Last week I had the privilege of talking with Max Lucado. I was trying to make some career decisions and asked Max if I could run some things by him. He was waiting to get a root canal and for some reason was still willing (and even happy) to talk to me. I can’t imagine. Nevertheless, we talked, and I’m glad we did. One of the decisions I was in the middle of making regarded walking away from a great career opportunity because it just didn’t feel like it fit my personality. I felt like I needed to stay home and write books and not do a whole lot more. The opportunity I was declining was remarkable and it would offer me a larger platform. Max told me he’d made a similar decision years before, to stop doing a radio show because, even though it was a very good project, it just wasn’t his sweet spot. He needed to stay home and write books. It would be hard to argue he made a bad business decision. Even though he’s let go of perhaps many opportunities to expand his platform he’s remained focussed on what God has gifted him to do, and he’s sold more than sixty-million books. When you sit down with Max, there’s nothing about him that gives you the feeling he’s trying to get ahead. He’s calm, he’s at peace, and he’s plowing his little field.
Years ago, when Rick McKinley started the church plant Imago-Dei in Portland, he preached a sermon about his own experiences in the first year. At the time, the church may have only had a couple-hundred people attending. He said he thought things would be more exciting, that there would be fireworks all the time. But as he prayed about building the church, he realized that telling a great story is a lot like farming. He recalled hunting on some property in Eastern Oregon, sitting in a duck blind, watching a farmer a couple fields away just driving his tractor back and forth. Rick said that is what building a church looks like, it looks like farming. It figures, because, well, God invented farming. Now, Imago-Dei has a couple thousand people attending, and the ministry affects nearly every corner of Portland. But it happened slowly, with a farmer who kept driving his tractor back and forth in a small field.
So two questions I’m asking myself these days are what is my field to plow, and am I plowing it?
Over the next ten years, I’d like to write a book each year. That may change because I certainly can’t control the future, but I’d really like to get a little plot of land going, and I know it takes time. There will be opportunities to plow a larger field, and some farmers have it in them to do so. They are good managers of people and technology and so forth, but, to be honest, I’m not. I’m a good writer, or at least I hope to be some day. My sweet spot involves sitting down every day and getting a little something going in the typewriter. That’s all I know how to do.
The bigger field calls to me sometimes. I look at my peers and I get jealous. But if I tried to do what they did, I know I’d fail. I just can’t manage it. God did not give me that story to tell.
So my question to you is, what’s your field, and are you plowing it? Are you plowing too little? Are you plowing too much? What’s your sweet spot, and in ten years, will you have a small orchard that can feed your family and some of your friends? What’s your land to toil?
And even though we don’t know each other, I’m going to take a risk and answer some of these questions for you.
1. If you have a family, if you are married with kids, that’s a field to plow. If a larger field is calling you away from your family field, then you don’t have it in you to plow it, so let it go. Your family comes first. Further the plot in that story. Get your wife some flowers, go fishing with your kids, plow the field God has given you. Andy Stanley says that in life, your family is going to suffer or your work is going to suffer, so choose. Your work life are those three rows of beans, the rest is your family, I think, and the work rows can’t replace the family rows. I know it will feel like you are giving up something, and the truth is you are, but how do we really know what God may do with our faithfulness. The image I get in my head, often, when I think about Max Lucado, is the image of the boy with the bread and fish. The boy had a small amount of food, but Jesus used it to feed thousands. Sometimes I see Max tending a small patch of strawberry bushes. It’s just a small plot of land, and he doesn’t tend more, and he doesn’t tend less, because he has a family and a church and, well, a social life too. But God takes that little plot of Strawberry bushes and feeds millions. Your job isn’t to feed millions, it’s to tend the land God has given you, no more, no less. If He wants to feed millions, He will. But that’s no guarantee. We don’t know what God will or won’t do.
2. Plow the field God gave you. This is going to be a bit controversial, but I’m just going to say it. God gave you a heart, a wellspring of delight and desire. That heart can be corrupted, for sure, but God also speaks to you and through you through that heart. If you are given an amazing opportunity to become rich and famous, but you aren’t looking forward to the work, ask yourself if God put a heart inside you to do that work. If not, let it go, no matter what the cost. Now here I’m going to get really controversial: If you have an opportunity to “build God’s kingdom” in some massive way, but the work is like pulling teeth, I think you have to really ask yourself if that is what God is calling you to do. There are times (Jonah) when the problem isn’t the work, it’s you. But there are also times when the problem is the work itself, namely that the work just isn’t for you. I firmly believe that God calls people into work, gives them a heart to do things, that seem to have nothing to do with the kingdom, and furthermore, nobody will ever be able to figure out why it is God would have them do it. Except this: Nothing speaks more powerfully than a person who has been set free to do the work he loves. There’s some gospel truth in there somewhere. I like to look at it this way, I pray and ask God “where the wind is blowing.” If the wind is blowing in a Christian book that helps people’s faith, I write that book, and if the wind is blowing on a novel that has nothing to do with faith at all, I write that book, and I’m free and I love it and I thank God he gave me the work and let me do what I love.
3. You will have to work with consistency and faithfulness. A farmer farms a field, and if he misses a week of work, everything falls apart. If the seeds aren’t in the ground when the rain comes, the crops don’t grow. Our faith is not about magic, it’s about partnering with God to see remarkable things happen through faithfulness and consistency over a long-period of time. If we buy into the instant-results mindset of our culture (that is depressed and confused itself) we will become very frustrated with God. God has a system for growing food. If one farmer does no work, but prays and sings to God, and another farmer does work, and does not pray or sing to God, then the farmer who prayed will starve and the farmer who worked will eat, because even though the second farmer didn’t acknowledge God, he understood God’s ways and he adhered to the principles God created. The first farmer was just looking for a magic show.
4. Stop measuring your crops. This is a tough one for me. I confess I check to see how many retweets I’ve had or comments on blogs, but none of this has anything to do with farming. I’d much rather fall in love with my work, and get up and do it for the works sake than do it for the notoriety. To be honest, no number I’ve seen online has pleased me. Never. But you know what has consistently brought me pleasure, sitting down and having written a good little story. Fame is fickle, and it will come and go. If you associate your identity with the fashion trends of a fickle public, you are going to go insane. I’m leaning to keep my head down and plow my field.
Thanks so much for letting me ramble. I needed to get these thoughts down so I could understand them better myself.