April 13, 2012

Pray, Then Send or Go: Reflections on Matthew 9:37-38

"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 9:37-38

In this passage of Scripture, Jesus gives us three ways to reach the lost: praying, sending, and going. The one command is “pray earnestly.” It’s one word in the original; it has the connotation of pleading for something. We all have the responsibility to plead for the lost, praying specifically that the Lord would send out workers to reap a harvest of lost souls. They are there ready to be “reaped.”

This type of pleading prayer is set in the context of Jesus going from village to village seeing the people that were like “sheep without a shepherd” (v. 36). Christ had compassion for the lost and he was asking for his disciples to have that same kind of compassion. In essence, Jesus is calling the disciples into a Gospel partnership as they plead with the Lord for harvest workers. So, prayer is the essential first step in reaching the lost. It’s a joining of our pleading with the compassion of Christ. Are our hearts burdened for the lost? If so, then we must pray. If not, we must pray even more, that God would give us the compassion and concern for those that are separated from the Good Shepherd.

Though it starts with prayer, it does not end there. Jesus is calling the disciples not only to pray but to be involved in sending as well. Though we pray for the Lord to do the sending, he uses us in the process. This is what John speaks about in 3 John 5-8. The Lord uses us to send people who are going out “for the sake of the name” (3 John 7). It’s a partnership where some will be the senders and some will go. All will pray, some will send, and some will go. Those are the options that are implied in Matthew 9 and those are the options we have before us. Our sending may happen through our prayers. It may happen as we sacrificially give of our financial resources. And then many will be called to go, to work in the harvest fields, to bring lost sheep back to their shepherd, the Good Shepherd. We all must pray. We all must either send or go. As John Piper has said, we can “go, send, or disobey.”

What is God calling you to do? Are you open to sending? Are you open to moving out of your comfort zone and going? Today, there are over seven billion people in the world. Only one-third claim to be followers of Christ, that means there are at least 4.7 billion people who are heading to an eternity separated from the Good Shepherd. Even more disheartening is that almost three billion of them have no opportunity to hear about the good news of Jesus Christ. They live in a community where no viable, reproducing church has been established (the 41.3% unreached). People still need to go, to cross cultural boundaries, some of which have never been crossed. People still need to send, to make a way for others to go. And we all need to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers into his harvest.