When the battle is raging fiercely, the soldier’s adrenaline is really pumping. Crossing the finish line while thousands applaud is very exciting for the athlete. What about turning over soil? What about cleaning out the animals’ stalls every day? What about dropping seeds into the ground? What about waiting … and waiting … and waiting to see if the crops will grow and how great the harvest will be? Agricultural metaphors are common in Scripture because the farmer teaches the Christian the value of patient, hard work. “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” (2Ti 2:6).
The questions above don’t imply the farmer’s life is boring – they may find great joy in their daily toil. But the nature of their activity and the lessons we take from them are different than the soldier (focus) and the athlete (self-control). Many of us are so far removed from an agrarian society that we overlook farmers’ contribution to our lives and miss out on the vital lessons they teach us.
2 Timothy 2:6 gets translated in various ways. If you want to take a deeper dive, compare the ESV, KJV and Darby translations and notice slightly different emphases. But the text undoubtedly teaches us this: before there is a harvest, there is hard work. None of this discounts the overarching principle that it is “only God who gives the growth” (1Co 3:7), and “unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psa 127:1). But we are naive to think that we can put little effort in and still expect to get much out. The Scriptures commend the principle of working hard, and that isn’t limited to our secular employment. “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life …. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you …. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord” (Rom 16:3,4,6,12). And you know what they say – hard work was never easy.
Waiting isn’t easy either, but the farmer’s hard work needs to be coupled with patience. There are months that lie between preparing the soil and seeing signs of life rising up from the earth. And in Christian service, the delay is sometimes many years. But the fruit of the Spirit includes patience (Gal 5:23).
Much of Christian service will at times seem mundane. Just like the experience of a farmer, we will feel at times like we are toiling alone, with no crowds cheering us on. But we have something better than the praise of men – we have the promise of God. “Whatever one sows, that will he also reap …. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal 6:7,9). Young Christian, there is a harvest to enjoy – whether in this age or the next – so in faith, work for the Lord, and you will then taste the reward for your labour.
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV.