Are you a harvester – or a consumer? Before you answer the question, we need to look at what God is doing in our world today.
The Spirit of the Lord is indeed at work in our world – a world that is desperately in need of God. Whether it is in a city in China, a village in Africa, or a mountain community in Lima, people are coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Communities are being transformed by the grace of God. God is at work. The results can be seen wherever God’s people realise what God is doing and offer themselves wholeheartedly to work with Him.
Jesus invited His disciples to see the world in a radically different way: “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (Jn. 4:35). When He said this, Jesus had just demonstrated how to harvest the field. He had spoken to the Samaritan woman who, as a result, came to faith in Him. Following her immediate testimony in her town, many of her fellow townsfolk crossed the line to stand with her in expressing faith in Jesus. Who would have thought a town full of Samaritans would find favour with God and that they would believe in an itinerant Jewish teacher?
But it happened! God is indeed a God of surprises and continues to provide a harvest where nothing much is expected. Is not God able to create pools out of hard, dry desert rock? (Ps. 114:7-8). Was not the cross of Christ, a stumbling block to the Jews and a scandal or foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:22-25), also the very religious symbol that turned the ancient world upside down? (Acts 17:6) Was it not God who brought about explosive growth in the Church in China when everyone least expected it – after missionaries were expelled from China, and the struggling and lonely church there went through great difficulties?
God often sees what we cannot see. He is the Lord of the harvest and He brings about redemption and transformation of human life in the most unlikely places. The key is whether we are in step with the Lord of the harvest. There are a few principles we can learn from Christ Himself in this account in John’s Gospel.
Firstly, the harvest is accomplished through individual personal relationships. Jesus engaged in a redemptive conversation with the Samaritan woman and led her to eternal life. The disciples proved that they were just spiritual novices and had a long way to go before they played an active role in the harvest. When they went into the town to find food, leaving Jesus at the well, they must have passed the woman who was on her way to the well (Jn. 4:7-8). Truth be told, they probably ignored her. After all, she was just another of those Samaritan women. They were too busy in their mission to find food that they failed to participate in the harvest. They did not realize that here was a woman who was in need of the Messiah, that she needed to have her soul-thirst quenched with the life-giving water of the Gospel. She needed to become a true worshipper of God, but all they were thinking about was lunch.
Secondly, the personal relationships through which the harvest is done are to be rich in word and deed. In other words, sowing must be done, through word and deed. When there is no word, harvesting is difficult or impossible. Often an apt word that is spoken at the right time is used by the Holy Spirit as spiritual seed that eventually bears fruit.
John Wesley (1703-1791) was returning home from a service one night. On the way he was robbed. The thief found that Wesley had only a little money and some Christian literature. As the disappointed thief was leaving, Wesley called out, “Stop! I have something more to give you.” The surprised robber paused. “My friend,” said Wesley, “you may live to regret this sort of life. If you ever do, here’s something to remember: ‘The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin!’” The thief left in a hurry, and Wesley prayed that his words might bear fruit. Years later, Wesley was greeting people after a Sunday service when a stranger approached him. To his pleasant surprise he learned that this visitor, now a believer in Christ and a successful businessman, was the one who had robbed him years before! “I owe it all to you,” said the transformed man. “Oh no, my friend,” Wesley exclaimed, “not to me, but to the precious blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin!” Indeed, our words can fall like seed in the hearts of people.
Deeds are also an important aspect of the seed that is sown. That Jesus, a Jew, a man, and the sinless Messiah spoke to the sinful Samaritan woman was a significant act. Jesus had built bridges across several barriers to bring redemption to her. The woman must have been touched by His kind and radical act. It certainly left a lasting impression. In God’s kingdom, godly and compassionate acts, no matter how small, can have greatly significant implications (Mt. 25).
Words and deeds become seed when they are experienced in relationships. Relationships are the key to harvesting. If the harvest is to take place, more people need to come forward to develop relationships that lead to a spiritual harvest.
Thirdly, harvesting is the result of team effort. Jesus spoke of the sower and the reaper, both at work (Jn. 4:36-38). In the same way, Paul wrote about those who plant the seed and those who water it (1 Cor. 3:6-9). It takes a team (harvest force, if you like) to make the harvest possible. In the story in Jn. 4, sadly the disciples were hardly team players. They missed the opportunity of telling the woman about Jesus and bringing her to him. They also missed the opportunity to plant the seed in the hearts of the people of the town when they went there to find food. No sowing was done. How then can there be a harvest?
We find Jesus having to work alone. In the case of the woman, He did both the sowing and the harvesting. But then, in the case of the town’s people, the newly converted woman joined her Master in the work of harvesting. She went into the town to sow the seed through her words of testimony (Jn. 4:28-30). Later there was a great harvest in the town because of the words of Jesus (Jn. 4:40). Interestingly, the woman proved to be a better evangelist and disciple than the disciples themselves. She actually participated in the harvest.
Fourthly, harvesting calls for single-minded passion. When the disciples returned with food from the town, they urged Jesus to eat something. But he pointed them to a different hunger – soul hunger, and soul food; “I have food to eat that you know nothing about…My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.” (Jn. 4:31-34). This is the passion that is required of us if we want to participate in the harvest – to obey God and to complete the task He has entrusted to us. The disciples were too distracted about food and material comforts to join Jesus in His harvesting mission. They were like many modern consumers who only think about their own comfort, security, and prosperity and miss out participating in the great harvest.
What about you, dear reader? God is at work in the fields that are ripe for harvest. Some of these are in the places in which MMS is working. Jesus is looking for people who are willing to personally sow the seed through word and deed, be part of harvest teams that will work with Him, and who have an undivided heart that seeks to obey Him and please Him (Ezek. 11:19).
So, are you a faithful harvester or a distracted consumer?