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Taking Turns

by Allison Martin

Any elementary educator or parent of small children knows the struggle- taking turns. It’s the worst. It’s no easy lesson for a preschooler, and it’s not any easier for a developing woman of God. But it must be learned. 

Though we may not struggle to share crayons or wait for our turn on the swings, we’re often called to wait our turn for an opportunity, for recognition, for success that we watch others enjoy. It’s no easier for us than the kids out on the playground. We just disguise our frustration better. 

Paul deals with this principle of taking turns in 1 Corinthians 3, using one of my favorite illustrations: plants. God’s work, he explains, is accomplished by different people, fulfilling different roles at different times. All important, and yet none all important. Planting. Watering. Harvesting. Each essential, with their own burdens and challenges. Each with their own reward and recognition. None performed at the same time, which means the laborers involved get hands on practice in spiritual discipline of taking turns. 

Seed bags are heavy. Water buckets are heavy. Baskets of harvest are heavy. 

None of it seems heavier than the one we are called to do. 

None of it seems easier than what we watch someone else do. 

When we are doing the planting, the crunch of unbroken ground beneath our feet weighs on us. It is the burden of being the first, attempting what has not yet been done here. The planter knows the massive undertaking of preparation that makes casting seeds worthwhile. Callouses tell stories that they would rather not, of breaking through the hard places and digging out barriers previously untouched. In hopes that rain will soften and roots will reach deep, they labor. When that work is finished, they have only just begun. Their aching shoulders will bear another weight of precious seed they are responsible to sow. They plant their seeds and wonder how many stony places they missed, if they broke through the hardness thoroughly enough, and if today was the perfect day for the seed to land. 

The waterer is handed responsibility for a vision that was not their own. They feel neither the first flames of passion or the excitement of a soon coming harvest. They faithfully maintain what was begun before they ever got there. Faithfully they provide life giving water to what begins as rows of plowed dirt. Even as the tender shoots begin to creep upward, the waterer watches over them in their most vulnerable season. They must also keep a careful eye out for the weeds; it is a matter of life and death for the harvest, and the plants themselves are helpless. The responsibility of removal also falls on the waterer. Nurturing what has been planted is not a short term commitment. It is a never ending, backbreaking labor that keeps the environment suitable for growth. 

The harvester accepts an unthinkable weight of responsibility. All the labor invested to this point now hinges on how the job is finished. Timing is everything, so the harvester must not be a day early or a week late. He faces a scrutiny unlike his predecessors- everyone has an opinion about the field now that there is visible potential. The pressure mounts every day as he keeps one eye on the harvest, and the other on ever changing conditions and predators that would seek to destroy it. If they were to succeed, the loss would be devastating and the blame laid squarely on his shoulders. 

That’s what we find when we step in the shoes of a planter, harvester, or waterer. But when one pair of those shoes aren’t our own and we stand watching from the outside, things can appear much differently. 

The planter is out strolling in the beautiful spring air, throwing around some weeds as he enjoys his walk. He’s got the easy job. 

The waterer has neatly planted rows to travel down, sloshing water around and calling it a day’s work. He’s got the easy job. 

The harvester enjoys the rewards of everyone else’s labor, getting all of the credit and paying none of the sacrifice. He’s got the easy job. 

At one time or another, we’ll probably find ourselves as all three. We may begin a work, only to have God replace us before it’s finished. We may also find ourselves placed in a work that we didn’t begin, but are called to maintain or finish. 

A work of God rarely begins and ends with one person.

God knows our tendency to accept credit for what it accomplished, to maximize our intentions and minimize others’ efforts. So in His wisdom and care, He makes us take turns. 

Yes, sometimes we are made to. But the attitude we approach it with is entirely up to us. And it makes all the difference. When we approach our place of labor with humility, we realize how little it has to do with us. This isn’t my ministry, these aren’t my people, and this title isn’t owned by me. Every part of the process and every bit of success that comes from it is God’s. A job well done by any laborer in this harvest furthers the same cause I am striving for. This isn’t a competition- it’s a Kingdom. And all of us working in the King’s field are on the same team. So that changes the way I wait my turn:

When I’m the harvester, I’ll give honor to the labor and sacrifice of the planter and the waterer. When I’m called to water, I’ll do it with passion that the dream of the sower and the hope of the harvester may live on. And when I’m the planter, I’ll give encouragement to the waterer and my support to the harvester. I’ll pray that they enjoy success that I only dreamed about.  

Because we are all in this together, and a success for them is a win for our team. I’ll celebrate the new steps of faith. I’ll celebrate the growth, even if it wasn’t because of me. I’ll celebrate the harvest. Even if it’s not my turn. 

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