nowhere’ when every fiber of my being tells me to ‘throw in the towel’?”
His labor has been skillful. His motive has been Christ-centered. But as far as he can tell, he is having little impact in the lives of those he serves. And this continues on and on and on until, finally, he just wants to give up.
It is at this point that the bond-slave must ask himself a question … a “bucket-of-cold-water-in-the-face” kind of question:
How many lives must I see impacted by my ministry before I can be faithful to my calling? The answer, of course, is “None.” That’s because
Faithfulness has nothing to do with results
There are some things that can only be forged on an anvil. Perseverance is one of them. This trait does not come quickly; nor does it come easily. Faithfulness is not tempered by the laborer seeing the full impact he is having in the lives of others. To the contrary, it can only be strengthened when few, if any, results are seen. Steadfastness is fortified when the laborer doggedly remains in a stagnated situation because he knows that is where his Master wants him to be … and that’s the only reason he stays.
During those times, let us be fully convinced of what is taking place in our lives:
the Father is cultivating our faithfulness by stretching our endurance.
I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Vine-dresser. Every branch in Me that … bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2)
To whom, then, should we turn for the spiritual “grit” needed to endure this confusing and often discouraging – but necessary – pruning? To the One Who,
for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2b)
Therefore, let us not give up. Let us not throw in the towel. Let us not lose sight of “the joy set before us.”
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
Those “flat” periods of anguish and confusion that exist in the lives of those who want to please their Master with their lives and service will be well worth every prayer that was poured out and every tear shed. And at the finish line, each of these faithful ones will hear his Master say,
“Well done good and faithful slave”
And he will savor that praise throughout eternity.
And eternity is a long, long time.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (1st Corinthians 15:58)
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. (Galatians 6:9)
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Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ … that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2-4)