Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” As we seek to get ahead and make a name for ourselves in the world, there is always a temptation to compromise our principles or fudge a bit on what we believe. Cultivating a life filled with integrity takes time and patience. It takes a commitment to know the truth and to live it out. I used the following story last weekend in a talk I did. I was unable to find the author, but I think it makes the point well.
A Chinese emperor was growing old and he needed a successor. He didn’t want to choose someone high up in the government, or one of his own relatives. Instead, he called all of the school children to a meeting, and told them he was going to give each one of them a seed, and he wanted them to plant the seed and return a year later with their plant. Based on their progress, he would choose one of them to take over as emperor after he died.
One particular boy, named Ling, planted his seed very carefully in a pot of rich black soil, and faithfully watered it. However, day after day passed, and it did not sprout. Soon weeks had passed, and there was no sign of growth at all. He visited some of his friends, and their seeds were growing nicely. For the entire year he tried everything he could think of to make his seed grow, but nothing worked. When it came time for the children to bring their plants to the meeting with the emperor, Ling was almost too embarrassed to go. However, he felt that it was his duty to tell the emperor the truth about his failure.
All the children were gathered together in a huge hall, and the emperor moved quickly from child to child, examining their plants. Way in the back was Ling with his empty pot. When the emperor saw him, he immediately asked his guards to bring Ling up on the stage in front of all the people. Ling was horrified, thinking that he was going to be punished in front of all the others.
Instead, the emperor announced that Ling was to be their next emperor. Everyone was shocked, but especially Ling. And then the emperor began to explain. “Before I handed out the seeds last year,” he said, “I boiled them all, making it impossible for them to grow into new plants. I wanted a successor who would be honest, even if it made him look bad, and Ling is that person. The rest of you cheated, in an attempt to impress me; but Ling was faithful, and he was honest.”
If you plant honesty, you will reap trust. If you plant goodness, you will reap friends. If you plant humility, you will reap greatness. If you plant perseverance, you will reap victory. If you plant consideration, you will reap harmony. If you plant hard work, you will reap success. If you plant forgiveness, you will reap reconciliation. If you plant openness, you will reap intimacy. If you plant patience, you will reap improvements. If you plant faith, you will reap miracles.
But if you plant dishonesty, you will reap distrust. If you plant selfishness, you will reap loneliness. If you plant pride, you will reap destruction. If you plant envy, you will reap trouble. If you plant laziness, you will reap stagnation. If you plant bitterness, you will reap isolation. If you plant greed, you will reap loss. If you plant gossip, you will reap enemies. If you plant worries, you will reap wrinkles. If you plant sin, you will reap guilt.
So let’s commit ourselves to being people who seek to live with integrity in all things – how we spend our time and money; how we approach work and play; how we think and speak…may all we do be done for the Lord. Such labor is never in vain.