My church just finished a week-long missions conference. As one might expect from such a conference, there was a repeated appeal for the serious consideration of Jesus’ command regarding sending laborers out into the field (Matthew 9).

With this in mind, Sunday afternoon I sent my two kids out into the field the yard to labor for their father – and by “labor” I mean “rake leaves.” I was struck by several similarities to missions throughout the process. It was like watching a living parable of Gospel-centric labor unfolding before my eyes. Clearly, the analogy is limited, but here are some quick reflections from raking leaves with a 3- and 5-year old.

They went out joyfully. All good laborers should. They were happy to work with their daddy. It is a joy to labor for the Father.

They got tired. And distracted. And discouraged. And impatient. All good laborers will. For them, raking leaves was new and exciting …at first. About halfway through the process of cleaning up the lawn, those kiddos started to poop out, get whiny and wanted to go do something easier and more fun. But their father loved them still and encouraged them to keep at it.

The work was messy. There were times when it seemed my little laborers were making more mess than was there to begin with.  Neatly-raked piles of leaves often became “un-raked.” Arguments broke out from time to time about who was going to do what. Filling bags with leaves one handful at a time was, shall we say …inefficient. Progress was not always evident. Regress often was.

The work was completed. Their partnership with me in raking the lawn was real and legitimate, but the completion of the task did not ultimately rest with them. Even if it was all up to them, they could not have finished. There was simply too much to do for a 3- and 5-year old, and they didn’t have the strength, patience or endurance to do it all. After a couple hours, all they managed to do was rake 2 piles of leaves and fill one bag about 2/3 of the way full. I do not say that to diminish the legitimacy of their work, but to put it in proper perspective. In the end, it was their father who made sure the job got done.

Their father was pleased. As their daddy, it warmed my heart to see my two little ones out there raking their hearts out, even after they got crabby about it, argued, and wasted time, energy, and effort. Let me be honest – the quality of their work was not great. But the fact that they wanted to be out there with me more than made up for that. It was a relational labor where the value – at least, in my eyes as dad – was less in their performance, more in their posture.

Their reward was great. Cheeseburgers and Slurpees. Well done, little laborers.

Do you labor for the joy of being near your Father? Your reward, too, will be great.

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Jason VanDorsten is an occasional contributing author to Off the Wire. He lives just outside of Washington, D.C. and oversees graphics/communications at Reston Bible Church. He still has a lot of leaves to rake out of his yard.