I would like to raise a cheer for the great army of ‘plodders’. There are preachers up and down the country, in towns and villages, who faithfully pastor their people year in year out, preaching in season and out of season. Yet, it would seem, they do so with frequent discouragement and little or no success.
I think of Sunday school teachers who regularly teach the Scriptures without any apparent response. I hear of door to door ‘plodders’ who, come rain or shine, by open doors or slammed doors, aim to spread the gospel.
There are, I know, men and women who, year after year, pray for the conversion of children, parents, friends and neighbours, and see nothing happening.
Nothing happening! That’s what we find so disheartening. But is it true that nothing is happening? It may look like that to us, but we don’t see the complete picture.
I remember receiving a sharp rebuke from a Christian when I complained to him about ‘nothing happening’ under the preaching of the gospel. ‘How do you know that nothing is happening?’ he said. ‘God doesn’t have to tell you everything that he is doing’.
He then went on to tell me of a man he knew who worked night shift in a bakery and would come home for a short rest before going out to a local estate, standing here and there to preach the gospel.
One day he went out, stood on a corner in the pouring rain, preached, and got thoroughly soaked. He went home, changed and was about to settle down when he felt a strong constraint to go out again to the same spot and preach. Another soaking was his reward. A thoroughly wasted day. But was it?
Some time afterward, while visiting in hospital, he was surprised when a complete stranger called out to him. He went over to her bedside and discovered that while she was a stranger to him, he was no stranger to her.
She explained that one wet morning she heard him preach outside her window. Not liking what he was saying she shut the window, and was glad when he left. However when he returned she felt compelled to open her window and listen to what he was saying. She heard the gospel and was converted.
The point my friend made was that the preacher would have concluded that two soakings were his only reward for preaching. He might have gone to his grave believing he had had a wasted morning. But on this occasion God chose to take him behind the scenes and show him what really happened.
Not in vain
So, a word of encouragement to all plodders! Do not judge by outward appearances. Remember that God does not have to tell you all that he is doing. One day, possibly in this life but certainly in eternity, we will learn that our ‘fruitless work’ was never so.
Our faithful, persevering visits, teachings, preaching or prayers were not in vain. As long as Christ is preached, God is glorified, whatever the response from man.
I remember as a student hearing missionary David Bentley-Taylor urging us, as young Christians, to learn to plod. The great need he said, especially on the mission field, was for ‘stickers and plodders’.
Some (he said) began their Christian lives like rockets only to fall down to earth with a disappointing thud. Plodding is not fashionable today. You have to be ‘remarkable’, ‘spectacular’ or ‘astonishing’ to get noticed in Christian circles.
Nevertheless, I say to all plodders: ‘The world may not know of your existence, but God does; and remember, your labour in the Lord is never in vain. So “Keep on keeping on”’!
The mistake that is generally made is that all plodders are, by definition, dull. Chambers Dictionary has this definition of a plodder — ‘a person who keeps on plodding; a dull, heavy, laborious person; someone who gets on more by sheer toil than by inspiration’. We shall see!
A certain Mary wrote of her missionary brother: ‘Whatever he began he finished. Difficulties never discouraged him’.
His brother said: ‘From a boy he was studious, deeply and fully bent on learning all he could, and determined never to give up a particle of anything on which his mind was set, till he had arrived at a clear knowledge and sense of his subject. He was neither diverted by allurements, nor driven from its search by ridicule or threats’.
Of himself he declared: ‘I can plod, that is my only genius. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything’. Was he a pretty ordinary (stodgy?) run-of-the-mill missionary, not likely to achieve much?
Hardly. The plodder was William Carey, the father of Modern Missions. Fellow plodders, we are in excellent company!
If plodders are to make it, of course, they need motivation. For Carey it was the burning desire to take the gospel to the heathen. All of us need to ‘fix [the word means “glue”] our eyes on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith … and consider him’. If we do, we ‘will not grow weary and lose heart’ (Hebrews 12: 2-3).
So keep going until the end. As Spurgeon once remarked: ‘By perseverance even the snail reached the ark’.