There is a discourse of Jesus that takes a rather surprising twist.
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them,
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”
Luke 10 :1-2 NIVUK
The last three sentences of this are very unexpected.
From Jesus’ statement about the abundance of the harvest and the lack of workers, the last line would very naturally follow on, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”
But, surprisingly, these two lines are separated by a rather incongruous and unexpected exhortation to prayer. Indeed, if this line about prayer was missing and we had to complete Jesus’ words, I doubt that any of us would complete it in the way that Jesus does.
Perhaps the most logical follow-on would be something along the lines of; “The harvest is plentiful and the workers and few, so everybody get out there and get harvesting!”
So why this interjection about prayer, what is Jesus telling us by including this unexpected phrase?
1 Whose harvest it is.
The harvest belongs only to God. Human beings should not presume to try and take the initiative and control how the harvest is gathered, nor who gathers it. This is God’s harvest; we need to follow His leading and guiding.
2 Those gathered, are gathered by grace.
Harvesting souls into the Kingdom of God is a divine act and one that is dependent upon miracles of grace every step of the way. Those who turn to Christ need a miracle of grace in their hearts and minds; grace to enable them to perceive the spiritual truth about themselves and about Jesus and grace to enable them to receive that revelation and to respond in saving faith.
3 Those who gather, gather by grace.
Not only are those who are to be brought into the harvest totally dependent upon grace, so are those who gather the harvest.
Every messenger of the gospel, every gatherer of the harvest, is likewise a miracle of grace. No one involves themselves in the work of God, other than God moves in them by His Spirit. No messengers send themselves out, rather they are sent out through a divine stirring, calling, commissioning and sending out by God.
4 The gathering is dependent upon grace.
The gathering of the harvest is also totally dependent upon grace. Those who are sent out need to be indwelt by the Spirit of God, who will then call and motivate and drive them to mission, who will enable them to proclaim the good news about Jesus, and who will anoint their proclamation with evangelistic power for the transformation of lives.
Mission is therefore completely different to every other human endeavour. In most human activity effort, technique, skill, hard work, and good methodology will more or less guarantee you positive results – not so with mission.
In mission nothing we can do has any efficacy in and of itself. A positive outcome in mission activity is entirely dependent upon God, in His grace, sending forth His Spirit; something we can neither predict nor control.
In this passage Jesus is therefore telling us something very profound and surprising about the nature of mission. Jesus reveals that mission is a mystical, mysterious activity. An activity in which God invites us to participate – and we do so in a meaningful way – and yet there is a degree to which we participate in a rather clueless, befuddled and uncomprehending fashion.
This reminds me of an experience I had at school.
At school I really struggled with maths and I remember learning about quadratic equations. I didn’t understand the concept. However I did manage to work out that if I had a string of numbers and letters in a certain format, and I carried out certain manipulations on them, then that would enable me to get a string of numbers and letters in a different format, which would be the correct answer. But I had absolutely no idea of what I was actually doing, or what it meant!
It was only when I got to university and studied maths as part of an engineering degree that I finally understood what those strings of letters and numbers meant and what the manipulations were doing and what the answer signified.
Our involvement in mission is rather like my schoolboy maths. Most of the time we have little comprehension about what we are involved in, what might be happening, or how God is working through us.
There is deep mystery built into the heart of mission and we are required to embrace it. The Lord of the harvest works as He wills and our involvement is merely to pray for the workers to be sent out, and to hold ourselves available and obedient to His call when it comes to us.
We just obey – God does the clever stuff.