Suppose that just before Jesus ascended—as He envisions His Church and the harvest prior to His return—He foresees a falling away. His soul is grieved, because He sees rampant backsliding. Instead of reaping a white harvest, His people spend their time and energy seeking worldly success and material things.
So Jesus says to the Father, “They won’t get the harvest in. All the white fields lie dormant. I’m going to send a host of angels to do the reaping.” The Father agrees, and suddenly thousands of celestial beings appear on the earth, glowing with supernatural radiance.
What a sight this would be: otherworldly beings, clothed in glory, speaking in churches and in public. They are interviewed by newspaper reporters, and on radio and TV. They talk of the cross, the resurrection, the ascension, Christ’s love, and a final judgment to come. And they speak with such eloquence and conviction that everyone is enthralled. They’re like so many Jonahs, wooing and warning the world.
Now suppose that after a short time, these same radiant angels become enthralled with the world around them. They are taken in by fine foods, material goods, wealth and security. And soon they start striving for success, fame and fortune. Before long, they become jealous of each other, showing anger, pride, envy and covetousness.
In other words, they become just like the Church today! I ask you, how much influence would they have on the world? How could they expect to bring in a harvest, being so caught up in worldliness? Their testimony would be discounted and they would be drained of all spiritual power, going about discouraged, fearful and doubting.
Tell me, why would anyone want my gospel if they saw me in this state, stressed out and joyless? Why would they believe my message, “Jesus is sufficient, my everything, my constant supply,” if I am always fearful and worried, with no peace?
No one would listen to a word I said. Instead, they would wonder, “What difference does your Christ make? He doesn’t seem to be much of a physician if you’re always in this condition.”
Beloved, our countenance counts. Listen to what Christ says of His Bride in the Song of Solomon: “O my dove . . . let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely” (Song of Solomon 2:14). Christ is saying to us, in essence, “I want to see your smile.” Does that describe your countenance?
Jesus declared, “The fields are ripe, and the harvest plentiful. It’s time to begin reaping” (see Matthew 9:37-38). At that moment, the great, final spiritual harvest began among the Jews and Gentiles of Jesus’ generation. And this same harvest is going to last until Christ returns.
As I read this passage, I wonder what Jesus saw in His time that caused Him to say, “The harvest is ready, so now is the time to reap.” Did He see a spiritual awakening in Israel? Was there revival in the synagogues? Were priests turning back to God? Were scribes and Pharisees being convicted? What evidence was there that the harvest was ripe?
The gospels don’t reveal much evidence of any spiritual move toward God. If anything, they show the opposite. Jesus was mocked in the synagogues. The nation’s spiritual leaders rejected Him, questioning His integrity and divinity. One religious crowd even tried to throw Him over a cliff. Christ Himself upbraided Israel’s cities for not repenting at His message: “Woe, Chorazin! Woe, Bethsaida! Woe, Tyre and Sidon! Woe, Capernaum!” (see Matthew 11:21-23).
As for the multitudes, they were embroiled in chaotic despair. Scripture tells us, “When he saw them they were like sheep without a shepherd” (see Matthew 9:36). Here was a society that was fearful, stressed out, depressed. The people ran about wildly, like scattered sheep, looking for help anywhere they could find it. Yet it was at this very point of great distress that Christ declared, “The fields are ripe, and the harvest is plentiful.”
Do you think Jesus’ words about a ripe harvest apply today? Where do we see evidence that the fields are white and ready to be reaped? Are nations repenting? Is there a great stirring in our society? And is the organized church waking up? Are religious leaders hungering for revival, seeking Christ anew? Is there a cry for holiness in this generation?
With few exceptions, I don’t see any such things happening. Yet, none of these is what moved Jesus in His time. Rather, He was moved by the sad conditions He saw on every side. Everywhere He looked, people were overwhelmed with distress and He said, “It’s time to begin reaping.”
“When he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:36–38).
Jesus made it plain: “The harvest is ripe, but the laborers are few.” So, why are there so few laborers? Churches today are packed with believers who claim Christ is their very life. Millions of dollars are spent on erecting worship centers everywhere.
The truth is, if we’re not capable of reaping souls—if our lives don’t reflect the transforming power of the gospel we preach—then we have discounted ourselves as laborers. Our walk with Christ should offer proof to the world that God’s promises are true.
As laborers, we are the harvest instruments in the Lord’s hand. In the days of Christ, such an instrument was a scythe, a long, curved, single-edged blade with a long handle. It was forged by a blacksmith, who put it into a fire, then placed it on an anvil, where he pounded and bent it into shape. Then the whole process was repeated again and again, until the cutting edge was filed with a rough-edged surface.
The parallel is clear: God is forging laborers. He isn’t just pounding away at sin. And this forging process explains why the laborers are few. The majority of churchgoers are like the thousands who volunteered to go with Gideon in the Old Testament. God saw fear in many of them, knowing they wouldn’t endure the fire, the pounding, the hard times. And out of the thousands who followed Gideon, only three hundred were chosen.
The same thing happens today. Those who are truly called to harvest are called to endure the refining, shaping fires and the continual hammering. Yet, not many endure.
Scripture shows that David, Job and other Old Testament saints came out of their dark times by remembering God’s faithfulness to past generations. David writes that whenever his heart was desolate, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands” (Psalm 143:5). Asaph, who wrote twelve of the Psalms, did the same: “I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old” (77:11). Indeed, Asaph says that all of Israel “remembered that God was their rock” (78:35).
It’s a wonderful blessing to remember all our past deliverances. Deuteronomy tells us, “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee. . . . Beware that thou forget not” (Deuteronomy 8:2, 11).
Yet, remembering God’s deliverances was more than just a blessing to the Old Testament saints. It was a necessary discipline. The Israelites devised all sorts of rituals and observances to recall the Lord’s deliverances in their lives.
Likewise today, the Church of Jesus Christ is called to remember God’s past deliverances. We have been given a way to remember that is much better than in Old Testament times. You see, since the days of David and Asaph, God has poured out His Holy Spirit, and the Spirit now abides in our human bodies.
The Holy Spirit comforts us in our dark times and brings to our remembrance God’s past faithfulness. But He does more than that. The Spirit often gives us an understanding of the purpose behind our fiery trials so that our faith will not fail.
When we look at Asaph’s life we see that this devoted, godly man does not share any kind of understanding with us in Psalm 77. Simply put, we don’t know what his dark hour accomplished in his life. All he could tell us was, “Thy way [of God] is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known” (Psalm 77:19). Asaph’s conclusion was, “God’s ways aren’t known. I don’t know why He allowed me to fall into such depression and discouragement. I only rejoice that He has made me free.”
It is the Father’s nature to give. A child who grows up in a giving home learns to share, and Jesus has His Father’s giving nature. Now Jesus is beckoning us to carry on the family name through a giving life.
To do this, Christ supplies us with a powerful image at the Last Supper. He lifts up the bread and wine and says, “This bread is my body, broken for you. And this cup is my blood, poured out for you” (see Mark 14:22-23). Note what Jesus then does with the bread: He blesses it, breaks it and gives it. In doing this, Christ demonstrates to us what a poured-out life looks like. It is blessed. It is broken. And it is given away. That’s what it looks like to be a son or daughter of the living God.
This is the central difference between the average human being, whose primary aim is to meet his own needs, and someone who has found out life’s purpose and pours himself out for others. In Christ, we are called to move from a “getting” life to a “giving” life. Jesus empowers this transition for us in the Spirit, replacing our worldly spirit with His own godly Spirit. He tells us, “You have been blessed by Me and now you are meant to give those blessings away.”
This is a glorious theology—but it’s the hardest transition we will ever make in life. Over the past few years the top-selling Christian books have focused on the “getting” side of life. Their central theme is how God longs to bless His children. We know that’s true of God because of His giving nature; He wants to open the windows of heaven to pour out His mighty resources on us. He does indeed want to bless our marriage, our health, our finances. So these best-selling books have their place, and I admit I’ve drawn help from some of them myself.
But there’s something missing in these books. There is something much better than a blessed life of getting—and that is a broken life of giving. A getting life is easy; a giving life is difficult—and rewarding.
Remember, He blessed. He broke. He gave away. Often in the church this process breaks down after the first step. Many Christians don’t get past the blessing part. They don’t allow their lives to be broken before God, so they never make it to the last step—giving. Thus they never see the fulfillment of God’s purpose in blessing us.