Tending The Flock

One of the books of the Bible I enjoyed reading the most when I was young was Proverbs. I was really taken as a teenager by the opportunity afforded Solomon when he was just starting off in leadership; and God's offer to grant him anything his heart desired. 2 Chronicles 1:7 "That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, "Ask for whatever you want me to give you." In response, Solomon did not ask for riches, power, fame, or any of the other things young people might be enamored with. Instead he requested from God great wisdom! 2 Chronicles 1:10-11 "Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours? God said to Solomon, "Since this is your heart's desire and you have not asked for wealth, riches or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king." I recall as a teenager asking God also for wisdom and the ability to help others as He fulfilled His call on my life. Because of being so taken with Solomon's prayer I found myself drawn to the book of Proverbs.

For those who are called into leadership roles, the book of Proverbs is a fountain of guidance! Being young I wanted to accomplish everything for God, in a matter of months of course! Two verses in Proverbs, however, helped me realize that God works over a much longer period of time in our lives and ministry. Proverbs 27:18 "He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who looks after his master will be honored." I love growing things! I've been an avid gardener most of my life, but not just vegetables. I've also grown lots of fruit trees. In Vermont where we pastored for 24 years, I had grown peaches, pears, plums, apples, and cherries. Some of my fruit trees were decades old and gave our family so much fruit that we could not consume it all ourselves. So I often let people in the church come over and reap some of the harvest every year. This verse in Proverbs is instructional about ministry, "He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit!" You don't get the fruit right away; you have to invest years into those trees before you reap the harvest from them. You also don't get to simply let them exist in your yard and they automatically produce good fruit. You have to TEND to them! That means constant care. Just a few verses later in the same chapter we read a similar concept using a different image: Proverbs 27:23,27 "Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds ... You will have plenty of goats' milk to feed you and your family and to nourish your servant girls." By this Solomon was also talking about an "investment for future blessings." The idea is quite clear: you work hard, invest now for what you want later. The benefits and blessings are to come. The hard work comes first and is continual.

We live in a culture of instant gratification and instant results. Our technology has made "instant" a part of our lives. Believe it or not, they are working on a new oven that will be better and faster than the "old fashioned" microwave, all to give us cooked food even faster! Of course many of us enjoy a cup of coffee when things are crazy, and if time is an issue we will default to "instant coffee." With "instant on" TVs, "instant credit," "instant winners," "instant potatoes," ad-nausea! Life and ministry, however, don't track this way. Significant investments at "tending" the flock of God, and investing with integrity over a period of time are required for effective fruitful ministry. Ministry doesn't "just happen," in the same way that fruit trees don't just produce "good fruit" automatically. Solomon was wise to understand that time and effort was required to see fruitful results.

The early years of investment are hard, and because there are few results it can be difficult to manage spiritually and emotionally, but going the distance and continuing the investment will eventually pay off. The results are not just about financial, numerical, or in terms we normally think of as being fruitful. Changed lives are the ultimate fruit. Keep tending those trees, keep watching over the flocks, for a good investment will yield good dividends in time. Eight years ago when we moved to Maine I again planted the same amount and types of fruit trees as I had in Vermont. Now eight years later they are finally loaded with fruit. For about six years I didnít get anything from them except lots of work! But this year, look out, lots of cherries, peaches, pears, and apples!