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March 1, 2024
No Substitute for Hard Work
Pastor Philip De Courcy
1 Corinthians 15:10

There is an old story about a preacher who was driving down a country road when he spied the most beautiful farm he had ever seen. So, he stopped to take a further look. It was picture-perfect. He could tell it was an old farmhouse and farm that had been remodeled. But what a job had been done! The flower beds that ringed the house were magnificent. The white fence that lined the driveway was stunning. The fields were beautifully tilled, and a fine herd of fat dairy cattle grazed knee-deep in the pasture. The house was something you would see in a magazine. The rustic red and white-accented barns belonged on a postcard. It was then that the preacher noticed the farmer, on a tractor, hard at work, approaching the place where he stood beside his car. When the farmer got close enough, the preacher flagged him down. Stopping the tractor, the farmer shouted a friendly “hello!” The preacher said to him, “My good man, God has certainly blessed you with a magnificent farm.” There was a pause as the farmer took off his cap. Then, addressing the preacher, he said, “Yes, God has, and we are deeply grateful. But you should have seen this place when God had it all to Himself.”

This story is a blunt but a good reminder that God does not normally choose to work independently of human agency (1 Cor. 12:4–11). God works, but He works in and through His people (Phil. 2:12–13). God expects man to exercise dominion under His lordship (Gen. 1:28). In God’s kingdom, there is no substitute for human endeavor and hard work.

Yet, in some Christian circles, there is a theology and temptation to “leave everything to the Spirit.” It is said that our one job is to get out of the way of the Spirit of God and let Him do the miraculous and the marvelous. The outcome is that Christians are discharged from putting their “hand to the plow” (Luke 9:62). They are sidelined from playing any significant role in advancing God’s kingdom through clear thinking, good planning, and agonizing work. Yet, as Canadian Baptist pastor Rob Roxburgh wisely notes, “Renewal [and church life in general] is not all a matter of being ‘blessed’. . . . Most church success stories have as much perspiration as inspiration behind them in the sense that members have worked hard to establish structures and strategies that will fulfil the prompting and vision of the Spirit.”

Don’t miss that insight. Ministry success stories have as much perspiration as inspiration behind them. While acknowledging that ministry is always a response to grace, an effect of grace, the effect of grace is always hard work. The result of God’s work in us is a total commitment with every fiber of our being to God’s work. While divine inspiration precedes human perspiration, it never abrogates or relegates it. Because of the grace of God, Paul labored more abundantly than most (1 Cor. 15:10). Because of God’s mighty work in Him, Paul worked mightily (Col. 1:28¬–29). Listen, our work can never substitute for God’s work, but God’s work teaches us that there is no substitute for hard work. God may give the increase, but we have still got to water and plant (1 Cor. 3:7–8). Farms look better, marriages become stronger, churches grow larger when we spill some holy sweat.