Jesus said to his disciples:

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).

What do Jesus’ words teach us about God, people and our roles in evangelism? Jesus makes several bold statements in his instruction to the disciples. Notice that he begins by stating that we shouldn’t fear a lack of results in evangelism because the harvest is plentiful. Jesus’ intent couldn’t be clearer. God will save people! The problem in evangelism isn’t that there will be a lack of response.

So what is the problem? Jesus tells us. The laborers are few. Don’t miss the imagery here. Jesus strategically uses an agricultural metaphor. Sowing and harvesting a field is hard work. Farming isn’t an occupation for lazy and impatient people. Farming takes persistence. Fields are prepared with blood, sweat and tears. And even once the crop grows the work isn’t yet done. It still must be harvested and used in useful ways. It isn’t enough just to harvest the field but then leave the crops to rot in the barn.

The same is true for evangelism. One reason American churches may be seeing so little evangelistic fruit is because there are very few true laborers. The use of this metaphor implies that laboring in the work of evangelism may require more than a drive-by evangelistic conversation. You know the kind I’m talking about. We meet someone for coffee, finally muster the courage to say something clever about Christ, and then say good-bye, thinking we’ve appropriately softened the soil of our friend’s heart for the sake of Christ. No, evangelism requires more than just one conversation. It may require a hundred. And it will require more than talk. Fruitful evangelism demands prayer and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. It will require a pleading for God to work in the hearts of those who are His enemies. It will require a life that displays the goodness and satisfaction of the gospel in the way that we respond to every circumstance and test in life.

There are only a few of these kind of laborers for Christ in this world. Prayerful, Spirit-filled, God-glorifying, Bible-saturated, winsome witnesses for Christ are few and far between because it takes hard work, discipline and humility to become this kind of laborer for Christ. And I think that was Jesus’ point. He is saying, “I have sons and daughters in this world who have not yet responded in faith to my message. They will listen. But who will tell them? Who will walk with them in life, not as a project, but as a friend who wants them to seek and savor the goodness that I have revealed to you in salvation? Who will pray for them, weep with them, laugh with them, speak of me to them, and display my satisfying greatness in all circumstances? Who will get their hands dirty with them in their dysfunctional, sin-dominated life?”

And so Jesus says, “Pray that God would raise up these kind of laborers. My Father is the Lord of the harvest, but that harvest will be harvested as my Spirit enables my people to labor toward that end.”

Jesus’ words are so familiar to me. I’ve read them hundreds of times. But as I read them yesterday morning I felt like I was seeing them for the first time. God, make me that kind of laborer for the sake of Your glory, Your fame and Your renown as you draw many sons and daughters into Your presence through salvation in Your Gospel for their good.