“But when He saw the multitudes, (Jesus) was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to the disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:36-38).
Little of this is what we would have expected.
The newly baptized Savior was moving in and around Galilee preaching and ministering. Was this the first time He had “gotten out” and seen the crowds, growing up as He did in the small town of Nazareth where He worked alongside His father in the carpentry business? Was this a surprise to Him, seeing the crowds in this way?
The people seemed as sheep with no shepherd. Think of what that means….
They were scattered. Divided. Bewildered. Lost. Biting one another. Following anyone and anything with a plan or a claim or a promise. Angry. Vulnerable. Attacked by varmints in search of a meal, who found them easy pickings.
He was moved with compassion for them. He was no professional unmoved by the hurts and pains of the people. A medic in the Vietnam war once told a reporter how he had been able to move from casualty to casualty, tending to the needs, without himself breaking down. “Never look a dying man in the eyes,” he said. And yet, our Lord did not shield Himself from the hurts and pains of His people. He entered into them, and hurt with them.
Then, our Lord gave an analysis to the disciples: The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.
Press the pause button here for a moment.
I’m a preacher. I know preachers. And I can almost guarantee you that every preacher on the planet would have followed that assessment in the same way. After pointing out that the fields are white unto harvest (John 4:35) and that the workers are few, we would have said something like:
“Why aren’t you people out there working? We need more volunteers! We need more teachers and givers, more people going to witness and serve, to pray and to lead. I’m calling for volunteers today, for us to leave our comfort zones and go wherever the Lord sends us.”
Sound familiar? We would have shamed the church family for their complacency and called them to greater sacrifice, greater giving, more serving, and extra commitments.
And yet, this is not even close to what the Lord Jesus did.
“Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
Jesus said to pray.
I find that truly fascinating. We activists tend to see prayer as what to do when all else fails, when all the recourses have been tried.
Jesus made prayer first.
And what are we to pray? That the Father–the “Lord of the harvest”–will call out and send forth laborers into the harvest.
He’s in charge. He is the Lord of the harvest.
–It’s His harvest, after all. This is His work.
–He is in charge of it all. “I will build my church,” said our Lord in Matthew 16:18. He is both Owner and Operator.
–He wants only God-called and Heaven-sent workers in His fields.
–Only those called by God and sent by Him will do. These are a different breed…
In John 10:12, Jesus spoke of hirelings, in contrast to shepherds. Hired hands. People doing this for the pay, with no investment in the sheep and little concern for their welfare.
Hired hands who go forth to do the work of the Lord do not last. They drop out when they find the going rough, the appreciation non-existent, and the opposition fierce.
I cannot tell you the times over the years people have told me, “I used to be a pastor. But the way they treated us–I’m talking about God’s people, not the world–I want no part of it. If this is how God’s people are, then I’m gone. They are just like the world.”
My word to such ex-preachers and worker-alumni is this: Either God did not call you into this work or you failed to read the instructions. Those instructions are found in Matthew 10:16, and continuing to the end of the chapter. He told you, but you were not listening. He said the servant is no better than the master, that if they treated Him this way you should expect nothing different.
Hired hands produce no fruit. They don’t stay long enough.
John 15:16 has a word for us. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain….”
–I chose you, Jesus said. You’re not volunteers. You have been drafted, called, chosen.
–I appointed you. You are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).
–To bear fruit. “Herein is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8).
–Fruit that remains. Lasting fruit.
Scripture speaks of God’s people bearing two kinds of fruit–fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) which is the character of Christlikeness, and fruit in other people’s lives, which involves evangelism, missions, good works.
Many years ago, I read where a celebrity actor was talking about his church. His teenagers had gotten involved in the youth program, he said, which was led by a charismatic young man. Then, suddenly, that young leader left for another ministry and the crowds that had been coming to church disappeared. The celebrity father said, “They were following the man, not the Lord.” He was right. This is the kind of fruit hirelings produce: temporary, ephemeral, fleeting.
I have a friend who is a Sunday School teacher. Her church, the First Baptist Church in a small Louisiana community, is dying on the vine. The pastor reads his sermons from the pulpit and dominates the congregation. (In fact, the sermons he reads, he gets from books of sermons from other preachers.) People are leaving the church. Often on Sunday nights, my friend tells me, the congregation may be 8 or 10 people. And yet–and this is what I wanted to tell you–my friend is there, in her place, worshiping the Lord.
“I do not go for the preacher,” she tells me. And the Sunday School class she teaches, made up of older women, is the strongest thing in the church. The dozen or so older ladies in that class are the most faithful people there. My friend studies and prays and shepherds those ladies as though it was the call of God upon her life.
I think it is.
I think of her–and a world of teachers and pastors and workers like her–in the words of Hebrews 11. After telling of faithful believer after faithful believer, we have these two memorable tributes.
–“(Of such people) the Lord is not ashamed to be called their God.” (Hebrews 11:16) He is proud of them.
–“Of whom the world was not worthy.” (Hebrews 11: 38).
Such people work for the Lord, not for the pay or the recognition, not for the preacher nor for the denomination.
So, is anyone praying? Is anyone asking God to raise up men and women of faith who will teach those children, lead that ministry, take that stand, defend that cause?
Nothing tells the story on you and me like our praying.
Let us ask specifically for the Lord to raise up preachers and missionaries, teachers and evangelists, laborers and deacons and people of prayer.
Asking the Lord to send forth laborers implies two things without which we need not waste His time or ours:
–We are willing to wait for an answer. And to keep asking until He sends one.
–We are willing to obey Him once we know His will.
And how do we know we will obey Him then? By whether we are obeying Him now.
The rebel need not ask for anything from Him. But the people of faith must always be asking, always be people of prayer.
It’s not enough to feel compassion for the needs of people. Not sufficient to know the size of the need and to be concerned for the scarcity of workers. You must be praying.
Are you praying?