Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 9:37b “. . .but the laborers are few;”
By saying “the harvest truly is plenteous,” Jesus expanded our vision; a whole wide world is in desperate need. Second, Jesus kindled optimism; opportunities to win people to Jesus are abundant. Third, Jesus aroused urgency; harvests don’t last forever, and people perish if not reaped. Fourth, Jesus saw value in the harvest; people are the golden crop He wants brought to Him. Fifth, Jesus viewed the harvest as the peak time of year, a season when farmers need to be at their best.
By saying “the laborers are few,” Jesus adds more power images. Sixth, the harvest requires many workers. There is disproportion between the vastness of the work and the fewness of the workers. David Thomas, a Christian writer, saw this as one of the most humbling and discouraging thoughts that ever came over him.
In Jesus’ day, there were thousands of priests, but reapers of souls were few. This remains the case. Those willing to try to infiltrate a person’s essence and win them to Jesus are still few. Too few deeply care about the many waiting to hear.
When a harvest ripens, the immediate need is workers. To lose a crop due to no rain or bad soil is beyond our control, but losing a crop for a lack of workers is preventable, and thus criminal. When a harvest is lost, no one ever blames the crop. The fault lies in the reapers. Similarly, the primary problem in the spiritual harvest is not prechristians, but Christians. The harvest will never be fully reaped until many more church members are willing to reap it. Jesus needs more workers.
Seventh, the harvest requires hard work. My dad often comments, picking cotton was hard work. Unfortunately, Jesus has loiterers many, but laborers few.
Jesus lacks harvesters of like mind with Himself, laborers who don’t play games, who do real work and patiently plod in hard soil. He needs reapers who don’t get too discouraged with the drudgery of toil, and refuse to quit when tired.
A few work with all their might, but exhaustion saps them, while multitudes look on in ease from the fringes of a field. In churches, efforts at missions, evangelism and ministry are often like a football game, 22 players on the field in desperate need of rest, 22,000 spectators in the bleachers in desperate need of exercise.
Jesus calls us to hard work. Ours is the way of a cross. The kingdom holds no place for idlers. Laziness has no place in God’s economy. Exertion is necessary. We all need to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, and sweat for the cause.
If we work hard, our labors will be fruitful. Blessings come to reapers who toil. All we have to do is with a prayerful, humble spirit be willing to do the work.
Eighth, the harvest requires migrant workers. Harvest fields near and far beckon us to come. The motto of People’s Church in Toronto is true, “Untold millions are still untold.” The Bible still needs to be translated into hundreds of languages. Two billion have never heard the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
We can’t stand at the fence-row and summon the crop to come in. My dad did not stand inside the barn and beckon, “Here, cotton, here cotton, come this way, cotton, and jump into my sack.” He had to venture out among the cotton stalks. We too have to move, to overcome inertia, in order to draw near to sinners.
We cannot harvest inside our church buildings, the barns into which we have already brought previous crops. We have to go to the field where the crop is.
Not only do we need to migrate outside our barns, but also outside our farmhouses, our homes. Have we investigated to see if there is a harvest on our own city street? I talk of Springfield in general, but what about my street in particular.
This aspect of the harvest haunts me. By the time I arrive home, I am, like you, exhausted. My whole body, soul, and mind ache. I want to go inside my house, close the door, and forget about the whole world, including my own street.
Oh brothers and sisters, pray for God to give us one more burst of energy at the end of the day. Our task is to the ends of the earth, beginning next door. The latter phrase is not mere rhetoric, not just a catchy add on. It is a call to migratory work on our own streets. This is a powerful harvesting opportunity. A neighbor living a consistent Christian life, and verbally talking of Christ, is a potent witness.
Many in our own streets are as unreached as people in faraway tribes. Even in our multi-churched city, we have neighbors next door who don’t know how to be saved. One of our members recently led his 79-year-old brother to Jesus. The man offered no resistance at all, and gladly accepted. Our member, amazed at how easily the brother was won, asked why he waited so long to be saved. The elderly brother replied, “I never knew it was that simple. No one ever explained it to me.”
In addition to moving outside our barns and farmhouses, we also need to move out of our cubicles and offices at work, plus out of our isolation and seclusion at school. Pray God will make us glad to be working with, and going to school with, prechristians. We need Him to help us rejoice, rather than be burdened, in the fact He is giving us contacts as possibilities to harvest souls for Him.
Verse 37 brought us to a deep investigation of the harvest and its need for workers. We now sense a desire to do something. We want to respond appropriately. What should we do first? Where do we begin? Verse 38 gives the answer.
Matt. 9:38a “Pray ye therefore. . .”
When you see a “therefore” in Scripture, take time to see what it’s there for. Here it calls us back to the big harvest and few harvesters. The need is staggering, “therefore” pray. Don’t be despondent or give up. Instead, pray, plead your case before the tribunal of Earth’s Supreme Potentate. When everything looks discouraging, when the harvest seems to be slipping away, pray more and despair less.
The harvest can not be reaped right without prayer. Should we organize and educate? Yes, but later. Should we go? Yes, but even this comes after prayer.
A harvest is not to be orchestrated in a mechanical way. Rather, the details are to flow from a vital relationship with God, as an outgrowth of vibrant prayer.
In all successful work for God, the first step is always devout prayer rising from a profound sense of need. “The times are sick and out of joint, “therefore,” God fix it!” (Nicoll). With all my strength, I beg us to pray. When God stirs His people to pray, it is a good sign He is about to bestow special mercies on them.
In any and every situation, prayer is the first prescribed remedy. It is presumptuous to begin anywhere else. Begin all projects with prayer–No, wait, let me restate–precede all projects with prayer. Don’t choose a plan and then ask God to bless it. Before the plan is selected, pray to make sure it is God’s will to do it.
Prayer should be our first impulse, but too often we use it as the last resort. We sometimes speak of prayer as a leftover, “We’ve tried everything else. There’s nothing left to do but pray.” Pray first. It will point us in the right direction for what we need. I’m convinced prayer saves time and energy. Rather than wandering aimlessly down various paths and then deciding to pray, it is much more efficient to pray first, thereby finding what is the right path to follow in the first place.
The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; therefore pray first. Pray for your neighbors. Draw a diagram of your block, pray over every house. Pray for Springfield, pray for Missouri, the USA, the continents. Put maps of each in your prayer folder. This first thing to be done we all can do. Let’s do it. Pray.