I know I’ve told this story before, maybe even more than once, but as it is a true story, and as it happened to me, and as I am the one writing this—I’m going to use it again. The message is still a good one.
When I was a young boy in the early 1950’s, my family lived near the Gulf Coast of Texas where cotton fields dominated the landscape. One summer I decided I wanted to earn some real money by picking cotton. The going rate was 50 cents a sack, and 50 cents was a whole lot of money for an eight-year-old boy back then – enough to go to the movies five times.
So, on a hot summer day in south Texas, I was introduced to the joys of piecework – payment not by the hour or by the job, but by the number of pieces (sacks) you produced. My first shock came when they handed me the sack, a huge burlap bag almost twice as long as I was. When I heard they paid by the sack, I guess I just naturally assumed they were talking about the sacks we brought home from the grocery store. Wrong. Dragging that huge sack in my little hands, I went to work. After all, 50 cents was 50 cents, and I was still pretty sure I could make $5 a day at this cotton-picking business. Then I began to pick those miserably small pieces of cotton and drop them into the gaping maw of my sack. Four hard hours later, I had filled one sack. It took all my strength to drag it to the flatbed trailer where the straw boss was to pay me. That was where I got my third shock for the day (my second shock had been how long it took me to fill that sack). The man at the trailer lifted my sack off the ground, shook it vigorously, and handed it back to me. It was now only one-third full. It was a deflated little boy who dragged that partially filled sack back into the fields.
By the time the sun was setting, my back hurt, I was sunburned, and my hands were bleeding. But my sack was finally full. I took my two quarters and pushed my bike back home because I was just too tired to pedal. When the sun went down that night, it went down on my dreams of great wealth from piecework. Those two quarters were all I ever earned from picking cotton – I never went back.
I learned several valuable lessons that day, but the one that would stay with me was that while I could fill a huge sack with cotton—I could only do it one piece at a time. Unfortunately, this kept me from doing many of the things that Christ calls us to do. If I didn’t think I could do it quickly, I just wouldn’t even try. This was wrong. Jesus did his miracles, called His disciples, and fulfilled His ministry the way we are to keep His commandments—one at a time. The job must have seemed insurmountable to Him, yet He kept going. When His time was over, His hands were bleeding, His body was beaten and filled with pain, but His eyes were filled with love, and even from the cross He continued to minister, saving a thief, taking care of His mother, and forgiving us. The example is clear.
Often we try to live our whole lives in a couple of weeks, but one day at a time is all we can ever have. We will never have the peace Christ offers us until we can get off our stopwatches and onto His calendar. This doesn’t mean we are not to plan for the future, but to truly follow Christ we need to live as if we are going to live for Him for a thousand years – but might be called home tonight. And we must also remember that it takes time to change the world whether we’re feeding the physically hungry or spiritually hungry. We can do it – we are called to do it – but it is piecework, one thing at a time. We are to stay in the fields (He told us that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few) making a difference for Christ – one thing, one person, one act of kindness at a time. Every day we are called to two great tasks. One is to be obedient to God. The other is to be available for Him, to do His piecework, heart by heart, soul by soul, until our hands are bleeding and our backs are bent. The joy is that we do not go disappointed back into the fields, but with the joy He gives us from doing His will. He told us that His yoke was light because He would be with us until the end of time. One piece at a time, one day at a time. It’s not too much to ask, and yet it is everything – for it advances His kingdom and makes disciples for Him.