Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. (Matthew 9:37, NKJV)
In the face of swelling crowds who are visibly suffering and shepherd-less, Jesus' declaration of faith and compassion is quickly followed up by a poignant diagnosis. "The harvest truly is plentiful, BUT..." As great as the Lord's opportunistic perspective was in the first breath, so great is the reality of the problem in the second.
The brimming potential of the plentiful harvest requires a potent task force, but...
...what, according to Jesus, is the condition of that task force? "The laborers are few." The task force is whittled down, and that's a problem. Because the WHAT is so obvious (laborers are few), maybe we ought to ask some not so obvious questions.
For starters, WHY are there so few laborers? Well, it's definitely not God's fault. Yes, we might wonder how there could possibly be so few laborers when the King of the Universe has numberless angels who are loyal to His will. But when the resurrected Christ entrusted the Great Commission to His fledgling church, it became clear that His first draft pick of agents through which to fulfill His redemptive mission fell on feeble human agents -- eh hem...that's you and me. We may not immediately resonate with God's choice to reveal the glorious treasure of the gospel through mere jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7), but we can at least acknowledge that God's incarnational mode of operation prefers to use people to reach people, humanity to come close to humanity. Of course angels could be more attention-getting than lil' ol' me, but that's just like God to choose the weak things and foolish things for His glory.
So if you and I and the rest of God's church are the laborers, maybe, as Derek Morris suggests in his book The Radical Prayer, the better question is: Why are there so few laboring laborers?
The answer to that gets personal because it's a personal question. What reasons can I be honest with? What reasons can you identify? Probably too many to list in this space. But may I suggest that there are two major categories of barriers we laborers run into that keep us from laboring in the harvest?
1) Distraction. We have a hard time laboring when we're distracted from the mission we've been entrusted. Have you ever gotten into the rut of attending to the urgent but neglecting the important? Or how about investing in the important but dismissing the eternally important? Distraction happens when our focus has been hijacked or, more innocently, divided. It's the natural tendency of life to allow things to become more and more complex, to multi-task to the nth degree, and as a result we lose sight of the primary, eternally significant task we've been given -- make disciples who make disciples, to seek and save that which is lost -- and identity we've been called by -- light of the world, laborers in the harvest.
2) Discouragement. "But I've tried to labor, and it didn't work." "There are some really effective laborers in the harvest...but I'm not one of them." Can I get a witness? Discouragement from past experience sabotages our courage to engage present opportunities to labor in the harvest. But the truth is that negative or disappointing experiences in the past does NOT mean that all our efforts to labor for souls will turn out negative or disappointing. Early on in my experience, when a passion for ministry was beginning to take over my heart, I remember gathering with a group for an outreach project. My youth pastor at the time gave us a nugget of wisdom that to this day keeps me moving forward when I'm tempted to be slowed down by discouragement:
"When you're looking for gold, you'll have to dig through a lot of dirt."
So in the face of the radical problem Jesus points out, how will we respond? Will we let distraction and discouragement have the final say? Take time today and join me in praying against the sources of distraction and discouragement we're personally affected by. May God revive us to be laboring laborers!