by Ken White
THE HARVEST & THE HARVESTERS
0n more than one occasion, the Lord Jesus referred to those needing to hear His good news as a harvest, and of those who carry the good news to others as harvesters. In John 4:35, the Lord Jesus made the well-known statement that the fields are “white for harvest,” and in Matt 9:37-38 as well as Luke 10:2, He told His disciples that “the harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” He then followed with the instruction to “pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Though these statements were made originally to the twelve, specifically during the time that they were assisting in the Lord’s earthly ministry, there are certain truths about the harvest which are implied in these statements that are good for all of us as believers to consider, and specifically those of us who understand the freeness of God’s offer of eternal life.
GOD PREPARES THE HARVEST
The first implication of these statements is that God is the one who prepares the harvest. He often does this by means of His people (see John 4:38). But the fact remains that He is ultimately the one who prepares people’s hearts to be responsive to His truth. The implication at the time when the Lord Jesus spoke those words, and which still applies today, is that there were already many people whose hearts and minds had been prepared to receive God’s truth, and who only needed to hear it in order to respond. This is true whether it refers to the “gospel of the kingdom,” which the disciples were sent out to preach at that time, or the “gospel of the grace of God,” which we proclaim now. It was, and is, the job of Jesus’ disciples to proclaim the gospel message faithfully, trusting that somewhere it will find prepared hearts.
THE HARVESTERS ARE IN SHORT SUPPLY
A second implication in the Lord’s statements is that the need represented by the harvest exceeds the number of workers. It seems that there are always more people who need to hear the gospel message than there are those who are ready to go out and proclaim it.
This does not mean that God will be hindered in making sure that all who seek His truth find it, but it does mean that there is always going to be a certain amount of tension between the large number of needs in the world around us, and the smaller number of workers available to meet those needs.
The need for laborers is all the more pressing given the fact that through the centuries many missionaries (and others “laborers”) have been unclear on the freeness of eternal life and have preached salvation by some mixture of faith and works. It is important for us who are clear about the message of God’s grace to remember that simply because Christian workers have gone somewhere, and churches are present in that language or culture, does not mean that God’s harvest in that place has actually been reaped.
SENT IN RESPONSE TO PRAYER
One final implication of Jesus’ teaching is that God will send out laborers in response to the prayers of His people. Sometimes, as in the case of the disciples in Matthew 9 and 10, the Lord answers the prayers of those who ask Him to send out more laborers by sending out those who prayed. At other times, God will raise up other laborers in response to our prayers. Of course, if we are going to pray and ask God to send out laborers we should also be -ready to support their ministries as we are able and thus to “send them on their way with haste” (Titus 3:13). And we should be ready to go ourselves as God directs.
THE FREE GRACE IMPERATIVE
If the words of the Lord Jesus about the harvest hold implications for us today, and if there is still a harvest to reap that is greater than the current laborers can deal with, what difference should that make in the way we as Free Grace believers think, pray, and act?
The implication is that we should be constantly aware of the great need for a clear gospel message to go out into the world. That awareness should motivate us to pray consistently for workers who have a clear understanding of the message of eternal life, and of discipleship, and who can share it effectively with others. This awareness should also motivate us to give sacrificially to the ministries which send out the workers, and to be willing and able to join them in the harvest fields ourselves.
We need to do everything in our power to make sure that we are sending people who will accurately proclaim God’s message. And we need to make sure that those who are so equipped are receiving all the help and support we can possibly give them. In these days of great global and economic uncertainty, the face of Christian missions may change significantly from what we have seen in the past. Traditional models may need to give way to new strategies. Churches may need to re-evaluate how they can best send out laborers. But the fact remains that there is a harvest ready to be reaped. We need to pray for the Lord to send out laborers, and do all that we can to help them, and even be ready to be laborers ourselves.