“Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.’”
— Matthew 9:37–38 (NASB)
One of the most palpable differences between church during the first and last halves of my life is that it has been a long time since I have met Christians on fire to share their faith and win others to Christ. If you’ve only been a Christian during the past 20 or so years you probably don’t realize that at the same time America’s space program reached its apex by placing a man on the moon, Christianity in the Western world was experiencing evangelistic growth which looks almost surreal in hindsight. Why are things so different now? Is the harvest over or are we simply no longer sending out workers?
“‘Furthermore, I withheld the rain from you
While there were still three months until harvest.
Then I would send rain on one city
And on another city I would not send rain;
One part would be rained on,
While the part not rained on would dry up.’”
— Amos 4:7 (NASB)
Throughout Scripture the giving or withholding of rain is the spiritual equivalent of the outpouring or withholding of the Holy Spirit. Just as a literal harvest does not come about without rain, neither does a spiritual harvest. This often mirrors God’s judgment, that a physical famine reflects His displeasure with the spiritual famine that it mimics. Although there may be little evidence of a harvest in the Western part of the world, tremendous outpourings of the Holy Spirit are presently at work in places like China, Indonesia, and so forth. If we acknowledge that the harvest is sparse, we must also recognize the greater spiritual reasons why.
There is, however, another aspect to the biblical teaching of harvests which we must also be cognizant of for our times.
“And He was saying, ‘The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’”
— Mark 4:26–29 (NASB)
This is a very interesting phrase, “when the crop permits”. The implication is that when it comes to the Return of Christ, we are not actually waiting for Him, but that He is actually waiting for us to reach a spiritual limit “when the crop permits”. We see this in Revelation 14 when angelic reapers harvest the earth.
“And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.’”
— Revelation 14:15 (NASB)
In other words, part of the reason we wonder about the condition of the harvest from our earthly point of view most certainly reflects a spiritual condition where repentance of sin and a return to the Word and ways of God we already know is needed much more desperately than generic evangelism. Another significant part of it may actually be a testimony that we are living in the Last Days and that the ultimate harvest is not as distant as we might otherwise think. †††