“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field'” (Matthew 9:35-38).
Allow me to share with you three conversations I’ve had within the last three days.
1. A missionary in Paupa New Guinea explained to me how villages are asking for people to come to their village and teach the Bible to them. She also explained how her family can only be in a village for a couple months at a time before pulling out for a break themselves. While in villages doing ministry, the needs are so great and they as a family are constantly pouring out spiritually. For everyone’s health and well being, they need breaks. Often, they’re the only Western family or one of two families within an extremely remote area accessible only by helicopter or long hikes. More people want Jesus than their ministry is able to reach.
2. A woman here in the United States who works a highly demanding job volunteers with the teens at her church. She’s been given all the freshman and sophomore girls who come to their youth group. She has nearly 25 kids! Can you imagine voluntarily trying to disciple that many teens?!?! It’d be a full time job by itself, right? She needs four more ladies to volunteer so they can have a one to five ratio. Each woman could then take each teen once a week for at least half an hour and rotate through monthly discipleship times.
3. A Spanish pastor at a bilingual church in the states recently came down with an aggressive form of cancer. My friend and her husband have been filling in voluntarily while he’s out. My friend also has a very demanding full time job in addition to all she’s been doing for the church lately, not to mention small children of her own. Her husband has been pursuing his doctorate (in ministry) and now finds himself doing ministry full time in addition to his full time schooling. At 11pm, she often still finds herself talking to someone in need from the church.
In each of the above situations, those who have stepped up and are serving the Lord, are doing all they can, but it’s still not enough. Jesus found Himself in a similar situation and gave a simple solution that all of us can implement.
In Matthew chapter 9, we see Jesus, much like those mentioned above, immersed in a busy ministry. “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9 :35).
But then, in the midst of His busyness, He observed a problem. “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36). Jesus was aware enough to notice a need. Are we aware enough to notice the needs of those around us? Even if we cannot meet them ourselves?
In that moment after acknowledging the problem, Jesus did something. He didn’t fix the problem Himself, even though He could. Instead, He turned to His disciples for a teaching moment. As a parent, this one hits deep. It’s much easier to do the dishes myself or pick up my kids’ things as opposed to turn and teach my kids how to address such problems (like a messy house) on their own. Instead of fixing the problem, Jesus “said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few'” (Matthew 9:37). Any leadership expert will tell you, the first step in dealing with issues is to state the problem. That’s exactly what Jesus did. No guilt trip. No, “hey boys, why don’t you do some healing too and ease this burden for me?” Or “C’mon Disciples! Haven’t you been to Disney World where they organize crowds and lines like magic? Let’s bring some organization to this chaos so I can really heal everyone.” No. Jesus did not cast blame on the disciples, or anyone. He simply stated a problem out of His pure love and concern for those He was ministering to.
After stating the problem, Jesus didn’t leave it there. He provided the solution. Jesus said, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field” (Matthew 9:38). Prayer. Conversations with God. Ask. Seek. Knock. That’s the solution. That is Jesus’ solution for those overwhelmed in ministry. That is the solution for those not in ministry to reach the whole world for Christ.
“The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few” isn’t about us moving to a foreign country to do ministry, or even necessarily about ministry at all! No. It’s all about the church turning to the Lord with a desire for others to know Christ and therefore asking God to send more laborers into the harvest.
The disciples didn’t see a problem. They didn’t show a concern for the crowds of people needing Jesus. Jesus saw. Jesus cared. Jesus wanted the disciples to care too. He wanted the disciples to pray for the people. The disciples had Jesus. They were then to pray so that others could have Jesus too. They would receive Jesus by laborers being sent into the harvest.
Jesus got to the heart of the matter. Of course, Jesus wanted everyone to know God. But He also wanted those who already knew Him to have that heart too! Before sending people into ministry, Jesus wanted them to love others enough to want to do ministry. He wanted lovers of God to love non-believers enough to pray for them to know Him. His first concern wasn’t to tell everyone about Christ, but for the hearts of those who followed Him to be more like His. Jesus was more concerned with the disciples’ being than their doing. He knew when their hearts were right, their actions would follow. It’s really hard to dislike someone you pray for. And Christ told the disciples to pray that God would meet the peoples’ deepest need, a relationship with Christ, which could only happen if people shared Christ with them, which would only happen if people cared enough about them to go and tell them! Which is why Christ said to pray for laborers to be sent into the harvest!
He wanted lovers of God to love non-believers enough to pray for them to know Him.
Do you have that heart? For others to know Christ? Do you pray for laborers in churches? Do you pray for more volunteers at your church? Do you pray for the Lord to send missionaries into unreached people groups across the globe? We are called as Christians to pray, to care, to love. This is what it means to love. This is what it means to follow Christ. It means praying for more people to serve God.