As disciple makers when need to embrace the reality of getting down into the mess for a long time.
So I hate yard work. Hate it. I consider grass cutting day one that should be avoided even with the lamest of excuses. I’ve actually thought about paving over my entire front yard just so I wouldn’t have to deal with time consuming “dirty work”. Flatten it. Kill the grass. Cover it. Move on to something else. After all, who has time to do the hard, dirty work of growing things when you could move on to more productive things that don’t require patience and attention?
There is a short and powerful parable Luke 13 that reminds me of my feelings about yard work.
There is a tree that has been fruitless for quite a while and the man who owns it gets fed up with it and tells the vineyard worker to cut it down. He says, “I’ve waited three years and still no fruit!” Cut it down! Move on! Kill it! “Why should it even waste the soil?” He obviously feels like me when it comes to yardwork.
But then the vineyard worker gives an unexpected response. He didn’t say, “Where’s the chainsaw?” He didn’t say, “It’s about time we cut this down.” He says, “Sir, leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. Perhaps it will bear fruit next year, but if not, you can cut it down.”
Pay attention to what he is saying. He is saying, even though we’ve seen no results yet, I am willing to get down in the dirt with manure and keep digging. I will get dirty and smelly but I’m going to keep digging. I am willing to take more time and not just chop it down. I believe fruit is still possible. What a hopeful perspective!
Here is an important thing for us to consider. As we make disciples, it is often far too easy to be like the man who wants to chop down the fruitless tree.
We will have people in our lives who seem fruitless and as the man in the story says, “a waste of soil”. They never seem to “get it”. They seem fruitless, so we quit on them. The “tree” is not doing what I WANT, WHEN I WANT, THE WAY I WANT.
So we pick up the proverbial chainsaw and cut it down. We give up. We determine, whether we realize it or not, that they are a hopeless cause and waste of time. We judge them and move on.
I call it being people of the Chainsaw of judgement.
I believe as disciples of Jesus, we are called to be more like the vineyard worker.
He begged to get into the mess with fertilizer, manure. He believed in the possibility beyond the mess and he wanted to get in it. He didn’t say “If no one else will do it, then I guess I can.” He begged, “please let me dig more!“
I call it being people of the Shovel of Grace.
When we pick up the shovel we are saying “I’m going to get down in the mess with you and dig”. Now, when you pick up the shovel you need to know that it takes work. It may stink. It doesn’t ignore the things that don’t line up with God, but gets involved in them with care and love. It will be messy. It will be hard. It will be slow. It will be humbling. No glamour. It’s selfless. Eugene Peterson wrote, “When it comes to doing something about what is wrong in the world, Jesus is best known for his fondness for the minute, the invisible, the quiet, the slow – yeast, salt, seeds, light. And manure.”
But, we dig because we love.
Think about it like this.
- The chainsaw of judgement takes life.
- The shovel of grace gives life.
- The chainsaw of judgement can’t see past the past.
- The shovel of grace digs into the future.
- The chainsaw of judgement is a selfish act of pride.
- The shovel of grace is a selfless act of love.
- The chainsaw of judgement says “God can do no more!”
- The shovel of grace believes “you can bear much fruit.”
There are always opportunities to choose between the chainsaw and shovel. I pray we would choose the shovel and dig.
1 Eugene Peterson, Tell it Slant (Eerdmans Publishing, 2008), pg. 70