Spiritually Ripened Fields
The Harvest tells the real-life, inspired story of a family on a North Dakota farm. The short film opens with a father and his three young sons surveying wheat fields stretching as far as the eye can see. The father explains to these would-be farmer boys, “By the end of the summer, the wheat will be ripened and the harvest will be ready to reap. When the harvest is ready, we must be ready, or we’ll lose the whole crop.”
A few weeks later the father dies unexpectedly, leaving the looming harvest behind for his grieving wife and three boys. The oldest son remembers his dad’s saying they would have to be ready when the harvest was ready or they would lose the entire crop. The burden of responsibility bears down on his shoulders, and he doesn’t want to let his father’s labors go to waste. He can’t lose the crop, but even the best efforts of both his brothers and himself will not be enough to prevent it from happening. Their everyday chores are more than enough work for them. The three boys pray that God would send them help. With every day, the weather gets hotter, causing the wheat to ripen sooner than anyone expected. The day suddenly comes when the wheat is ready to be harvested, but the boys simply are not ready for it.
The oldest son wakes early in the morning, realizing the urgency of the task—how today is just one day closer to the day they will lose the harvest. After dressing, eating, and beginning his morning chores, he hears a growing roar and rumbling in the distance. As he looks, he can hardly believe his eyes. Huge combines, one after another, make their way into the harvest fields. It is as if the whole world has come to harvest the crop! Neighboring farmers begin harvesting the wheat in the big northern field until they finish the one in the south. Side by side they move from field to field, leaving a path of the work they have finished behind them.
When the harvest is ready, we must be ready, or we’ll lose the whole crop.
As the oldest son watches them unload the golden wheat, he remembers his father and his own prayers for help with the harvest after his father’s death. Then he understands—he wasn’t alone. These people had work of their own, but they left their own fields to come and help his family. Together they did what no one could do on his own—they brought in an entire harvest in one day. The boys’ prayers had been answered! The harvest was finished—the fields were clean—and the wheat was saved!
Jesus uses agricultural language, including a white, wheat-ripened field to represent spiritual truths on various occasions. When sending out His disciples (Matt 9:37–38; Luke 10:2) and responding to His disciples’ curiosity when He did not eat food they had brought him (John 4:34–38), our Lord directs their eyes to a ripened, white harvest of weary people ready to believe in Him. Laborers would be necessary in order to reap the spiritual harvest, so Jesus directs His followers in Matthew 9:37–38 and Luke 10:2 to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send them. In John 4:34–38 He commands them to reap the spiritually ripened field in which others had labored. In light of these passages, consider the following reflections concerning our Lord’s commands and the spiritually ripened field comprised of unbelievers.
The Spiritually Ripened Field Awaits Reaping
Jesus describes the “field” of unbelievers as both “plentiful” (Matt 9:37–38; Luke 10:2) and “white” (John 4:34–38), indicating it is ripe and awaits reaping. In other words, Jesus tells His disciples that numerous unbelievers stand prepared to believe in Him and to repent of their sins. Although disciples who labor in a spiritually ripened field do not possess a guarantee to reap a harvest each time they work the field, they can be assured that 1) unbelievers across the globe are prepared to believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord right now and 2) their labors in the field sometimes prepare the crop for future ripening so that in due time others may be able reap it (cf., John 4:38). The work of the Spirit and the labors of past personal evangelists have resulted in today’s spiritually ripened field, and today’s evangelistic seed-casting cultivates a spiritually ripened field for the future. Although we must prepare for future evangelistic endeavors, we also must remember that people readily willing to believe in Jesus and to repent of their sins cannot do so apart from hearing the Gospel proclaimed (Rom 10:14).
The Spiritually Ripened Field Demands Urgency
Jesus’ description of the fields being “white for harvest” implies a demand for urgency. Even an agricultural novice understands that no particular field or crop remains ripened indefinitely. Christ’s depiction of a whitened harvest reminds an evangelistic harvester that any conversation or encounter he has with an unbeliever potentially could be that person’s last opportunity to respond to the Gospel call.
Laborers for the Lord of the harvest mustn’t assume spiritually ripened unbelievers are independently or automatically reaped into the Lord’s harvest. The notion that unbelievers obtain faith in Christ unconsciously is foreign to the Scriptures. In fact, immediately after Jesus identifies the fields as ready for reaping in John 4:35, John records, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony. … And many more believed because of his word” (John 4:39). Note that the Samaritans’ salvation did not occur solely on the basis that they were spiritually ripened. Rather, the overwhelming number of Samaritans who believed did so after hearing the testimony of the Samaritan woman and Jesus’ word, not automatically on the basis of their own meritorious receptivity.
Because of life’s brevity, numerous unbelievers have limited time remaining to believe the Gospel and repent of their sins. The spiritually ripened field will not be the same tomorrow as it is today. With every new day, evangelistic harvesters will observe certain field crops having been lost forever to death. Therefore, laborers for the Lord of the harvest must possess evangelistic urgency each hour of every day.
The Spiritually Ripened Field Receives Reapers through Prayer
In both Matthew 9:37–38 and Luke 10:2, Jesus instructs His disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest for laborers. In particular, Matthew precedes his account of this instruction by mentioning Jesus’ deep compassion for helpless and harassed people. Instead of prompting anxiety about the situation among His disciples, He prompts them to prayer. Jesus informs His disciples that prayer-prompted harvesters are necessary in order for the plenteous fields to be reaped.
Our Lord leaves the work of His evangelistic enterprise neither to coincidence nor to convenience. In addition, He does not promote a strategy of lobbying, begging, or shaming others into evangelistic enlistment. Entrusting the reaping of spiritually ripened fields neither to chance nor to campaigns, the Lord of the harvest commands His disciples to pray for the mass deployment of evangelistic laborers to reap His harvest.
The Spiritually Ripened Field Requires More Than Prayer
Responsibility for harvesting the spiritually ripened field belongs to the believers of Jesus. As previously mentioned, part of the responsibility believers assume is that of praying for the enlistment of harvest laborers. However, earnest intercession to the Lord of the harvest requires more than prayer alone. No one will ever pray for evangelistic laborers without also realizing his own urgent, evangelistic responsibility to join the endeavor.
One never needs to question whether a prayer to the Lord of the harvest for evangelistic laborers falls outside the rubric of God’s will. Likewise, one never needs to doubt whether the Lord of the harvest will answer such a prayer. Inevitably, the Holy Spirit prompts us to become answers to our own prayers in this regard.
In a different context perhaps you have heard someone remark, “Well, all we can do is pray.” Usually someone responds this way when the situation or circumstance appears so overwhelming that they feel powerless to act. However, if a believer prays for evangelistic harvesters to be sent into the spiritually ripened field, he should expect to testify soon thereafter, “Prayer for laborers to enter the spiritually ripened field has prompted me to do all I can do!”
The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions reminds most Southern Baptists of the global, spiritually ripened field when they are asked to give to it this month. In his book, Send the Light: Lottie Moon’s Letters and Other Writings, Dr. Keith Harper includes a letter Lottie Moon wrote on November 4, 1875 to the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention). In addition to the previous reflections concerning what the Scriptures teach about the spiritually ripened field, may we all consider and act upon Lottie Moon’s plea to Southern Baptists of her day about the spiritually ripened field requiring prayer-prompted harvesters:
The harvest is plenteous, the laborers are few. … What we find missionaries can do in the way of preaching the Gospel even in the immediate neighborhood of this city is but as the thousandth part of a drop in the bucket compared with what should be done. I do not pretend to aver [claim] that there is any spiritual interest among the people. They literally “sit in darkness & in the shadow of death.” The burden of our words to them is folly and sin of idol worship. We are but doing pioneer work, but breaking up the soil in which we believe others shall sow a bountiful crop. But, as in the natural soil, four or five laborers, cannot possibly cultivate a radius of twenty miles, so cannot we, a mission of five people, do more than make a beginning of what should be done. … But is there no way to arouse the churches on this subject? We missionaries find it in our hearts to say to them in all humility, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ; as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you, in Christ’s stead,” to remember the heathen. We implore you to send us help. Let not these heathen sink down into eternal death without one opportunity to hear that blessed Gospel which is to you the source of all joy & comfort.
Lottie Moon’s words are as true today as the day she wrote them 137 years ago. This year marks the 100th year of her death, and though she is dead, she still speaks. Shall we who remain be stirred to enter the global mission field? Shall we who remain sow Gospel seed where she and others have broken the soil? Shall we who remain reap the spiritually ripened crop? The Lord of the Harvest awaits our urgent prayers for laborers, and He awaits our urgent, evangelistic labors.