"Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." (Matthew 9:38, NKJV)
So far in this three-part blog on Matthew 9:35-38, we've looked at Jesus' faith-filled perspective of the plentiful harvest as well as the church's underwhelming readiness to meet the world's need. What then would Jesus' primary prescription be? Pray.
In order to address this radical perspective and radical problem outlined, Jesus turns us on to a radical prayer.
First things first.
The first response to the problematic gap between harvest and laborers is NOT to sweat out more labor but to pray. The fix-it types among us may see this as an impractical or inefficient response. But the truth is, it's prayer that reminds us who the Lord of the harvest really is. When our hearts are pricked with the burden for souls in desperate need of salvation, we all need to remember that WE are not their savior. In praying to the Lord of the harvest, we give ourselves the space to remember that only Jesus can be Jesus.
Don't just pray...p-r-a-y!
We all know the difference between routine prayer and earnest prayer, between scripted sayings and sincere seeking. This isn't a knock against praying out of routine or in a casual sense. After all, prayer is essentially "the opening of the heart to God as to a friend" (Steps to Christ, 93). But in the face of a harvest that has few laborers, a different kind of prayer is what Jesus is after. The imperative Jesus charges the church with in Matthew 9:38 is not the common word for "pray" used in the New Testament. The specific term used here literally means "to beg." It's the kind of urgent appeal that we make when we feel a pressing need. Remember, a plentiful harvest that has no laborers to reap it is simply left to rot and waste. This is a matter of life and death! This same term is used to communicate the kind of desperate urgency that a father with a demon-possessed son spoke to Jesus with (Lk. 9:38) and that Jesus Himself interceded for Simon Peter with (Lk. 22:31-32). As Senate Chaplain Barry Black reminded us in his devotional address at the National Prayer Breakfast last week, we make our voices heard in heaven when we pray out of a sense of need. (You can check out that awesome sermon here if you haven't already.)
So what exactly does Jesus want us to pray for with that kind of earnestness and desperation? That He would "send out laborers." Here again, the original language gives us a better grasp of the radical nature of this prayer. Jesus wants us to pray that God will literally "throw out" or "cast out" laborers! We are to pray not just for God to "send" laborers as we send our emails -- something we do easily and with little thought at the click of a button. We are to pray that God would launch His church out -- something that involves the kind of push and edge that's needed both to overcome the church's inhibitions about going and the world's resistance to receiving.
You know who we're praying for, right?
And this is probably the most radical element of all about this prayer. Yes, we pray with deep-seated urgency and need to the Lord of the harvest. Yes, we pray that God does more than assign laborers to go here and there, but to actually fling them into the harvest. But when we're praying all this, we're really praying for ourselves. We're not just praying for numbers of laborers to be sent, nor for other laborers to be sent. When we actually pray as Jesus instructs us here, we're literally begging Jesus to launch US into the harvest that is so ripe for reaping. It's no wonder that immediately after Jesus instructs His disciples to pray this way in Matthew 9:38, He calls His disciples to Himself and sends THEM right out two by two as missionaries (Mt. 10:1, 5). "Pray God would send laborers fellas. By the way, I'm sending you!" So while prayer may be the first response to the harvest's need, it's not the only response. God invites us to pray this way and then be willing to be an answer to our own prayers.
So will you join me in taking up His invitation? Pray, if you dare, with the humility to know that Jesus is the Lord of the harvest and the urgency to know there are eternal destinies at stake. And pray, if you dare, that God would send laborers...and that He would start with you and me.