And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”Matthew 9:35-38
WIG Take. That’s an abbreviation for “What’s it going to take? Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus gave a charge to go and make disciples of all nations. If we take a look at Jesus’ methodology, it becomes clear that one man, even a God-man, cannot do the task alone. Jesus took upon himself human flesh and thus limited himself to acting as a man, a man full of the Holy Spirit and unhindered by sin, but a man nonetheless. I know I am treading on thin theological ice when making such statements but stay with me. He was fully man and fully God. But, he still made it clear that it is better for us that he left us than if he stayed on earth with us. Why? Because until he left here and was glorified with the Father, he could not send the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower every man and woman who becomes a Jesus-follower.
Through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has distributed himself through every Jesus-follower on earth. Distributed empowerment is critical to the completion of the mission he gave to us. If Jesus had stayed on earth, he would have been limited to preaching/teaching to those who were in physical proximity to him. He would have been limited. He left so he could empower and release into the harvest every Jesus-follower on earth. This task is not relegated to professional religious leaders with Seminary or Bible College educations. In fact, they are subject to much the same limitations as Jesus would have been, along with a few more. These Bible College and Seminary graduates are not men who walk in perfect, sinless fellowship with the Father as Jesus did. They are subject to the failures of the flesh the same as every other Jesus-follower. They are just called to give themselves to equipping the rest of us to do the work of our ministries.
In the northern part of the county in which I live (North San Diego County), there is a population of just under a million people. Reasonable estimates are that only 10% of those are real Jesus-followers, leaving 90% far from God. The professional religious people currently living in this area cannot reach that 90% of the population with a personal proclamation of the gospel. What I mean by “personal proclamation” of the gospel is when the gospel is presented to someone by someone whom they know, have a relationship with, and trust. That is a friend, colleague, or family member.
Why won’t television broadcasts by excellent Bible preachers or literature distribution efforts do the job? Because Jesus commanded that we make disciples, not make converts. Television shows and literature aren’t equipped to do Biblical disciple-making. That can only be done in the context of a personal relationship person to person. Many disciple-makers are required to disciple the people from among the approximate 900,000 people in North San Diego County who are now far from God.
Jesus’ only prayer request that he submitted to his church is that we pray for laborers. That is because the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. I certainly agree with Jesus that the laborers are few. Unfortunately, many Jesus-followers are not following Jesus in the process of disciple-making. So, Jesus’ answer to the problem is not a recruiting effort. It is a prayer effort. Pray the Lord of the harvest that he sends laborers into the harvest. The exciting part about praying that prayer is that you will probably become part of the answer to your own prayer. You will become a laborer in the harvest, taking the gospel to your own set of social contacts.
Another exciting thing about obeying Jesus and praying this prayer is that he will answer it. Some people have a hard time thinking Jesus will listen and pay attention to their prayers. But, do you think Jesus will ignore you when you pray the very prayer he has commanded us to pray? I don’t think so. Of this, I am confident, when I spend my time earnestly praying for laborers for the harvest, Jesus is busy working in the hearts of those whom he is calling into the harvest.
Jesus did qualify the request by labeling our effort in prayer as “earnest.” He didn’t ask us to do rapid fly-by prayer for laborers; he said we are to pray earnestly for laborers. This prayer request is to be high on our priority list of supplications we consistently bring before the Father.
The task is great, but I have learned a slogan, “start small, dream big.” You have a social network of people where you live, work (or go to school), and play. You are the laborer God has called to minister to them, maybe not the only one, but they are your mission field. Start small, focus your gospel efforts on your social network (not your online social network, but your in-person social network). And continue to pray earnestly for more laborers for the harvest.
The greatest need in the American church is to equip and release the members of the body of Christ into the harvest to reach those far from God. Don’t wait for someone else to lead the way. Obey Jesus and begin to love your neighbors with the intent to share the gospel with them as the greatest act of love you can give them. I’m not advocating harsh presentations to everyone in your network, but I am advocating engaging meaningful and spiritual conversations that can lead to a natural gospel presentation.
Let us earnestly pray for laborers. If we do, we won’t be alone in the harvest. Lost people for whom Jesus died will be found, and we will all be rejoicing.
I am reminded of an illustration my Pastor shared a while back that really struck a chord with me. You wind up coming before the Lord at the end and are stepping up for judgment (for reward, not for salvation). When you see Jesus face to face you are so excited to see him but even more excited to tell him as you point behind you, “Jesus, look who I brought with me!” There, lined up behind you are the people who became Jesus-followers because of your prayers and because of your personal gospel sharing with them. And then there are the one’s they brought with them. You get a lot of joy from the disciples they bring with them as well. What a happy time.
Multitudes of laborers are needed. Pray earnestly and be an answer to your own prayer.