I've been thinking lately about two passages that are shaping my expectations as a church planter. The first one, surprisingly, is from Leviticus. The second one is from 2 Timothy. Both are teaching me about God's timing in life and ministry, and the promise of reward if we work hard and wait.
The Five-Year Wait for Fruit
Leviticus 19:23-25 says:
When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten. And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:23-25)
In Israel, planting a tree was a five-year investment. Trees don't produce fruit right away. Even when the tree produced fruit, the first year's fruit was offered to God. If you planted, cultivated, and waited, eventually you would taste of the fruit, but only after the hard work and the long wait.
Maybe I'm reading too much into things, but I'm reflecting on how I would have struggled to wait that long. But waiting time isn't wasted time when you're planting trees or planting churches. If we're patient, we'll eventually get to eat of that fruit.
The Hardworking Farmer
Paul says a similar thing in 2 Timothy 2:6: “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.”
I don’t know a lot about farming, but Kent Hughes says this:
Farming is hard work today, and it was especially hard in the first century. The farmer’s life involved:
- early and long hours because he could not afford to lose time;
- constant toil (plowing, sowing, tending, weeding, reaping, storing);
- regular disappointments—frosts, pests, and disease;
- much patience—everything happened at less than slow motion; and
Sign me up! This, Paul says, is a good picture of what ministry looks like.
In both passages, after the hard work and the wait, the reward is promised. "But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you..." "“It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.”
Why would I be less patient than an arborist or a farmer? Why wouldn't I work as hard? Why wouldn't I set hard work, unpredictable results, and patience as part of the package? And why wouldn't I expect the reward that comes at the end?
I promise you the reward at the end will be worth it.