You May Never Know On Earth


1 Corinthians 4:2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

Giving out tracts at the stores where we shop, trying to live a godly life that will glorify our Father in heaven, giving a word to the weary, telling someone what the Bible says about something -- these are some of the things that we do that we may never hear any fruit from. It can be a temptation to be discouraged and feel that our efforts are in vain, especially for ladies who keep the home. We may feel like we're just not doing that much sometimes. We answer to God, though, not to others or even ourselves.  

Much emphasis is put on the necessity of winning souls among some groups, especially among churches that are strong on evangelism. In fact, it can be to such a point that if you don't lead a lot of souls to Christ regularly, they consider you backslidden and may even start questioning your salvation. In some places, such as Hyles Anderson College there is (or was last I heard) an actual quota that each student was to win each week or month. This is no different than the Charismatics and faith healers who think they can make God preform on their schedule. It is disgusting, to say the least.

Proverbs 11:30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. This verse has been interpreted to mean evangelizing others or bringing them the gospel so that they become Christians. This is where we get many expressions: soul winning, win souls, soul winner, winning them for Christ, etc. The expression isn't used anywhere else in scripture, to my knowledge, so it's a little unclear if this is a proper use of the verse. However, I don't think I can say that it is a wrong usage. Winning souls, in that sense, is wise, but far be it from us to demand the fruit from God on our terms!  

1 Corinthians 3:7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. The increase is from God! What right do we have to judge others or our selves for not "winning" someone when they or we have faithfully discharged our duty as Christians?! It is God that gives the fruit. Just because no one has responded does not necessarily mean that we have not tried hard enough. It is entirely possible that God has called us to water or plant, but not see the increase in this life. 1 Corinthians 3:8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. 

Have you ever thought about the fact that the planter or waterer may not have many people that they themselves win to Christ? What if God, in His divine wisdom, has called someone to be a waterer? Should that person be judged or discouraged? What about the planter? Do you think that just because a person plants the seed that God is somehow required to let them be present when the actual increase is taken? Some planters, perhaps many, have not had that privilege. 

We receive our reward for our own labor, for each doing faithfully what God has called us to do. You do not answer to the leader of evangelism in your church or college, the leader of the door-to-door visitation ministry, the pastor or someone that thinks you are a failure. You answer to God! Romans 14:12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Certainly we are to ...consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Hebrews 10:24; but this does not mean that we are to decide how many souls a person has to win in a week, month, or year to be "spiritual," nor do we have to let someone force their ideas of this upon us. 2 Corinthians 10:12 For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.

A true story --  Told by Steve Van Nattan, my dad.

About sixty years ago, missionaries of the Sudan Interior Mission entered a stronghold of Islam in Northern Nigeria. They started living with the Muslims there, they bound up their wounds and taught them to read, and they invested many years just showing they loved the people and their land. Converts were very rare, and after forty years of missionary service, only two pastors and a handful of converts could be counted-- most of them not yet baptized. By the middle 1970s, most of the missionaries who started the work-- who had lived out their lives among those Muslims-- had either died or were in retirement.

In about 1973, a missionary who had been on the field only a few years took a Nigerian pastor with him and went to visit the leaders of the whole area. He was properly feasted and received by the Muslim leaders as an old friend. From a human and social perspective, the Muslim leaders in the area loved the missionaries, for the missionaries had shown the love of Jesus, and the Muslims truly appreciated this. But, they had never made a clear decision for or against Jesus Christ as the Son of God and only Savior. Their Jesus remained the good prophet of Al Koran, nothing more.

After being well fed, and having visited for some time, the missionary was compelled by the Holy Spirit to get a verdict from the Mullahs and Muslim men of the area. He called them together in the center of that large village. The missionary then drew a line across the middle of the open compound of the village. He left the Mullahs and Muslim men standing on one side of the line, while he and the Nigerian pastor stood on the other side of the line. The Muslim leaders were amazed and wondered what the missionary was about to do. 

The missionary told the leaders that they had watched the missionaries for forty years, and they had heard the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ many times. They had seen the love and compassion of the missionaries as they lived with the Nigerian people as friends and neighbors. Then the missionary did something powerful and daring. If it were not of the Holy Spirit, it would waste many years of effort and destroy the future of the work.

The missionary told the Muslim leaders, "It is time for you to decide. Will you believe that Jesus is the God of the Bible and the only Savior for all men? Or will you follow Muhammad and Allah?" The missionary was not ready for what happened. He felt he was to do this as God had led him, but what would these men do? The Muslim leaders spoke among themselves briefly, then ALL of them stepped across the line at once. The group was rather large also. Needless to say, the missionary and the Nigerian pastor were overwhelmed with joy and awe.  

The missionary related to us later that he realized at once that he had been given the very rare privilege of taking the harvest on behalf of many missionaries who had gone before him -- missionaries who had died of malaria, missionaries who had died before they even got to Africa as their ship sank in the Atlantic, missionaries who had been persecuted in the early days by other Islamic Mullahs, missionaries who had watched helplessly as their little children died of tropical diseases, missionaries who were now too senile in retirement in the USA and the UK  and possibly Australia to even grasp the exaltation of the moment. That missionary in that village that day became a very humble man because of this event, for he knew that his was only a small part of the great work of Almighty God.  (NOTE: Photograph, right, of East African baptism, NOT of this specific event. Yes, that's muddy water.)

He also became a very busy man for, in Africa and much of the rest of the world, conversion is like that of the Philippian jailor in the book of Acts --  the men came and their families. The whole area received Christ as Savior because their leaders had done so. The missionary and Nigerian pastor had to go from one to the other of the people and children to make sure they really understood what decision they were making. Then the real work began. Since a whole African tribe was born again at once, there was no church, no Bible School to train leaders, and only one pastor to minister to them. They all had to be prepared for baptism, and that would be an earth shaking event since baptism is the great symbolic divider in Islamic counties. Also, the missionary did not want to establish a Western church -- he wanted an African church which was truly New Testament in character. Can you imagine how busy these servants of God were?

I recall that we were in Ethiopia at the time the news of this story went through the SIM like wildfire. Ethiopia was far from Nigeria, but we had a number of older missionaries in Ethiopia who had served in the north of Nigeria and then moved to Ethiopia in their old age. When these missionaries would hear the story, they would simply collapse into the nearest chair and openly weep for joy. They walked around in a daze of glory for several days, stopping to just mull it over in their minds again and again. Whenever, during our prayer meetings, praise was offered for the victory in Nigeria, the missionaries would just go all to pieces and quietly weep for joy.

Psalms 126:6 He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

Luke 8:11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.

1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
Their labor had not been in vain. We were all in awe, many of us speechless. Little children wondered, for they had never seen so many grownups just cry and cry, and strangest of all, these grownups cried because they were happy, not 'cause they had an owie :-)  Nor were the Ethiopian Christians unaffected, for they too had invested their lives in the Gospel and had suffered for it. They could empathize with the Nigerian pastor who had been persecuted many times before that day of glory. Victory at harvest time must not be quickly passed over. As a farmer admires his harvest of apples, or a full grain bin, the faithful saint relishes and clings to the moments of soul winning victory.

I know that it is always appropriate to shout and get a Baptist attitude at such a time, but this was on an order of the highest level of spiritual warfare and victory -- whole lives had been lived out for this day. One feels like he has stood on the very steps of the throne of the God of the universe as He has taken a mighty victory. We who were just beginning in the work of missions felt we were standing in the presence of spiritual giants as those old missionaries rejoiced in the power of the Gospel. It is hard to shout when one is filled with such awe.  

Missionaries in the SIM retirement home in Sebering, Florida, who had invested their whole life in Nigeria, were in danger of heart attacks due to the emotion of the moment. They were very ordinary saints really. They had planted, and they had watered, but they fully expected to go to the Glory with only a couple of converts to their credit. Now, they could go to their death bed content and eager to come before the Throne of God.

Dear friend, when you plant the seed of the Gospel, when you simply open the door for another to enter with the first witness, or even the last witness, you have no way of knowing what is coming down the road -- what will be credited to you at the judgment seat of Christ when He examines the works of the saints. Beware of admiring these big time Bible thumpers who brag of winning 300 souls a week. They are blowhards. The great evangelists who call the masses down the aisles can sometimes show very little, years later, for their clever emotional altar calls. What really counts is when a common deacon leaves Samaria and goes out in the desert to hitch a ride on a chariot in the Negev. He wins one man, and back home he goes. He was a nobody before, and little was heard of him afterward, but his obedience is in the eternal canon of the Word of God in Acts 8, and there is no way of knowing on this earth how many Ethiopians were saved through his one small effort.

So, when you can only set a cup of coffee and a piece of pie in front of a sinner to convince him to linger while your husband shares the blessings of life in Christ, THAT COUNTS. Nothing is lost on God. He is the Divine Economist, and He keeps track of every little act of faithfulness. Maybe all you can do is take a kid to Sunday School every Sunday morning. THAT COUNTS.  

This principle of being faithful in the small things comes very close to home with me, dear reader. Long ago, Bill Lincheid and his wife took a scruffy neighborhood kid named Wes to Sunday School every Sunday. Others in the church watered, and one day the Holy Spirit drew Wes, and he accepted Christ as his Savior. Wes was born again. Wes is my Daddy! As you might guess, I shall be giving Bill Linsheid a big hug when I get up to the Glory one day soon. He just gave my Dad a ride when my Dad was a little kid living down the block. But what a priceless blessing that has been to me! Both of my Dad's other brothers had moved away from home already, and they refused the Gospel.

[Editor's note: Wes Van Nattan, my grandfather, served as a missionary in the Ozarks, East Africa, England, and Ireland, and finally as a pastor in the U.S. southwest. It's hard to know how many lives he and my grandmother influenced for Christ in the process. But, I believe that Bill Lincheid will receive a part in that reward for being faithful in the little thing of carrying a boy to Sunday School in his car and befriending him for Jesus.]

Now, what little thing can you do? Plant a seed? Water? What a blessing it would be if this true missionary story got you motivated in the cause of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  

Galatians 4:18 But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing,
and not only when I am present with you.


End of story by my dad.

The point is this - Let's be faithful in the work God has given us and let Him give the increase. You may never know this side of heaven what you have really done for God. You may not get to tell about "all the souls I've won." Some Christian parents don't even get to lead their own children to Christ. Sometimes they are saved in a Sunday School class or a church meeting. But, we can all plant or water according to the ability that God has given us in our homes, families, fellowships, communities and more. We can purpose in our hearts to let God give the increase and just be faithful where we are.

Dewitt Talmage told this story about a pastor:  

"In the church of Somerville, New Jersey, where I was afterwards pastor, John Vrendenburg preached for a great many years. He felt that his ministry was a failure, and others felt so, although he was a faithful minister preaching the Gospel all the time. He died, amid some discouragements, and went home to God; for no one ever doubted that John Vrendenburgh was a good Christian minister.

"A little while after his death there came a great awakening in Somerville, and one [Sunday] two hundred souls stood up at the Christian altar espousing the cause of Christ, among them my own father and mother. And what was peculiar in regard to nearly all of those two hundred souls was that they dated their religious impressions from the ministry of John Vrendenburgh." (1)

Here was a man that spent his whole life planting and watering and the increase was only given by God after he had died. Don't give up, Christian! Just be faithful in what God has given you to do as an ambassador of Jesus Christ today where you are. You have no way of knowing if your faithfulness will be planting or watering, but remember it is God that giveth the increase!

2 Corinthians 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.  

-- Mary E. Stephens

(1) Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, p. 981


The Home Maker's Corner

Graphics and most photography by Mary Stephens
Illustration by unknown artist.
Baptism photograph from my grandpa, Glenn Hoover.
Updated 2022; CA