The Barna Research Group has been involved in gathering and analyzing information concerning the church since 1984. Many of their findings are startling and eye-opening. They have found that 33% of Americans are unchurched; they have no church affiliation whatsoever. While it found that 20% of those who have church membership believe that living a good life will gain them a place in heaven. Given those two statistics alone, that tells us that 53% of Americans are lost and on their way to hell. Over half of everyone you run into is lost. And it is a growing population. More and more each year are added to this category. And if we were to throw all the false professors that do go to church into the mix it would probably be near 75%, which is the percentage Jesus referred to in the parable of the soils.
That is why Jesus said, “The harvest truly is plenteous.” There are people to reach; there is a work to be done. And the danger of the church of 2001 is that we don’t see this as the most important work. Most everything else comes before this work, of reaching these with the Word of God.
Jesus finds himself in a similar situation. And I always find it interesting what he has to say about the subject because everything he says is truth. So concerning this idea of harvest there are four lines of thought that seem apparent from the text.
I. May We See The Pity Of The Harvest!
Notice he saw the multitudes. He did not focus just on the disciples or his inner circle of friends but he looked out and saw the multitude. And he was moved with compassion. That word pity means to be moved to love, mercy and pity. In other words, he did not see them but he saw their need. They fainted and were scattered abroad just like sheep without a shepherd. He saw that they would soon run out of pasture and starve and that they would get lost and caught in some thicket and die. And in the meantime they were helpless. The pleasures will run out, the good times will run out, the self-sufficiency will run out, their health will fail, death is inevitable and judgment is sure.
Do we see people like that? And do we pity them? Do we feel compassion for them? That is our need, to feel compassion because of their need. Jesus saw the multitude and was moved with compassion for them. May we do likewise.
II. May We See The Potential Of The Harvest!
Jesus says that harvest is truly plenteous. Jesus saw the potential. Jesus did not focus on the hopelessness of the situation but he focused on hope. Jesus did not pity and do nothing but he said get the sickle and harvest them. Jesus did not see them as always being in that situation but he saw them being transformed into a different sphere. He saw the lost being saved. He saw sinners becoming saints. He saw the guilty being set free. He saw the unforgiven being forgiven. He saw the hell deserving getting grace. Instead of moaning and groaning about the bad state of affairs he magnified the expectancy and hopefulness that is anticipated in the harvest.
Do we see those around us as potential saints? We see so much waxing worse and worse, that we never see the potential in the world. But where there is a lost soul and where grace still reigns supreme, there is hope and there is a potential saint. No matter how “good” or how “bad” they are there is potential. Let’s not let the past seasons of fruitfulness cause us to not see the hope in this harvest. What a harvest, over half of America, over half of Pickens county available to harvest. What an opportunity! May we see the potential.
III. May We See The Problem Of The Harvest!
The problem of lack of harvest is not in the harvest itself, the harvest is plenteous. The problem of the lack of harvest is not in God, he still saves. The problem is “”but the laborers are few.” The problem is not many are interested and involved in gathering the harvest. The play on words is obvious. Plenteous, or large and few or small. Do you know why reapers are few? Because it involves labor. Jesus does not say witnesses are few, but he says laborers are few. Reaping a harvest among sinners is hard work. It will cost some effort and some time. It is not easy work. You have to roll up your sleeves, you have to sweat a little, and you have to get dirty. And few are willing to do that. So we do things that would attract them. Maybe we can do some things and they will come to us. Have you ever planted a garden and then one morning all the beans in that garden had jumped off the vines and were pilled up on you porch? Have you ever planed a garden and one morning all the corn had fallen off the stalk and had walked up and piled itself on your porch? The harvest does not come on its own, it must be reaped and there lies the problem. We are too wrapped up in ourselves to be concerned about anyone else. And while churches all over America sit and do nothing, the potential harvest rots in the field.
IV. May We See The Prayer Of The Harvest!
Now notice what Jesus says, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.” Pray. The first thing to do is pray. Why must we pray? Because this is the Lord’s work. What is impossible with men is possible with God. If there is going to be a great reaping of the harvest it will because of God. The harvest we want is impossible with us. The new birth is a miracle. It is based on God’s power. Only he can heal the lame, only he can raise the dead, only he can heal sickness, only he can cause dead ears to hear, only he can cause dead tongues to speak, it is his power and we must tap into that power.
Plus through prayer we will gain the compassion we need to see the harvest as they truly are and it is through prayer that we will see that there is great potential in the harvest and it is through prayer that we will ask for the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers and how can we ask God to send forth someone else without first saying, Lord, send me.
Jesus says pray because while you are on your knees seeking a change in those that are lost, God will be changing you, so that he can use you to change those that are lost and to gather a great harvest.
I will close with a record of something God did 130 years go in New York City. It illustrates how God has started every harvest time in history, through the concerted prayer of his people. Toward the middle of the last century the glow of earlier religious awakenings had faded. America was prosperous and felt little need to call on God. But in the 1850s …
Secular and religious conditions combined to bring about a crash. The third great panic in American history swept the giddy structure of speculative wealth away. Thousands of merchants were forced to the wall as banks failed, and railroads went into bankruptcy. Factories were shut down and vast numbers thrown out of employment. New York City alone having 30,000 idle men. In October 1857, the hearts of people were thoroughly weaned from speculation and uncertain gain, while hunger and despair stared them in the face.
On 1st July, 1857, a quiet and zealous businessman named Jeremiah Lanphier took up an appointment as a City Missionary in downtown New York. Lanphier was appointed by the North Church of the Dutch Reformed denomination. This church was suffering from depletion of membership due to the removal of the population from the downtown to the better residential quarters, and the new City Missionary was engaged to make diligent visitation in the immediate neighborhood with a view to enlisting church attendance among the floating population of the lower city. The Dutch Consistory felt that it had appointed an ideal layman for the task in hand, and so it was.
Burdened so by the need, Jeremiah Lanphier decided to invite others to join him in a noonday prayer meeting, to be held on Wednesdays once a week. He therefore distributed a handbill:
"HOW OFTEN SHALL I PRAY?
As often as the language of prayer is in my heart; as often as I see my need of help; as often as I feel the power of temptation; as often as I am made sensible of any spiritual declension or feel the aggression of a worldly spirit.
In prayer we leave the business of time for that of eternity, and intercourse with men for intercourse with God.
A day Prayer Meeting is held every Wednesday, from 12 to 1 o’clock, in the Consistory building in the rear of the North Dutch Church, corner of Fulton and William Streets (entrance from Fulton and Ann Streets).
This meeting is intended to give merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers, and businessmen generally an opportunity to stop and call upon God amid the perplexities incident to their respective avocations. It will continue for one hour; but it is also designed for those who may find it inconvenient to remain more than five or ten minutes, as well as for those who can spare the whole hour."
Accordingly at twelve noon, 23rd September, 1857 the door was opened and the faithful Lanphier took his seat to await the response to his invitation …. Five minutes went by. No one appeared. The missionary paced the room in a conflict of fear and faith. Ten minutes elapsed. Still no one came. Fifteen minutes passed. Lanphier was yet alone. Twenty minutes; twenty-five; thirty; and then at 12.30 p.m., a step was heard on the stairs, and the first person appeared, then another, and another, and another, until six people were present and the prayer meeting began. On the following Wednesday, October 7th, there were forty intercessors.
Thus in the first week of October 1857, it was decided to hold a meeting daily instead of weekly ….
Within six months, ten thousand business men were gathering daily for prayer in New York, and within two years, a million converts were added to the American churches ….
Undoubtedly the greatest revival in New York’s colorful history was sweeping the city, and it was of such an order to make the whole nation curious. There was no fanaticism, no hysteria, simply an incredible movement of the people to pray.