The minute I stepped from the dim lighting of the dry goods store into the bright sunlight of the street, I saw Mrs. Janson coming down the boardwalk like a freight train. Her skirts filled the entire boardwalk and I was about to step back inside when she hailed me.
“Pastor!” she cried, waving one fat hand in the air while puffing worse than the locomotive waiting to leave. “Have you heard the news? The evangelist is comin’!”
“Yes, ma’am, I have,” I answered.
“How wonderful,” she said, clapping her hands together and making the purple feather in her hat bob in agreement. “Just what our town needs! Some revival! I must go tell Mrs. Underwood.”
I stepped out of her way as she went on down the boardwalk, and then I clasped my hands behind my back and walked the other way, to the small, white clapboard church just off Main Street.
The evangelist set up his own tent when he arrived the next night, and crowds of people flocked to attend the meetings over the next week. My wife took our boys to the revivals and, along with various congregation members, brought back enthusiastic reports about the evangelist’s thunderous preaching. Even Old Ned, the town drunk, and the Pincher boys, the local gang, showed up at the tent meetings.
There were only two more days left to the revival when Mrs. Janson once again confronted me on the dusty streets of our small town. “Pastor, you ain’t comin’ to the meetings,” she said, her feather now shaking accusations at me.
“No, ma’am, I’m not. I do believe I am right with God, and the evangelist can preach well enough without me there.”
“You need to set an example for the town,” she lectured. “You’re our spiritual leader and should be there.”
“I’ve encouraged everyone to go. Just as I’ve encouraged them that the doors at the church are always open. Now I must go finish my sermon.” I tipped my black hat to her and walked on.
Perhaps it was pride that held me back, a disgruntled feeling that this itinerant preacher could draw a larger crowd than I could and get people to empty their pockets much more willingly than they would to support their own pastor’s family. Or perhaps it was the knowledge that this week they would all be at the revivals, but next week the pews at the church would be no fuller than usual.
I did think about going to the meetings that night, but then Jake Taylor’s mother took sick and I spent the evening sitting by her bedside, praying and reading their big family Bible. By the time she was sleeping and Jake showed me out, the meeting was over and the moon was high. I walked slowly down the dark backstreets, thinking on many things, when I saw the man sitting on a stump not far from the boarding house.
“Why?” he muttered into the hands that held his face. “Why do You bring me out here to these people who won’t listen, will go back to their normal lives as soon as I’m gone, forgot what I told them about You?” He paused, then glared up at the moon. “God? Do you listen to me anymore? Just tell me there is one person in this town who will be changed because of my work.”
In that instant, I knew why he was there and why I was there. I stepped up to him and laid my hand on his shoulder.
“Brother,” I said as he jumped, “you’re here to plant and I’m here to water.”
“What?” He squinted up at me, then shook his head. “Aren’t you the pastor here?” His voice was deep and smooth, and I could see how he could hold the crowds.
“I am. And I think it was Paul who said that the Lord has assigned each his task. Your task is to plant the seed in the hearts of the people, and my job is to water that seed, but God’s job is to make that seed grow.”*
“Amen, brother,” he breathed, clasping my hand and standing up. “Thank you for that word.”
“Thank you for planting the seed,” I answered. “These people need it. I think maybe I’ll be at the meeting tomorrow night, to invite them all out for some watering.”
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