When I was pastoring a church I had a friend in the congregation named Paul, and Paul taught me a great lesson. He told me, “Jon, you sow the seed but only God tills the heart.”
Why was that so foundational for me and what does that have to do with motifs of hope? Follow me.
I had been enduring one of my curses in life–battling sleeplessness and spending more than a healthy amount of time studying the Scriptures in order to pour into a congregation, only to learn that most of the congregation did not care for what the Scriptures had to say.
In addition to pastoring, I was teaching English full-time at a school, serving in the military as a chaplain, teaching Sunday school, leading midweek Bible studies, doing outreach, trying to be a good husband and dad, was in school earning another graduate degree, and on and on. And I was exhausted.
But I pressed on. I labored day in and day out for those people, and I was doing it for the Lord.
But that’s where things got tricky. I was doing it for the Lord, yes. But when the Lord did not do certain things the way I sometimes desired; or when the Lord did not cause certain people to be overwhelmed by His sovereignty the way I wanted; or when … You get the idea.
I wore myself out in ministry, in study, in teaching, in pouring into folks, and for what?
I learned the hard way that I was the one who needed to learn the lesson about God’s sovereignty.
It is only God, as my friend Paul told me, who truly and definitively changes a person’s nature, his heart/soul/core … or what in Greek is the ψυχή, soul.
An example may help. Think of the English word psychology. Literally, it means the “language” (logos) of the soul (psychí). That’s what the gospel does. It changes a person’s soul. It regnerates him. It takes a person from being the living dead to being spiritually alive to God. People hostile to God on a Monday are supernaturally reborn by a monergistic work of God on a Tuesday, for example. Suddenly, they have eyes to see what they were hitherto blind to. Suddenly, they see spiritual warfare for what it is. Suddenly, they see Jesus Christ, not as a swear word, but as the Savior of sinners.
Today I did what is perhaps my favorite thing in the world: I opened the Bible with people I have grown to love. They were fellow soldiers. We have been going through the Gospel of John verse by verse. And today we finished the book.
I read the text. We listened to Pilate’s words to Jesus and to the Jews. We listened to Jesus rebuke Pilate and tell him who actually has all authority (Hint: it’s not human government). We watched as Judas betrayed the Lord. We watched Doubting Thomas demand to touch Jesus’s side before he would believe. We watched Jesus talk to Mary while still in the tomb, post-resurrection. We watched Jesus be crucified between two criminals. We watched Jesus eat fish on the shores of the lake in northern Israel with weak-faithed disciples. And on and on.
And my guys saw it. They listened to me read and teach. We all listened to the Lord and His Word.
And my spirit wanted to shout, “Yes, Lord; You are gripping them! You are giving eyes to see!”
But I also heard my old friend Paul’s words from all those years ago: “Jon, you sow the seed but only God tills the heart.” Yes and amen.
But, Lord, please till. And I will tell of Your works.