Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:1a “And when he had called unto him. . .”
As we leave chapter nine, three observations apply. First, chapter ten marks the dawn of a new day in extending God’s kingdom. Our text is a critical turning point in Matthew. Till now, Jesus has acted alone, the disciples being merely onlookers. But Jesus knows the time has come to begin delegating tasks to deputies.
As apprentices, the twelve learned on the job by natural progression. They first heard Jesus teach and saw His miracles. Now they will be sent on a short-term mission trip to the local area to practice what Jesus taught and demonstrated.
This brief initial foray into nearby towns began the Church’s outreach enterprise. The twelve were given a glimpse, a small sample, of what was to come.
After this short-term mission trip, they returned to Jesus for more training. He monitored the progress of His first interns, sending them forth one step at a time, letting them learn in increments how helpless they were without His power. Jesus taught them well. Once He was gone, they were ready to go to all the world.
Second, it is instructive to notice where their short-term mission trip began. They started their travels by drawing close to the side of Jesus. Our text literally says Jesus “summoned” them. He told them to step toward Him. This physical act served as a graphic, dramatic picture of a spiritual reality. Their first responsibility in the missions enterprise was to answer Jesus’ summons to come near to Him.
They were to be near Jesus in order to become like Jesus. Our Master seeks followers who will think as He does. He wants people of like-mind with Himself.
By drawing close to Jesus, the twelve will learn what is heavy on His heart. They will discover His agenda, downplay their own agendas, and set out to accomplish His desires. Jesus was at heart a missionary. All His followers must be, too.
At the heart of the Universe, a heart beats for the Universe. To that heart, keep drawing closer. Our effectiveness in Christian service will ever rise in direct proportion with our increasing closeness to Christ. It’s hard to be concerned about the spiritual condition of others when complacent about our own walk with Christ.
Count Zinzendorf was a major catalyst in the Moravian missions movement of the 1700s, and a chief instigator of Christian history’s greatest prayer meeting, one which began in 1727 and lasted uninterrupted for 100 years. He succeeded because His self-professed all-consuming theme was “Christ’s blessed presence.” At an early age he chose as his motto, “I have one passion. It is Jesus, Jesus only.”
All effective service grows from this center, expands in concentric circles from this focus on Jesus as our all in all. Remain fixed on Him. Let nothing replace Him as our chief object of attention. An artist once painted a portrait of Jesus, and embellished the borders of the painting with flowers and trees. When the picture was unveiled, to his horror people paid more attention to the nature scenes than to Jesus’ face. Without remorse or hesitation, he took his brush and obliterated everything that drew attention away from Jesus. We need to do the same.
Live all of life focusing more on Jesus. The King of the cosmos invites mere mortals to enter into increasingly intimate familiarity with Himself. Dare we not accept His invitation? Daily draw close in prayer, meditation, and Bible study. Maintaining close communion with Jesus day by day is essential for effectiveness.
Third, the pray-ers (9:37-38) became the go-ers. The disciples Jesus commanded to pray for laborers became the ones He called to be the laborers prayed for. By obeying our Master’s command to pray for laborers, we often lay the best foundation possible for going ourselves. Jesus first set the twelve to praying, and then set them to going. Christ answered their prayer with them. This should not surprise us. The Lord often answers prayer requests through the one praying.
“There is a blessed peril in praying” (Glover). Our prayers don’t change God as much as they change us. They move us more into line with His will.
We ask God to help the poor. He gives us many opportunities to do it ourselves. We ask God to comfort the sad. He sets them in our path every day.
Don’t be surprised if, when praying for a neighbor or a co-worker, the Lord nudges you, “Speak.” Be not shocked if someday you are praying for the nations and suddenly you hear the Lord’s undeniable whisper, “You need to go.”
Prayer is essential. It is the breath of all we do, but praying is not all we are to do. At the Red Sea, the Israelites called to God, who finally told Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward” (EX 14:15 NAS).
Prayer is our source of power, our energy source, a fuel intended to be used in driving forward the engine of labor. Telling, giving, and going should not substitute for praying, and praying should not substitute for telling, giving, and going. Pray intending not only to be helped to pray more often, but also to labor more.
Precede action with prayer; follow prayer with action. Otherwise, we may fall into the trap of praying for someone to be helped or saved while never intending to get close to them. It is possible to pray for a lost or needy person, and let our concern end with prayer. This is not right. Whenever we pray, we need to be willing to be the answer to our own prayer if possible. J. Vernon McGee told of a Methodist Bishop who said, “When a man prays for a corn crop, the Lord expects him to say ‘Amen’ with a hoe.” The old advice to soldiers is still sound, “Pray and keep the ammunition dry.” When praying for harvesters, often ask, “God, shall I speak, should I give, do You want me to go?” In any prayer to send forth laborers, there should be in us an inherent willingness, “Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:8).
What if we can not honestly say we are willing? We must pray for laborers anyway because God commanded us to. Surely, in praying as commanded, God will make us willing. As we pray, love and pity needed for the task will come. If we pray to see what His eyes see and feel what His heart feels, soon we’ll be willing to walk where His feet want to walk and touch those His hands want to touch.
As we agonize in prayer over the harvest, our own resistance against telling, giving, and going will wane. Let me pull back the curtain and tell of a debate our staff had about two years ago. Few staffs get along as well as ours does. We rarely, almost never, fail to reach consensus, but that day’s discussion ended in a stalemate. They all disagreed with me. We were still determining our church’s role in regard to our Jerusalem (Springfield), Judea (Missouri), Samaria (USA), and uttermost part of the earth. Global Focus had told us to encourage people to pray or give or go with regard to each of these four areas. Our staff agreed with this, but I had come to believe our people should pray and give and go for all four. My position was radical, and probably wrong, but the sentiment has continued to haunt me. Preparing this lesson has let me come to a fuller degree of closure. The fact that the pray-ers became the go-ers has given me peace in knowing the “or/and” argument is in a way moot, for whichever one is more truly God’s will, prayer will remove any inner arguments we often use against it. Not I, but God, is Lord of the harvest. It is not my, but His, role to determine roles. Thus, I set the philosophical argument aside and say, “Pray, and let the Lord’s will be done in your life.”
A final story and we’re done. Barclay tells how Martin Luther, when the Reformation began, had a dear friend who agreed with his position. Luther knew Hell was about to be let loose. He asked his friend to stay in a monastery and do nothing but pray while Luther went down into the fray. Once the battle was engaged, the friend had a dream one night. He saw a field of corn as big as the world ready to be harvested, but only one man reaping it. The task was impossible and heartbreaking. At the end of the dream, the friend caught a glimpse of the reaper’s face. It was Martin Luther. Startled awake, the friend said, “I must leave my prayers, and get to the work.” He left the monastery and went to harvest the fields.
In regard to prayer and harvesting, it’s not either/or, but both/and. Some are physically unable to do more than pray, but for most of us, going is as much an option as praying. To those I say, “Pray, and let the Lord’s will be done in your life.”