"The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Therefore, beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest fields."
Jesus tells us the key to seeing many people saved through a great harvest of souls is to pray for more workers. The more prayer, the more workers; the more workers, the greater the harvest-It's a simple equation.
Many have used these words to challenge believers to get out of the pews and into the fields. And it must be so. What will it take to get the workers out into the fields? The word Jesus used to "send out" workers is the same Greek word used of "casting out" demons (ekballo). It is a violent term as if the Lord of the harvest must grab us by the collar and thrust us out into the fields. Unfortunately, that may be what it takes for most of us Christians.
I want us, however, to go back in time to the day Jesus first uttered these words to His disciples. He actually said this to them on two different occasions, repeating Himself to them and to us for emphasis (Matt. 9:37-38; Luke 10:2).
The Bible tells us that He looked out and saw the multitudes and felt compassion for them. Then He said, "The harvest is plentiful but the workforce is too small." He commanded us to beseech the Lord of the harvest to thrust out workers into His harvest fields. At the time, there were only Jesus and His few disciples facing the entire world population. My question is simple, where did they expect the answer to these prayers to come from? When they heard Jesus tell them to beseech the Lord for more workers, in their mind, what would be the source of these workers? A host of angels? Of course not. The workers for the harvest must come from the harvest. There can be no other intent in the mind of Jesus or His disciples. Unfortunately, that is not the case for most Christians today.
We have made a terrible mistake by separating the convert from the worker. They are not two, but one. Each new convert is a new worker. We sin when we expect the convert to wait a while, any time at all, to become a worker. Each new convert is a worker...immediately.
We are not to wait for a time as though the new convert is lacking anything. What are they missing? They are sealed in the Holy Spirit. They gain immediate and constant access to Almighty God. They have the power of the Scriptures available. They inherit all that comes with being a child of God. They are washed clean of all sins and blights against heaven. Why do we think they need something more from us? What arrogance it is for us to add to all God has given them the need for our training! What blasphemy it is for us to tell people that they are not ready to be a worker until they have been through our curriculum!
The rest of their spiritual life will be spent learning what it is they already have been given the moment they began the salvation process. How much quicker we can set them on this journey if we also assume they have already received all they need to live godly in Christ Jesus.
The Holy Spirit is a better teacher than we are. The Spirit of God is a better strengthener than we are. The Holy Spirit is a better evangelist and trainer in evangelism than we are. And best of all, the Holy Spirit is a constant presence while we cannot be.
When we allow, or even demand, that a new convert wait and receive instruction and training before they can become a worker, in effect we grant permission to be passive, inactive, selfish and stagnant. And that is exactly where many of our churches are. We have taught people to be consumers rather than workers. We have separated the workers from the harvest.
Increasingly I am becoming aware that what we do with a new convert in the first hours of their new life will establish a pattern for the rest of their spiritual formation. We must be careful not to imprint on the new life a perspective of passivity that we may never be able to correct thoroughly again. This can mean the difference between a passive receiver and an active follower of the kingdom. This is one of the reasons that I like baptizing new converts as quickly and as publicly as is possible. The tone is set for the rest of their life.
I am noticing that large numbers of Christians in America feel inadequate about their preparedness to serve God. Why is that? They feel they don't know enough when they already know much more than people who are starting hundreds of churches in rural China. What is really lacking? Knowledge is not lacking, obedience is. The church in America is already educated beyond her obedience and more education is not the solution.
I'm reminded of the very first international missionary sent by God to another nation. We don't even know his name; all we know is his occupation and nationality. He was the Ethiopian Eunuch whom God sent Phillip to evangelize in Acts 8. Phillip arrived, answered questions, led him to Jesus and baptized him. The next thing we know is that Phillip dematerializes and is beamed to another place and the Eunuch goes on to Ethiopia with nothing more than some Scripture and the Holy Spirit. I must ask: is that enough? He didn't go through the newcomer's class or the new discipleship curriculum. He hadn't read the Bible yet or learned basic hermeneutics (the art of Bible interpretation). Was God being irresponsible? I don't think any of us would claim that he is. Perhaps we need to increase our faith in the Holy Spirit and His word and what that can mean in a new life. I believe on reason that the Lord took Phillip away so dramatically was to establish for all of us that the Lord can use a new convert as a worker immediately.
There are two sins we need to repent of in the western church that are closely related: We need to repent of underestimating what God can do through a new believer. Secondly, we need to repent of overestimating our own value in helping new converts to grow and become strong believers. The real sting in these assumptions is that we are better able to help people than the Holy Spirit Himself. We end up creating a false sense of dependency on human help rather than on the Holy Spirit-the divine Helper-and this is prevalent in all the church does today.
Let's be careful not to take the place of the Holy Spirit in the formation of new souls. For one thing to do so is treading on sacred ground where we ought not to tread. Also, we are far inferior to His ability to teach and transform and the results are quite telling. We have developed an entire generation of dependent consumers waiting for their leaders to spoon feed them the Bible verse of the week rather than an army of kingdom agents ready to transform our culture with the power of the gospel. The world sees no difference between the Christian and the non-Christian world because we are demonstrating little or no difference. If we actually think that having our good teaching curriculum will make the difference than we are more deceived than we realize.
One may assume that the implication of this thinking is that we leave new babes in Christ alone without any human assistance. That is misinterpreting my words and my intent. We should be a part of "teaching them to observe all that (Jesus) commanded" but the key word is "to observe". We need to get them involved immediately.
Nevertheless, we must also realize that Jesus erred on the side of sending people out early rather than keeping them back in safe places. He is the one who said, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves (Matt. 10:16)." He sent the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20), the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42) and the man born blind (John 9:1-41) out into the public to do ministry immediately with little to no human assistance. Perhaps God would greatly honor this type of faith because it is placed in Him more than He would honor our lack of faith that tries to be so responsible for people's spiritual growth. Remember that it is God who causes the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7)...not us.
Within the context of the words Jesus challenged us with the example of Matthew the tax collector. In Matt 9:9 Jesus looks in the tax office and calls out Matthew. He saw a tax collector the most notorious of sinners, and said to Himself, "Ah, now there is an apostle!" Tax collectors were so hated that they had a classification all their own when they were described. The accusation had Jesus spending time with the "sinners and the tax collectors". It's as though there is a special place in hell reserved solely for these spiritual criminals. Tax collectors are not popular people in any day or culture, but especially not at this time. They were considered to be traitors to their people, not just because they were corrupt, but also because they stole money from the Jews to pay the oppressive Roman governor.
That same day Matthew brought all of his friends and relatives to meet Jesus at his home for a party. When Jesus challenged us to pray for workers for the harvest, it was directed to this same Matthew, who was sent as a worker just a couple of verses later in Matt. 10:1-5. Matthew was not alone nor left without any additional training, but he also wasn't a passive receiver in his training process. He was an active worker from the very beginning.
In fact, I find it ironic and beautiful that of the four gospel writers it is Matthew's that was written especially to the Jews. If I were to choose a man to write my Good News for the Jews I would choose a man of utmost integrity that would readily have credibility among the Jewish leaders. I would probably go to the Temple and find the wisest and most respected young Pharisee I could and choose him to be my gospel writer. Jesus went to the tax office and chose the most hated and disrespected man He could find. When he wanted to bring the good news to the Gentiles, then he went to the temple and chose a Pharisee (Saul of Tarsus).
I think that the reason that the Lord of the harvest does things this way is so that the glory and credibility is found in Him and the changed life He has produced rather than in human wisdom or power (1 Cor. 1:26-31). We should strive to find ways that the Lord is glorified by changed lives rather than by our own efforts and teaching.
© 2001 Neil Cole
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