Sowing and Reaping

I was once asked: “Isn’t it disingenuous for a Christian to develop a friendship with someone if there is an ulterior motive of leading them to Christ?”

The suggestion being made was that the value of the person and the friendship itself should be the driving force. Any ulterior motive for the friendship necessarily subverts and devalues both the friendship and the person being befriended.

At the time I was asked this question I wasn’t sure about what I thought, but thought that it was an interesting point being made.

As I’ve thought about it over the years though, I’ve come to the conclusion that the point being made is a red herring. Here’s why:

People do not have what might be called “intrinsic” value, actually no created thing or entity has intrinsic value. People have value that is conferred value. It is a value that is conferred on them due to the fact they are made in the image and likeness of God. This is what fundamentally drives a desire to appreciate, understand and get to know other people; we actually see something of the nature and character of God which attracts us to them or piques our interest in getting to know them as friends.

But there is a problem: this value, which has its origin in our invaluable God, has been marred by sin. And any and all relationships I might build with other people, any friendships I may pursue, are actually marred by this same sin. They can never know me rightly and I can never know them rightly due to the infection of sin. It is as if a great cancer has ravaged each of us so that we do not see who we actually are, but only the husk of what we were. The effort then is to remove and kill the cancer so that life in its fullness and relationship in its fullness can be restored and enjoyed.

If, in any friendship, we are trying to pursue the knowing of a person, it seems reasonable that we would want to remove all barriers in getting to know them and in our appreciating and understanding them.

This is quintessentially demonstrated in marital relationships where there must be no “fig leaf” of separation if the married couple hopes to develop a lasting, fulfilling, honest, beautiful relationship over their lifetime together. The couple must both be getting know Christ better and better and be expressing this knowledge of Christ more and more in order for this to occur. As Christ is pursued more and more, as He is glorified in the marriage, the relationship becomes deeper, richer and truer. Back to friendship.

If I am going to cultivate a friendship with anyone that gets better, that improves; becoming more open, honest, loving, giving, etc., it only stands to reason that it is essential to the dignity of the person and the friendship that I, as a follower of Christ, be in the friendship with an ulterior motive, actually a primary motive, i.e. that they may come to know Christ. That is my purpose. Why? Because this is what serves the friendship best. This is what preserves and improves the friendship best. This is what recognizes and appreciates the dignity and value God has placed in the person most vigorously.

In fact, the relationship cannot progress beyond the level of pleasantries if Christ is not the goal. It is the image of God which is under restoration in this other person and in me, therefore to pursue a friendship absent Christ would actually be a disservice, a dishonoring of the conferred value which God has bestowed on both me and this person.

Would I wish to see this dignity, image and value ever fully restored and redeemed? Would I wish to fully experience who this person is in all their conferred God-like-ness? Would I wish to know them as God has meant for me to know them and visa-versa? Then I cannot enter into any relationship where this pointing them, leading them, introducing them to Christ is not the goal. Anything less, and this relationship can only become a sin-marred perversion of what it was meant to be. Dishonoring to them, to me and to the God who lives in perfect triune relationship with Father, Son and Spirit. Rich, beautiful, joyful and good.

The purpose of friendship then?making sure that Christ stays at the center; that He remains the primary motive. Once we have come to know the truest friend, we will then be released to be a true friend.


I don’t agree with everything Hugh Halter says in general, and I don’t agree with everything he says in this video, but this video gets very interesting as Hugh begins to explain how his church, Adullam, makes disciples who really are disciples, and not just people who occupy a pew or a seat on Sunday mornings.


Because I am a worship leader (and future church planter), I found this post by Donald Zimmerman over at The Resurgence to be interesting. It reflects a number of insights that I find quite helpful to see articulated this way.

Most helpful though is this simple observation:

“…consider the following: if your average church-goers attend a 90 minute service, three times a month, they will give you 54 hours of their attention annually. Depending on liturgy, your worship leader will get roughly 18-27 of those hours. Your worship leader sounds like a wise place to invest your time, doesnʼt it?”

Did you get that? Potentially a full third to a full HALF of the time a congregation spends in church services throughout the course of one year is given over to the worship leader. This fact could have been at the top of the post, framing and contextualizing the rest of the post, which challenges the pastor or church planter with some values-based suggestions.

But there is one thing this post does not do (and this is where my experience as a worship leader might prove helpful) – it doesn’t tell me, the potential church planter or pastor, which value to place higher on the priority scale.

So here is some practical wisdom. If faced with the decision to have worship led at your church by either a skilled musician (who lacks gospel maturity) OR a not-so-skilled musician (who demonstrates gospel maturity), always err in favor of the person who demonstrates gospel maturity. The reason is very simple:

Musical skill can be learned with some very simple steps, gospel maturity (or Christian character) is only learned over time and through many disappointments, toils, snares, humiliations, failures, etc.

In this situation, one of the best things you can do for the great musician who can’t articulate the Gospel to save his life is to (gently) place him under the leadership of someone who can demonstrate character and encourage him to grow in grace by modeling a life separated for the Lord. And, conversely, one of the best things you can do for the mature believer who may need skill development is to put them in a position where they are challenged to improve their skills by someone whom they are leading (AND tell them to go take lessons). This provides an opportunity for both people to be challenged in the area that they personally need to be challenged in, and avoids each of them turning their area of strength into a vice or an idol.

Obviously, meeting with, encouraging, praying with each of these kinds of people is going to be necessary as you lead the flock by the grace of God, and this where the initial observation comes back in. Regardless of who is standing at that microphone on a week-to-week basis, invest in your worship leader(s). FIND THE TIME to talk, not just about leading worship and things that have to do with Sunday, but know your worship leader, know their life, their ideas, read what they read, hang with your worship leader, show your worship leader that they are important to you. This single element will go a long way towards developing a leader you and your people can follow.

What a funny phrase that is. “Give Thanks”. It’s funny because it’s sort of a contradiction in terms. Almost. Kinda. Here’s what I mean:

Give. It’s a transaction. It’s the act of transferring ownership of something that now belongs to me and allowing someone else to, essentially, take over ownership what was previously mine. We give time, we give talent, we give treasure. We give soup. We give music lessons. We give cars, guitars and fruit bars. When we give we don’t usually expect anything in return. “Look, I’m giving this to you, I don’t want your money…”

Thanks. It’s the expressing of gratitude for something I’ve been given. I thank my wife. I thank my God. I thank my pastor/father-in-law. I thank my friends. I thank American soldiers. In thank my kids’ violin teacher. I thank someone for something I have been given.

I give thanks.

It’s almost as if the two words were really meant to be together all the time. In my giving I receive and have something to be thankful for. From my gratitude and thankfulness the giver experiences a reciprocity that is meant for them to receive in their giving and for me to give in my receiving.

Give thanks.

Giving thanks is like worship. In worship I am caught up in a beautiful cycle of giving and receiving; a cycle of pouring out (giving) my thanks as I am filled up with God’s gifts. It’s amazing, wonderful, beautiful and mysterious.

For more on this fascinating idea read Harold Best’s Unceasing Worship.

For John Piper, the idea that we would show up to worship on Sunday mornings, or any time, with only the purpose of giving, and not also receiving from God, is actually not even Biblical. And I think I agree.

Many churches, depending on the tradition, place an emphasis on worship as a way of giving back to God. It’s about giving Him something that he deserves, i.e., our praise, our attention, wholly, undivided. But that is at least incomplete. A worship service, at least one in which there exists a time frame in which corporate, congregational singing happens (take, for example, a typical Vineyard or Sovereign Grace worship service), should be a time of purposeful connection with God the Holy Spirit in such a way that there is an offering from the people of God that occurs, and a corresponding receiving from God that occurs. In this way, the people of God outpour as they are renewed and refilled by grace. It is a two-way interaction; a dance, rather than a performance before an empty concert hall. We receive our joy. We receive healing. By opening up this “channel”, so-to-speak, we receive his love and affection, his correction and encouragement, his grace and his truth.

In addition, this kind of two-way interplay does something else for us, the worshipers. It serves to remind us of our utter dependence upon God for life and breath and everything. It recalls to our minds the reality that from and through and to him are all things, and so, to him be glory forever. Amen. I am able to worship God because he enables me to worship him. The idea that I could ever bring anything to him that would adequately honor his value and dignity is simply foolish. Thankfully he has made a way through the shed blood of Jesus.

But the thing that this kind of interaction with God does for me, and this is where I move from the objective to the subjective, is change. It changes me. Little by little. More and more. Day by day. It changes me ever more into the image of Jesus. As I look into this dark mirror, I can see, more and more clearly, the image of Christ (1 Corinthians 13:12). That is revelation. That is freedom. That is obedience. That is worship.

Give. Thanks.


Soli Deo Gloria

There’s a Biblical principle called sowing and reaping. I think it’s probably more than simply Biblical, as if it only applies to Christians, I think that it’s how God designed things to work. In modern terms we might simply say “the more you put in, the more you get out.”

We see this at work everywhere. We see it at work when we save money in a CD. We see it at work in our jobs. If I work well, and contribute much to an organization, I should reasonably expect I’ll get more fulfillment, better promotions and more money as a result. We see it at church. The more people there are putting their hands to the plow, the higher the quantity and (hopefully) quality of impact that church should have. It’s really very simple.

The point of tension comes in the decision of what we should sow our time, talent and treasure into. Those are the three main categories of ‘stuff’ God gives us to make decisions with. Recently, my family made the decision to cut back on television. We decided that, given the current state of our finances and the current national economic conditions, we didn’t need to be ‘sowing’ our time and treasure into that electronic-moving-picture-brain-sucking-zombie-creating box and paying for the services necessary to run it. As a result, we’ve freed up treasure and we’ve freed up time that we can now sow into other things.

Often we don’t see the results of our sowing immediately (besides sometimes God uses our sowing for someone else’s reaping; see John 4:36-38, also the example of the church above). And that can be tough, but this is also a Biblical principle as well. Our culture focuses so much on right now, my way, right away (like that snotty little twerp, Veruka, from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), but Biblically we should be living in light of our last day. The apostles Paul and Peter hammered this all through their letters. Pressing on toward an ultimate goal is how Paul explains it. Like a runner training for a race, so that he might finish well. In addition we see this principle at work in the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the talents. Sowing faithfully, waiting faithfully, reaping joyously. Or not.

I don’t know if my family will see any short-term, instant gains as a result of shutting the TV off, but some things I can point to as a direct result of this one decision are:

  1. More relaxed evenings in our home.
  2. Less noise and confusion at the end of the day.
  3. More time spent talking around the dinner table on nights that I’m home.
  4. I’ve seen more books open around my house.
  5. The girls practice their violins without feeling like they’re going to miss Phineas and Ferb.

Not everything is all hunky-dorey and peaceful. We still have stresses. We still feel rushed; like we’re a couple of steps behind the pace of our lives, trying to catch up. Shutting the TV off doesn’t fix everything, but I wonder what other decisions we might make along these same lines that will together add up to reaping a harvest of righteousness, peace and joy as we sow more and more into God’s Kingdom and less into ours. Living in light of the end so that our last day will be so much more glorious than our first.

Sow for God, Reap for God.