A Radical Problem
The Lord of the harvest has a problem; a radical problem. We learned in Part 1 of this series on the Radical Prayer that the harvest truly is...great! There are many men and women, boys and girls, who are just waiting for the invitation to become a part of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Some of you have been praying this simple prayer: “Lord, open my eyes so that I can see as You see.” And you are beginning to see from God’s radical perspective, that the harvest truly is great!
But there is a problem; a radical problem. We can read about this radical problem in Luke 10:2. Please open your Bible to the gospel of Luke. Jesus says to the apostles, and also to us, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few.” (Luke 10:2).
If the radical perspective is that “the harvest truly is great,” what is the radical problem? “The laborers are few.”
I have a question for you. Why are there so few laborers? Perhaps an inadequate number of laborers were assigned. In that case, we could blame the Lord of the harvest. He should have anticipated the size of the harvest. If He knew that the harvest was going to be great, abundant, extensive, He should have assigned an adequate number of laborers. Maybe it’s His fault that the laborers are few. What do you think?
Let me ask you another question. How many individuals has the Lord of the harvest called to be laborers in His harvest? Everyone! Everyone who chooses to become a part of His kingdom! You’re right!
When Jesus gave the command to go into the entire world and preach the gospel to every creature, He wasn’t just speaking to the eleven remaining disciples. When Jesus said, “Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” that command was for all of us, for everyone who accepts the call to become a follower of Jesus and part of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says, “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).
So, if we are all called to be laborers in God’s harvest field, perhaps our initial question should be modified. Instead of asking, “Why are there so few laborers?” we should rather ask, "Why are there so few laboring laborers?” Most of the so-called “laborers” seem to be inactive. “The harvest truly is great, but the laboring laborers are few.”
So why are there so few laboring laborers, if the harvest truly is great? We may find the answer to that question in a story that Jesus told about a man who had two sons. The story is recorded in Matthew 21:28-30.
“'What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' 'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. "Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go.
Their father asked them to work in his vineyard, to be laborers in his harvest field. One refused but later regretted his hasty decision and went. The second son initially agreed to go, but didn’t. Have you ever wondered why the second son didn’t go to labor in his father’s vineyard? Do you think that he was lying to his father, deliberately trying to deceive him? I doubt it.
He probably intended to go—after all, it was the right thing to do. But somehow the second son became distracted. Someone or something else captured his attention, and before he knew it, the day had slipped away. We are left wondering what distractions might have caused him to become a non-laboring laborer.
In another story, Jesus told about some guests who were invited to a great banquet. They weren’t expected to do any labor. They just had to show up and enjoy the party. But they also became distracted. If you read the story, you’ll discover some of the excuses that they made. The story is recorded in Luke 14:16-20:
“A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’”
Do you notice the distractions? Material possessions—a piece of land; business activity—trying out a new pair of oxen. Relationships—the person just got married. Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with material possessions, business activity, or relationships. But when any of these get in the way of God’s invitation, we have a real problem.
There’s a second possible explanation for the spare number of laboring laborer’s in God’s harvest field. The laborers might have become discouraged. After all, the task is enormous. The harvest truly is great. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
There are several reasons why a laborer might become discouraged. A laborer might be trying to bring in the harvest all by himself or all by herself. I have met some laborers who labor unceasingly until they’re exhausted. They give their all and then some, but it never seems enough.
May I remind you that the Lord of the harvest doesn’t expect you to work yourself into an early grave. Just like the early disciples of Jesus, you need to take time to come apart and rest awhile (Mark 6:30-31). But you ask, “How then will the great harvest be gathered in?”
The apostles faced a similar challenge in the early days of the Christian church. They were overwhelmed with the immensity of the task. And so, guided by the Holy Spirit, they delegated responsibility to others. You are not called to do all of the laboring alone. Make room for others to labor by your side.
You may also become discouraged because you are trying to bring in the harvest in your own strength. If you try to serve the Lord of the harvest trusting in your own resources, you will surely become discouraged. We all need to live by the words of the prophet Zechariah, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the LORD of Hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6). Otherwise, you will surely become a discouraged non-laboring laborer.
At this point you may be thinking, “This is a radical problem! The harvest truly is great. There are many people just waiting for the invitation to become a part of the Kingdom of heaven. But there is a radical problem. There are too few laboring laborers! Too many of the professed followers of Jesus have become distracted and discouraged.”
But there is good news! The Lord of the harvest can take distracted, discouraged non-laboring laborers and renew them by His grace, empower them by His Spirit, and send them out as focused, effective laborers into His harvest.
Consider the experience of Simon Peter, one of the first followers of Jesus. He had listened to the words of Jesus when the twelve were sent out and also when the seventy were sent out: “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few.” (Luke 10:2) He had experienced the power of the Lord of the harvest as he labored in Jesus’ name. The sick were healed. The oppressed were set free. The good news was preached with power.
But Simon Peter became distracted by his own failures and discouraged by his own frailty. Perhaps you remember the story during the trial of Jesus when Peter cursed and said, “I don’t know the man!”
Even after meeting Jesus, raised from the dead, Peter is still distracted and discouraged. He says to his colleagues, “I’m going fishing.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with fishing. But Jesus had died on the cross to save us from our sins, He had risen from the dead as a glorious demonstration that He was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, and He had told His followers to preach the good news to everyone that they met. And what is Peter doing? He is going fishing. He is a classic example of a distracted, discouraged, non-laboring laborer.
How did Jesus respond? Jesus didn’t give up on him. Jesus is there to meet Simon Peter on the beach after a wasted night on the lake. You can read the story in John chapter 22.
Jesus calls Simon Peter again, renews him by His grace and empowers him by His Spirit. And that distracted and discouraged disciple experienced a personal transformation. He became bold, not in his own strength, but by the Spirit of God. Simon Peter became focused and fearless.
We heard his testimony in part 1 of this series, recorded in Acts 2:36. And as a result of that powerful testimony, three thousand men and women took a stand for Jesus. Not long after the day of Pentecost, Peter and John were walking to the Temple. As they approached the Gate called Beautiful, they met a beggar, asking for a gift. And how did Peter respond? Was he distracted, discouraged? No!
You can read his response in Acts 3:6, “Then Peter said, 'Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.'"
And then Dr. Luke records in Acts 3:7-8, “Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God."
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