The Harvest is Plentiful
We have just finished a series at our evening services on ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ It’s not the only Lord’s prayer in the Gospels. There is another one in Matthew 9:38, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” This prayer has sometimes been referred to as ‘The Other Lord’s Prayer.’ This prayer (Matt. 9:38) may not be used as frequently, but it’s just as important because it comes from the lips of Jesus. It is a prayer about the expansion of God’s kingdom, about the mission of Jesus Christ in the world. It’s a prayer that Jesus instructs his disciples to pray, so it should be our prayer too. When was the last time you prayed this prayer, asking God to send out more workers into his harvest field?
This prayer comes at a significant moment in Matthew’s gospel. Before this, Jesus had been teaching and training his disciples but, before he sends them out for the first time in Matthew 10, he tells them to pray for more workers. Jesus had been going through the towns and villages, encountering a phenomenal amount of people as he travelled around. Matthew records Jesus‘ reaction to them, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36). When it says, Jesus had ’compassion', Matthew uses a very strong word to describe this. Literally, Jesus was moved in his bowels or his guts. Jesus was stirred deep down inside for all the troubled and helpless people who were lost like sheep without a shepherd. The compassion of Jesus for lost people results in his call to prayer.
Jesus could see a vast harvest needing to be gathered in but a lack of workers to do the job. Before Jesus' instruction to pray for more workers he says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” It is this perspective of Jesus that results in him instructing his disciples to pray, asking the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field. First of all, his disciples would go out, spreading the good news of Jesus to a world full of people ready for harvest, ready to be brought into God’s kingdom.
Today, the world is still a vast harvest with lots of men, women, boys and girls needing to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and come to faith in him. The need is the same and so too is the opportunity. Yet, this task of gathering the new people of God into the kingdom needs workers. Jesus makes this very clear. That’s why the call to pray for more workers is just as urgent now as it ever has been. Jesus tells us that it is God who will send the workers since he is the Lord of the harvest, but we still crucial role to play by praying that God would raise up more workers to serve him in his world.
This vital task is one that I’ve been challenged to think through recently in terms of our Scottish context and also our ministry at Sandyford. The enormity of the task was highlighted at a meeting in Glasgow last month (as well as others around the country) to present new research on the state of Christianity in Scotland by the Barna Group. The report published is called ‘Transforming Scotland’. Of the 1,019 people surveyed…
51% of Scots would describe themselves as Christian yet 69% of these do not believe basic elements of Christian doctrine or express personal faith in Jesus.
17% of Scots say they have accepted Jesus as Saviour and made a personal commitment to him that is still important in their life today.
There is a summary with more findings online, some encouraging, but in general there are no surprises about the state of Christianity in Scotland. The report simply highlights the continuing validity of Jesus' words: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” There is a real work to be done by God’s people in Scotland through our churches in praying for and equipping people to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in our land. Of course, we must always give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word of God (Acts 6:1-7), yet Jesus prayer for more workers implies that although God does call them, we do have a role to equip people for ministry. As churches we should be training everyone with God’s word so that we can all go and make disciples who will in turn make disciples. We all need to be equipped for effective ministry and effective ministries, whether training church leaders, training people for leadership in church, training people to handle the Bible in small groups, in one-to-one study, in evangelism or with children and young people etc.
This kind of emphasis on training is not an additional extra for churches with more people, more staff, more elders or more resources, but is essential for every church in seeking to equip all its members to ministers of Jesus Christ to the world. This vision of intentionally training people is not a new vision or model for ministry for churches today. In reality it is a Biblical model we have largely lost or neglected. Jesus trained his disciples before sending them out to carry on his ministry. The apostle Paul trained up leaders everywhere he went to keep the gospel spreading. Therefore, this emphasis on training workers throughout the NT is not an option but rather a necessity.
When we consider many of the other things we do in church life, they fail to have the Biblical rationale or basis that this areas of ministry has in the life of the church. A commitment to training people is one that not only benefits our own local church but the wider church in our land and overseas as we seek to be faithful to Jesus in not only praying for gospel workers, but training them and sending them out.
We surely want more gospel workers to be out there proclaiming the gospel to more people in our world who are ready for harvest. We want, as believers, to see the lost, to share the compassion of Christ for people and so play our part in the mission of Jesus. The danger is that, if we don’t share this same burden of Jesus Christ for lost people, we will probably do nothing but navel gaze and go nowhere beyond our own doors. This is no use since Jesus wants workers out in God’s harvest field. The need is the same. The challenge is the same. But the solution is the same too, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Are we moved to pray like this? We don’t need to ask what we should be praying for. Jesus tells us. In fact, more than that, he commands us. Let us make sure we do all we can as individuals and as a church to do what we can to bring glory to God through the spread of the gospel.
Your minister and friend,
Jonathan de GrootView All Letters