It was Charles Spurgeon who once said, “Millions have never heard of Jesus. We ought not to ask, ‘Can I prove that I ought to go?’ but, ‘Can I prove that I ought not to go?’”
When it comes to evangelism, we’ve all witnessed methods that are less than God honoring and fueled by emotion, guilt, or pressure to “do something” for God. Such shallow exhortations lead to improper engagement with the souls of people which often produces false converts through emotionally charged presentations of the gospel.
When we read Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:35-38, it should compel us to engage in evangelism, but we also learn some important facts about the harvest that will help us along the journey.
Jesus Had Compassion for the Lost Sheep
As Jesus looked upon the large crowds of people, he had compassion for the lost sheep. He viewed them as “sheep without a shepherd.” The imagery is striking. Sheep are relatively dumb and defenseless animals who need shepherds to lead them or they will walk right into the mouths of predators, off of cliffs, or away from food into desolate land. Jesus could discern their need and as the Savior of sinners and the Great Shepherd—he was filled with compassion for these people.
In a typical day, we go through the motions of our daily lives passing by people in our towns and communities without considering that many of these people are lost sheep who are wandering aimlessly through life as sheep without a shepherd. It would do us well to consider their condition and to show compassion for their souls as Jesus did. Before we will go into our communities with the good news of the gospel—we must first have compassion for unbelievers.
Recognize the Need for the Harvest
Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” When we consider the harvest of our own communities, is this true? Are churches going out into the fields faithfully sharing the gospel? Is your church faithfully sending out laborers into the field? What about you? Are you faithfully going into the fields to share the good news of Jesus? On a micro level this statement is true of most communities in America.
On a macro level—the harvest globally stands in need of laborers. We need faithful church planters and missionaries to go into the fields and engage the unbelieving world with the message of hope. The world is vastly lost with 3.19 billion people unreached with the good news of Christ. That’s a total of 41.6% of planet earth. Before we will send missionaries out from our churches to train pastors in other dark regions of the world, we must first recognize the need for laborers.
When we have true compassion for the lost sheep and when we see the lack of true laborers for the fields—it will cause us to pray earnestly. The word used by Jesus is “δέομαι” which means to passionately request, beg, and in this case—do direct such passionate request to God on behalf of the need in evangelism and missions. What does such praying look like? It’s more than a shallow prayer asking for God to save sinners. It’s an intentional prayer whereby we are praying that the Lord will send out laborers into the fields. Such prayers will include a self examination and an honest question to the Lord about your place in the fields of harvest. Such prayers include a focus upon:
- Local Communities
- Unreached People Groups
- Dark Regions
- Emphasis Upon Local Churches
When we pray earnestly, it will affect how we view the needs and how we engage in the work of local evangelism and world missions. An earnest prayer will lead to earnest engagement. Our church service begins each week with our pastor of missions and discipleship leading us in prayer for a specific country around the world. We review their statistics and assess their needs. We then pray for the local church in that particular region and ask for the Lord to send out laborers into that field. We ask for the Lord to strengthen the local pastors and encourage them to be steadfast in the faith. In some cases, we pray that God will save someone in that region from which a church will be birthed. It’s our desire to pray earnestly for the work of missions around the world as a gathered church. This is just one means by which we can engage. I would commend this to you as an example for you to consider.
The Harvest Belongs to God
The harvest (θερισμός) is a farming term that refers to the reaping of crops in the field which involves bringing them in from the fields and properly storing them for use or for the markets. This entire process is called the harvest. We must not lose sight of the fact that the harvest belongs to the Lord. Engaging in the work of missions without a confident heart that God will save his people from their sins is to engage in the work of missions from an improper theological foundation. The foundation matters. It matters when building a house and it matters in the work of missions. When people engage the world from a broken theological foundation it results in broken missional models, programs, tactics, and this leads sadly to—false converts. Doctrine matters.
If the harvest belongs to God, we must remember that he will accomplish his mission. If Jesus died for the elect (Eph. 1:3; John 19:30)—he will save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). The harvest is not lost. Such knowledge and such a proper theological foundation should lead us to spend more time in prayer rather than less time in prayer. It should result in earnest prayers that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers into the fields in order that the gospel will be preached and sinners will be saved.
Without the gospel lost people will not be saved (Rom. 10:17). Yet, when the gospel is preached faithfully and laborers are working the fields—God will save his people. The mission will be completed. It is our duty to work the fields faithfully and continue to pray to the Lord of the harvest that he will send out laborers and that he will open blind eyes and save lost sinners for his glory.
How are you personally and how is your church corporately engaging in local evangelism and world missions for God’s glory? You may wonder how you can begin to make changes or improvements in this area and the first steps will include honest and earnest prayer. In his commentary on Matthew 9, J.C. Ryle said:
By prayer we reach Him without whom work and money are alike in vain. We obtain the aid of the Holy Spirit. Money can hire workers. Universities can give learning. Congregations may elect. Bishops may ordain. But the Holy Spirit alone can make ministers of the Gospel, and raise up lay workmen in the spiritual harvest, who need not be ashamed. Never, never may we forget that if we would do good to the world, our first duty is to pray!