Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
June 1, 2014
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he 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 9:35-38, ESV
Someone please help me, because I am confused. According to the newspapers, record numbers of Americans are out of work. Many are on disability, many of which are not disabled at all, so they don't work. Many are on unemployment, and pandering politicians keep extending the benefits to years rather than weeks or months. Many more have simply opted not to work nor look for work, and many of them have been encouraged and enabled by our government, the same government that boasts about its ability to put people to work.
On the other hand, as I drive around town, I see help wanted signs everywhere. Restaurants and other businesses no longer use their signs to promote the sale of their products, but rather appeal to the populace to come in and apply for work. Something is wrong with this picture. How can so many people be out of work when so much work is out there to be done?
Now before my brush paints with too broad a stroke, I realize that there are certainly legitimate disabilities and other discomforting reasons why people can’t work a regular job. And, I know it is terribly demeaning for a laid off professional or skilled worker to take a job at a fast food restaurant. So please do not feel judged if you or someone you love is out of work because of genuine misfortune. But I believe if trends do not change, we need to change our national symbol from the Eagle to the Koala, for the Koala bear sleeps twenty-two hours and day and then eats for the other two.
The lack of work, or better stated the lack of workers, is not just a problem in the world. It is a problem in the church, too. For far too many members are out of work when there is a whole lot of work to be done. Perhaps we would all do well to look closely at this passage of Scripture to see how hard Jesus works, how Jesus prayed for workers, and how praying for workers works in our lives, too.
There are plenty of jokes about the work of spiritual leaders. Some say pastors work only one day a week. Some say their pastor spends every day on Visitation, with Visitation being the name of his boat. I confess I took off one afternoon and told our new secretary that I was going to visit the Green family, and that it would take all afternoon because there were eighteen of them. I went and played golf, but she took me literally, and afterward I got a few questions concerning this new couple in town with sixteen children.
But spiritual work is really hard work, when we truly apply ourselves. Preparing a sermon is like writing a research paper, often requiring one hour for every one minute in the pulpit. Standing and speaking exerts up to ten times the normal exertion required in other types of work. Visiting and counseling requires physical energy and takes an emotional toll. Praying, planning, and meeting with people consumes time and energy. And then there’s all that fried chicken and pie that have to be eaten, too.
Jesus is the ultimate spiritual leader, shepherd, counselor, evangelist, and missionary. Just look at this glimpse of the working life of our Lord Jesus Christ. He traveled, by foot, from city to city. He taught daily, He preached regularly, He healed occasionally. Most of all, He had compassion for people, and having real compassion for real people requires time and effort that may well be the most taxing work of all. And let us never forget the work our Lord Jesus Christ performed for us on the cross.
Jesus worked hard, in life and death, for us. How hard do you work in your life, your spiritual life, for Jesus? And, how much work do you plan to accomplish for Him until the time of your death?
Statistics show that the average American Christian actually does very little spiritual work. Now is the time to step up. Use your vocation or retirement to glorify God and appropriately communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ. Take your church membership seriously, show up, step up, and engage in public worship, intentional discipleship, meaningful ministry, joyful fellowship, and evangelistic mission to our community and world. Let us work! And, let us pray for other workers to join us!
Jesus Prayed for Workers
Jesus knew that the job to be done was too big for one man, even the God-Man, and one small band of brothers. He had prayed all night before picking the twelve, and now Christ encourages them to pray for more workers.
We pray for workers because there is work to be done. Most people in our community, country, and world are lost and unchurched. “The harvest is plentiful,” Jesus said. Surveys show 80% of people, even in the so-called Bible Belt, do not regularly attend Christian worship on Sundays. These same survey show that 80% of them are receptive to an invitation to church when invited by a sincere Christian friend. They are out there, waiting to be loved, asked, invited to Christ and His church. “The harvest is plentiful,” so we pray for workers because there is work to be done.
We pray for workers because the workers are few. The same survey that showed 80% of unchurched people are receptive to invitations to church also showed that only 20% of active Christians are actively engaged in inviting their friends to Christ and to Christian worship. We have become numb to unbelief. We complain too much about everything, including our churches and church leaders, and that seldom leads to an invitation for others to join. We aren’t working, which is why “the laborers are few,” which is why we pray for God to raise up more workers.
We pray for workers because God can raise them up. This message is by no means a method to get up workers by guilting them to go. You can’t, and you shouldn’t try, to guilt people, manipulate or market people, or otherwise rally people to get up and go to work for God. You simply follow Jesus’ example and commandments, especially concerning prayer.
And when we pray for workers, God will work something wonderful in us.
Praying for Workers Puts You to Work
Work needs to be done and workers are what we need. So we pray. But look what happens when we pray for workers.
We become the workers. Note that these instructions at the conclusion of chapter nine are given to Jesus’ disciples, probably referring to the twelve. Now, look ahead to the beginning of chapter ten and see who God has inspired and raise up to do the work. It is the same disciples!
If you pray earnestly for more nursery and children’s workers, you will almost inevitably be caught up by the Spirit of God to go work with children. If you pray for more members to be bold witnesses, issuing more invitations for people to join us in worship, you will certainly be one who witnesses more and invites more people to church services. If you pray for funds to be raised for the church budget or special projects, you will be one of the first ones to give to such work. Praying for workers works in you.
Jesus, as always, knew exactly what He was doing in this episode. He knew how little spiritual leadership existed in Israel in His day. He knew how much He loved the people. And, He knew what was about to unfold in the next couple of years, as well as the next couple of millennium. So, He set an example of good, hard, spiritual work. He commissioned His disciples to pray for more workers. Then, the disciples themselves began to work hard. Such help is wanted in the church today. So read the signs, study the Bible, pray, then get up and go to work for God.