Tobacco, Dad, & God

“The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”  - Martin Luther

     There are very few things in my life that I hate more than priming1 tobacco. My father introduced me to this dreadful scene of exhausting labor at the age of ten, and I was finally able to escape from it only eight years later when I left for college.  Getting up every morning at 5:00am during tobacco season was not due to my household’s urgency for extra income, but instead, for the appeasement of my father’s belief that manual labor was a necessity for a young boy’s life.  My father primed tobacco when he was my age, so that meant that I was going to prime tobacco.  In fact, the little money that I did make every Saturday was subjected to taxes since my father worked for the Internal Revenue Service. How lucky was I to get to pick sappy leaves in the hot sun for six hours most Saturdays, and have my minimum wage further reduced by taxes! What more could a fifteen year-old boy want out of his life?

     Tobacco farmers want fast workers because the faster you pick, the faster they can cover other fields that need priming.  The way the system works is that while farmers drive a tractor down the middle of the field, several eager pickers would work to pick leaves from the bottom of each tobacco plant (leaves at the bottom have ripened).  After many weeks, I had learned that if I picked fewer leaves off of each tobacco plant, then I would be able to move just as fast as the other veteran pickers.  Before long, I started being praised for keeping up with the best-of-the-best primers even though I was skipping leaves as I went along. Throughout my entire tobacco-priming career, I was more concerned about the outcome than the actual practice of doing the job to the best of my ability.

     Looking back, I often find myself living my faith in the same way. I constantly look for shortcuts, quick fixes, and advantages to produce a product for Christ.  The quote I used to open this post adequately describes my approach to ministry.  Do as much as I can and stamp it with a Christian label to please God.  But does it really please God when I proudly proclaim for Him to, “See everything that I have done for the Kingdom of God?” It is not about us or how much we can do, but how much we are willing to mold to God’s desire and truly give our everything to any calling He sets before us.

     As I close and think about the temptation to do things half-heartedly in my life, I am reminded of the quality versus quantity debate. Why do we desire a handmade piece of furniture over a factory-made piece?  Because we know someone has intentionally invested his or her time to make that piece of furniture pleasing and personal to us. They have given it their all. In the same way, that is how we should approach our ministry -- with the desire to pour out everything we have to the best of our ability.  This does not mean to juggle numerous activities in order to boast about our accomplishments later on, but instead, to centralize our focus on the quality of our service and humbly sacrificing that “everything” we have when God calls upon us.

Jack Barr

Author of Failing at Fatherhood

 

Footnotes:

1(Priming tobacco is the process of walking down rows of tobacco and picking the ripe leaves off the bottom).