Grab the plow
By now, it’s become clear that the disruptive force of COVID-19 is going to have longer-lasting effects in our lives than most of us had ever fathomed. The initial energy, creativity, and good humor that was evident this spring has largely withered and blown away like the autumn leaves. For many, zeal has given way to weariness, optimism to cynicism, and faithfulness to apathy.
What does Jesus have to say to those of us who are pandemic-weary? What truth does our shepherd hold out for those who, like a pastor-friend of mine recently confessed, only want to sit in a chair and do nothing but listen to country music? What Scripture do we need when we are daily tempted with apathy?
Certainly, the chief shepherd does not have a one-size-fits-all approach to ministry. He speaks quite differently to the woman at the well than to the Sandhedrin. Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28) are ever-true oxygen to the soul. Yet in my own battle against weariness, I’ve found the Lord’s pointed exhortations in Luke 9 to be the smelling salts that my soul has needed every bit as much as His promise of rest.
In Luke 9, Jesus resolutely sets his face toward Jerusalem, but it’s painfully clear that his followers have not yet understood the agony of his mission. While the crowd is eager to ride Jesus’ coattails to supposed glory in Jerusalem, Luke gives us a sampling of how three would-be followers have misunderstood the calling to follow Jesus. Like a teen fresh from church camp, the first would-be follower declares: “I’ll follow you wherever you go!” Jesus’ reply? Son, you have no idea what you’re asking. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (v. 58). Jesus’ disclaimer is not in the fine print. It’s writ large. Following him will not be comfortable. This emotionally charged volunteer needs to sober up and count the cost.
An interaction with a second would-be follower is initiated by Jesus. He bids a man to join him on the trek to Jerusalem, but the man must first fulfill one of his most basic duties as a son. He must bury his recently deceased father. Astonishingly, Jesus calls him to forsake the funeral, and to “go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (v. 60). The message is clear: Jesus demands ultimate allegiance and his kingdom must be the number one priority.
The final would-be follower commits to follow Jesus, but wants to return to say goodbye to his family. Reasonable enough. Elijah let Elisha say goodbye to his folks, and certainly Jesus wouldn’t be upset about someone requesting a half-day off for a few goodbyes? To the contrary, Jesus says, “No-one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62). Jesus calls his followers to single-minded focus and whole-hearted devotion. Jesus is not against pillows, funerals or goodbyes, but he shows in these three instances that following him must supersede all other priorities in life.
If we want to follow Jesus, we must grab the plow. Even in pandemics.
In the face of apathy, resignation and complacency, we need these stark words from Jesus to remind us of our calling. Jesus is a comforter, but he’s not a coddler. He calls us to labor and encourages us that “the harvest is plentiful” (Luke 10:2), so labor we must. The pandemic has given us many excuses for complacency in spiritual disciplines, in service to others, and in our participation in the local church. Some of the excuses—like those who encountered Jesus in Luke 9—are quite valid. But the call remains: Grab the plow and fix your eyes forward for faithful plowing in the harvest fields of the Lord.
Follower of Jesus: Do you need to put your hand to the plow once again?
- Did the pandemic lead you to abandon a discipling relationship? Perhaps it’s time to reinitiate that relationship and grab the plow of making disciples.
- Maybe your church has reopened and even though you’re not at risk, you have not recommitted to the regular gathering of the saints. Grab the plow and do not neglect the body of Christ.
- It could be that you began the pandemic faithfully serving the needs of others, but over time you’ve lost that zeal. Pray for God’s strength to grab the plow of persevering service to others.
- Pastors, has your gaze fallen from the harvest fields to the tedium of navigating the new normal? Remember the privilege of laboring in the king’s fields and grab the plow in faith today.
There will always be zig-zagging rows and abandoned plows littered about the harvest fields of the kingdom. But when the son of man returns, may he find you faithful with your gaze forward and your hand to the plow.