Huge Harvest

“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

Matthew 9:37

Almost twenty years ago, in 2005, I received my call to ministry. I was in India, looking out at a landscape of green fields with the occasional Asian Water Buffalo grazing amidst the grass, and then I thought of the billions of people in India who did not know Christ. In that moment, I was struck in the heart with the verse: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” This was the closest I had ever come to hearing the voice of God audibly. It was not audible, but the calling was clear: “Sungwon, I want you to go to seminary to be trained for gospel ministry.” Twenty years later, after four years at Fuller Seminary, four years at the Master’s Seminary, and eighteen years of pastoral ministry, this verse has been beckoning to me again.

The harvest is plentiful. A more modern rendition say, “The harvest is huge!” What is the harvest? The harvest is a figurative way of describing people who are ready to come to Christ and be saved.

Now here’s the thing. “Do you believe the harvest is huge?”Do you believe that there are droves of people who are ready to repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?” Or is it the reverse? Do you believe that hardly anyone wants to come to Christ?

I began ministry with the conviction that the billions in India needed to hear this gospel and so I enrolled in seminary to become a missionary. But if I were to be honest, for some reason, the harvest doesn’t seem so huge to me any more. Perhaps, its eighteen years of pastoral ministry just doing my best to care for my own little flock. Perhaps, it is also eighteen years of marriage and three kids that has divided my interests (1Cor 7:33-34). Whatever it is, I have to confront the fact that I do not really believe the Lord’s statement: the harvest is plentiful. And the harvest is so plentiful, there are not enough laborers, gospel workers, gospel messengers to bring the harvest in.

You know what the real issue is? Jesus makes it clear in the very next verse. What is Jesus’ solution to this problem? Naturally, we would think, if there are not enough laborers for this huge harvest, then we better get to work and we better start recruiting. But no. The first prescription that Jesus gives for this problem is prayer. “Therefore pray earnestly.” The word translated “pray earnestly” can also be translated as “beg.” It means to cry out in desperation. This is the first and only appropriate response to the situation. We need to pray in desperation to God.

But why? Because only the Lord is the Lord of the harvest. This reveals our harvest problem is primarily a theology problem. Why don’t we believe the harvest is huge? It is because we don’t really believe the Lord is Lord. We don’t really believe the Lord is the Lord of the harvest. That is, he is sovereignly in control of every aspect of the harvest from the workers, to the planting of seeds, the watering, and the reaping. This is why prayer is the first and only appropriate response to the situation. If the Lord is really the Lord of the harvest, then we need to ask him to fix the harvesting issue.

There is a passage parallel to this one that sheds more light in what sense the Lord is Lord of the harvest. It’s found in Luke’s Gospel. The image shifts from harvesting to fishing, but it is the same Lord.

“On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.”

Luke 5:1–11

This is the call of Simon Peter to Gospel ministry. He has been fishing all night, and he’s done, but hen comes Jesus who tells him to put his nets back in the water. You can understand Peter’s response, and you can even hear the tone in his voice. I hear Peter answering with a mixture of tiredness, annoyance, and just a pinch of forced respect: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” A crowd was also watching this interaction, and so Peter’s hand was pretty much forced. Reluctantly, and exhausted, he does what Jesus says.

I can relate. I’ve been in the ministry for almost twenty years. And in terms of bringing souls to Christ, I wouldn’t say that I’ve taken nothing. However, it is far from the huge harvest that Jesus speaks of. And there is a part of me that resonates with Peter, “Lord, please just give me a break!” I’ve toiled for years, now it’s time to rest. But then the panic attack happened. And then the Lord brought back the original conviction, “The harvest is plentiful.” And so I planted a church.

So Peter hesitantly obeys the Lord in whatever manner we might imagine. And what happens? He takes in a catch that is so large it is fair to call it huge. He signals his partners to bring another boat to help. There are so many fish the nets are tearing. In fact, there are so many fish both of the boats begin to sink.

Why were there so many fish in this catch? Peter had toiled all night and caught nothing. Now in this instant, he has probably caught more fish than he ever has in a lifetime. What was the difference? In the first case, he cast his nets in his own strength and wisdom. In the second case, all he was doing was obeying the Lord. Why were there so many fish in this catch? The simple answer is Jesus.

Peter understands this right away. At first, his heart probably raced with excitement and joy at the sight of so many fish. In most circumstances, he would have continuing reeling all of the fish in and finished the job. But in this moment, it seems that he stops working and realizes that there is something in his presence far more important now than fish. He falls down before Jesus and repents, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord.” Peter made the connection. This catch was no stroke of luck. It obviously wasn’t due to his skill. It was all because of the one he now calls Lord.

This is how the Lord is Lord of the harvest. He commands the laborers and they obey. But he also commands the harvest itself. While we may plant gospel seeds, or water, God gives the growth (1Cor 3:7). And that means if the Lord says the harvest is huge, then…the harvest is huge. And that means, that like Peter, we need to repent of our lack of faith which is sinfulness.

In all honesty, if I were to expose my heart, I think my expectation for this church plant was for it to become just another small but comfortable Asian American church. Instead, my focus needs to be on the huge harvest that is not only the city of Los Angeles, but the world. My focus needs to be such that I am not enough, because the harvest is too huge. Ethos Communion Church is not enough. We need more churches. We need more gospel laborers, because there is a harvest of not yet believers that is huge.

And so what must be done? The first and only response is to pray. What are we to pray?

  • 1) We are to repent for our sinful lack of faith. We are to repent because we have expected too little of the Lord. We have not seen him as he truly is, the Lord of Salvation who can save even the most hardened of sinners. We have not expected him to use us as his instruments to bring many to salvation. Instead, we have complained that we are tired, and only because we have been “ministering” in our own strength according to our own plans instead of seeking the Lord’s will and strength. So we need to repent for our lack of faith and for ministering in our own strength.
  • 2) We are to thank God that he is a good and merciful Lord. He comes to us and says, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” He could have said, “Peter, you’re right you are a sinful man and you are totally unqualified to help me.” Instead, he gently accepts him. In fact, this is exactly the type of person he wants to use. I find it encouraging that pretty much all the great servants of God in the bible began their ministry with a sense of unworthiness. God chooses to use broken instruments. Why? So all of the glory goes to him, of course. And so we need to thank God, and continually pray, “nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”
  • 3) We need to pray exactly as the Lord commands, praying earnestly for the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest. We don’t need to recruit people. That is the Lord’s job. Our job, is to pray, “Lord send more laborers!” And when we pray this, we are not simply praying for our own church. We are praying for the harvest. The harvest covers the entire city, the entire nation, the entire world. And so we pray for more believers to share the gospel. And we pray for more churches. And more church planters and missionaries. We pray for obedient servants of God who simply do whatever the Lord calls them to do, so that in the end, it is clear, all the glory belongs to Christ.

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  1. […] First, we need to know who is the Lord of the harvest (Matthew 9:37-38). That is, we need to know the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation, from beginning to end. We plant seeds, and water, but it is God who causes the growth (1Cor3). We must have this humbled understanding that we are merely instruments in the Redeemer’s hands. We can do nothing apart from Christ that will bear fruit. And so, it is vital that we remain abiding in Christ (John15). We simply make ourselves available to be used by him, going wherever he calls. And also praying, always prayerful, that the Lord would raise up and send out more and more gospel workers. See Huge Harvest. […]

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