As Jesus looked out to the end of the age, he pointed out a terrible problem. “He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.’” (Matthew 9:37, NKJV).
As I read these words, I wonder, “What’s the solution? How can more laborers be raised up to go the nations?” Jesus gave the answer in the very next verse: “’Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” (Matthew 9:38). You may think, “Doors are closing all over the world.” That may be true, but it doesn’t matter how closed some nations may look to our eyes. If God can tear down the Iron Curtain in Europe and the Bamboo Curtain in Asia, nothing can stop him from working wherever he will.
The apostle Paul was sent forth as a missionary through the power of prayer. It happened in Antioch where leaders of the church were praying over the harvest (see Acts 13:1-5). Paul’s first missionary journey came out of a prayer meeting. It was the direct result of godly men obeying Jesus’ words to pray for God to send laborers into the harvest.
In the 1980’s, when our ministry was headquartered in Texas, I spent a year praying that God would send someone to New York City to raise up a church in Times Square. I pledged to help whomever God chose, to raise money, to hold meetings, to build up support. While I was praying for God to send a laborer into this specific harvest, the Lord put the burden on me, and Times Square Church was the result.
The same is true today. We are to be about the work of praying for the harvest. While we’re praying, the Holy Spirit is searching the earth, putting an urgency in the hearts of those who desire to be used by the Lord. He’s touching people everywhere, setting them apart for his service.
While we’re asking God to send forth laborers, the Holy Spirit is stirring someone somewhere, and it doesn’t matter where it takes place. The powerful truth is that our prayers are being used to send laborers into the harvest.
Why are our government leaders and the media so condescending to Christians? Why have so many young people written off Christianity as totally irrelevant to their lives?
It’s because, for the most part, the church is no longer a light. Christ isn’t ruling in our society because he doesn’t reign in our lives. As I look around today, I see few in God’s house who are truly in union with Christ, and few ministers refuse worldly methods in order to trust God for their direction.
Dear believers, we cannot blame the darkness of the world around us for the church’s lack of impact. Consider the spiritually corrupt kingdom of Babylon during the time of Nebuchadnezzar. This was the mightiest empire on earth at that time, but Nebuchadnezzar was not the real ruler in Babylon. The power behind the empire wasn’t in the golden statue that he would later erect. No, Babylon’s authority rested in God’s providence and in the hands of a small group of men directed by God.
The Lord had set up a secret, heavenly government, and it was ruled by Daniel and his three friends. These men were God’s governing instruments because they operated in the heavenly realm. As a result, these holy men knew the times. They could tell the people what God’s will was for the nations. They were bright, shining lights to everyone around them because they had the life of God within them.
In 2 Kings 6:8-23, we read about another man of God having a great impact on the kingdom where he lived. At that time, Syria was at war with Israel. During this conflict, the prophet Elisha was God’s secret government, and he ruled with authority. Elisha heard from the Lord and sent messages to Israel’s king, warning him of every move the Syrian army made. When the Syrian king found out about Elisha’s messages, he surrounded the prophet’s hometown with a battalion of troops. God blinded the Syrians, and Elisha ended up leading them captive into the Israelites’ camp.
Elisha had the light because he had the life of God in him. Today, our country needs believers who have that kind of holy passion and nearness to God. For God’s authority to have any impact on our nation and culture, it must be lived out in obedient vessels.
“Yes, again and again they…limited the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78:41, NKJV). The word for ‘limited’ here comes from two root words that mean “grieving God by scratching out an imprint.” In short, limiting God means drawing a line or a circle and stating, “God is in here, and he goes no further.”
That’s just what the early church in Jerusalem did. They limited Christ to a small circle, confining him to the Jewish population. We may scoff at this idea now, but this thinking also describes many believers today. We’ve marked in our minds a very small imprint or concept of Christ’s magnitude.
Jesus can’t be confined. He is constantly breaking out of our little, confining circles and always reaching out to the uttermost.
Let me give an example. Years ago, Pentecostals seemed to have the baptism of the Holy Spirit confined to their movement. Many Pentecostals thought, “We are God’s Spirit-filled church!” Pentecostal preachers bemoaned the deadness of mainline denominations. “They don’t have the full gospel like we do,” they declared. Suddenly, God’s Spirit burst through everyone’s drawn circles. The Holy Ghost fell on believers in all kinds of denominations. A classic book was written about this move of the Spirit, called They Speak with Other Tongues by John Sherrill.
The Lord also used my book The Cross and the Switchblade, especially in Catholic circles. Like Peter in Acts chapter 10, I had to allow God to work in my heart before I could accept what was going on. I had been raised Pentecostal, and for the first time in my life, I saw priests weeping with conviction, crying out to Jesus.
Soon I had evangelical preachers contending with me, demanding, “What about those Catholics’ Mariology? How can you minister to people who believe in that?” I found myself answering in the same spirit as Peter did: “I don’t know anything about Mariology. All I know is there are spiritually hungry people in the Catholic church, and there are true Jesus worshippers among the priests. God is filling these people with his Spirit.”
God has his people everywhere, and we are not to call any of them unclean. As Peter was told in his vision, “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (Acts 10:15). We have to be careful that we do not represent Jesus as being small and box him in with our puny thinking.
Christ’s church has never been fully approved or accepted by the world, and it never will be. If you live for Jesus, you won’t have to separate yourself from secular company; they’ll do it for you. All you have to do is live for him. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself reproached, rejected, called evil: “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake” (Luke 6:22, NKJV).
However, Jesus adds that this is the path to true fulfillment. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). In other words, “The only way that you will find meaning in life is by giving your all for me. Then you’ll find true joy, peace and satisfaction.” Christ tells us, “My church is without spot or wrinkle. When you come to me, you must be willing to lay down all sins. You must surrender all to me, die completely to self, ungodly ambition and ego. By faith, you’ll be buried with me, and I will raise you up into new life.”
Think about what it means to be without spot or wrinkle. We know what a spot or a stain represents, but what about a wrinkle? Have you ever heard the phrase, “a new wrinkle”? It means adding a new idea to an existing concept. A wrinkle, in that sense, applies to those who try to improve on the gospel. It suggests an easy way to attain heaven without full surrender to Christ.
That’s the kind of gospel that’s being preached in many churches today. The sermons are aimed only at meeting people’s needs. As I read Jesus’ words, I see that this kind of preaching will not work. It doesn’t accomplish the true work of the gospel.
Don’t misunderstand; I’m not against preaching comfort and strength to God’s people. As a shepherd of the Lord, I’m called to do exactly that at times. If I preach only to people’s needs, though, and ignore Christ’s call to sacrifice and lay down our lives, then true needs will never be met. Jesus’ words are clear: Our needs are met by dying to ourselves and taking up his cross.
David Platt wrote a book called Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream. It’s an amazing book about giving your life whole-heartedly to Jesus.
Not long after Platt’s book came out, another author wrote a book called Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World. Basically, this book said that all this radical stuff isn't really meant for ‘normal’ people. The message was “Yeah, David Platt, you can be radical because you get paid to be radical. You don't have to work at I.B.M.; you don't have to be a plumber, so quit putting us under guilt and condemnation and shame by calling us forth to be radical.”
My father used to talk about “pillow-prophets,” leaders in the church who loved comfort and ease and also promised people a prosperous, easy life following God. The prophet Ezekiel spoke out against these types of leaders and believers.
“Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them” (Ezekiel 34:2-4, ESV).
May God help us not to have leisurely lives that cost others. May he help us not to live only for comfort at the expense of those in need around us. I think we want that because we are convicted when we are around somebody who is set apart for God. We think things like “Man, I get paid well and have spare time, but that person has five kids and two jobs, and yet they seem to have more of Jesus than I do.”
There's a way to change that and submit to the conviction that the Spirit may be laying on your heart. I tell you, when a man or woman of God gets ahold of the Lord or the Lord gets ahold of them, comfort goes out the door. A passionate life is no longer a comfortable life.