Our preacher told us how in one meeting 10,000 people accepted God’s offer of forgiveness. Send me to the masses, Lord. I was tired of one-on-one evangelism. However, instead of going overseas my wife and I pioneered a church in Las Vegas.
We drew crowds; we didn’t build a congregation. I thought of our effort as unsuccessful—a short bumpy flight with a rough landing—like that of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk.
In fact, on December 17, 1903, the brothers each flew twice. At 10:35 Orville became airborne. He covered 120 feet at an airspeed of 34 mph. Wilbur managed 852 feet in 59 seconds. The 27-mph winds were uncomfortable but the flights made history. In Wilbur’s words, “It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.”
I felt I lacked skill. I didn’t recognize my neighbors’ needs. I felt I’d prayed with too few people. What am I doing wrong? Why don’t people respond? Sometimes we think we have to go out of the country or out of our way to evangelize.
The Problem with the Harvest
We don’t always see the harvest. Neither did Jesus’ disciples. We know the story. They went to town. He talked with a woman at a well. A village responded to the gospel. The disciples were puzzled. We’re often perplexed.
We sow the seed, which is always good. We wait. We pray. We wait. We grow impatient. We forget that one person witnesses, another person cultivates the seed that’s been planted, someone prays. Still another person invites the same unbeliever to dinner or church or an outreach event. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7, Holman Christian Standard Bible). We don’t understand how or why anyone responds to the Holy Spirit’s tug. Some do, some don’t. But evangelism isn’t about us. It’s about the harvest. The urgency lies in that we don’t know when someone’s heart is ripe.
Too often I did what God asked. I witnessed—so that people would respond to me. When that didn’t happen, I did what I had to do rather than what God wanted me to do. My labor became less loving. I pressed people to pray. Some did, many didn’t. I became tired.
“And don’t allow yourselves to be weary or disheartened in planting good seeds, for the season of reaping the wonderful harvest you’ve planted is coming” (Galatians 6:9, The Passion Translation)! It’s easy to become discouraged. We need to remember that the results are up to God. But often we don’t see what God sees. When we don’t, we’re tempted to not be concerned.
Indifference can dull the blade. We tend to see the worst in others and become insensitive. We lose track of time and forget that we live in the last days. “We don’t know how much time is left before Christ’s return,” says eschatology researcher Tom Frank. “We should love others like his arrival is right around the corner.”
We never know when a heartbeat will stop or someone will take their last breath. “Everyone has to die once, then face the consequences” (Hebrews 9:27, The Message). But we have no idea when that moment may come for anyone else or ourselves.
“On Sunday night, October 8, 1871, evangelist D. L. Moody preached to the largest congregation he had yet addressed in Chicago.” Moody posed a question from Matthew 27:22. “What shall we do with Jesus?” He asked his audience to ponder the question and return the following week prepared to give their answers. Before dawn much of Chicago smoldered in ruins. After the Great Chicago Fire, Moody said he never again saw anyone he knew from that night.
God knows when and where the harvest is ready. Our task is to act now, not wait. The urgency is that we don’t know if there will be another opportunity.
You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripefor harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike! You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest (John 4:37, 38).
How We Must Act
“Do what you can with what you have where you are,” President Teddy Roosevelt said. But how, to whom, and when can we know what to say? “But in your hearts set Christ apart as holy [and acknowledge Him] as Lord. Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully” (1 Peter 3:15, Amplified Bible). God will help us. Our actions and words can change the atmosphere wherever we are.
We need not be missionaries in a foreign land in order to influence others for Christ. Simple acts of kindness can make an impact not only on those we help but on those watching and listening. We can begin by doing what we learned in elementary school: Stop, look, and listen.
We ought to pause long enough from our hectic schedules and frantic pace to notice those around us. When we do, we’re more likely to see the needs of others. The elderly woman struggling to load her groceries in her car. The young mother chasing restless children. The tired man who dropped his keys, then his cell phone. Jesus seized the opportunity to ask a Samaritan woman for a drink of water. She told others what happened. People wanted to know more. Jesus stayed for two days.
The Difference One Makes
Orville and Wilbur Wright gave the world heavier-than-air, fixed-wing powered flight. That led to production of planes that gave the Allies control of the skies. Air superiority affected the outcome of the Great War. But the brothers’ sense of urgency came from outside themselves. “What is often overlooked is the fact that the Wright brothers were the sons of Milton Wright, bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.”
Milton Wright may not have known the outcome of his actions anymore than we do. Nevertheless, every day every person is important. Lives hang in the balance and God uses us to tip the scales.
When I failed to build the church I started, we landed in a nearby congregation. I often walked through the empty sanctuary and prayed. “Father, you know who belongs here. Bring them.” He did—20 years later. Today that church numbers more than 5,000.
God uses us to sow, water, and reap—sometimes in fields where others labored, often when we won’t see the outcome. The harvest field is ready wherever we are—today.
Jeff Adams has contributed to 20 books and is the author of Encouraging Words: Rebuilding Your Dreams. He and his wife, Rosemary, live in Arizona where they’ve served their church for 38 years. Links to Jeff’s work can be found at https://www.facebook.com/Jeff-Adams-252242988916456/.