“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38 NIV
We need direction.
Whether we are trying to reach our community with the Gospel, lead an international ministry, plant a new church or bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, we need direction. Lord, what would you have us do?
Jesus’ words in Matthew 9 are a perfect example of setting forth a vision for the harvest. Jesus is giving his disciples a direction—both to pray and to act. This is exactly what a vision is supposed to be: a compelling picture of the future to which he is calling them and us.
Moreover, it is a Kingdom vision: a compelling picture of a future harvest that is “plentiful” and hints at the great multitude that no one can count from every family, language, tribe and nation that will come to Christ (see Rev. 7:9). To quote Dallas Willard, this is a vision of the Kingdom of God—"the range of God’s effective will, where what God wants done IS done.”
These words of Jesus on vision are from a short passage on mission which we find in the Gospel of Matthew at chapter 9:35-10:8. As we look at this passage, we can see some steps that Jesus modeled for us in receiving and developing a Kingdom vision:
- Get involved in Jesus’ kingdom ministry: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness.” (Matt. 9:35 NIV)
No matter where we serve, we need to be about the same ministry as Jesus. Jesus’ opened the word of God (the Holy Scriptures) as he taught in the synagogues so that people could understand it and apply it to their lives with up to the minute relevance. We must do the same. Jesus preached “Good news” to the people about the Kingdom—that there is grace and forgiveness and eternal life for those who will receive it on Jesus’ terms, under his blood on the Cross for our sins. We should proclaim that same good news to everyone, everywhere and at all times. Jesus healed every disease and sickness. We too should look for every opportunity to pray with people who need healing of any kind. We should ask people if we can pray for them not in some indefinite time in the future, but right now—on the phone, in the office, over coffee—wherever. Jesus taught us to do this: to follow him and get involved in this ministry because he knew that it would lead us to the next step.
- Open your eyes as Jesus did: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36 NIV)
Jesus was among the people and watching them. How about you and me? My mother taught me when she took us for ice cream to sit and “watch the people.” As a godly mother, she was trying to teach me what Jesus did—to slow down and pay attention to someone other than myself! In our American Anglican Council (AAC) Clergy Leadership Training Institutes and Rectors’ Summits we have been reminded of what it means to live and minister “at God’s Speed” rather than at such a hectic pace that we only see ourselves as the “harassed and helpless.” A great motivation for mission is seeing people as Jesus sees them: stressed out and under pressure, exhausted by the pace of life, being led astray by a multitude of false ideologies and the broken promises that follow them. When we slow down enough to really see, that’s when we are ready to take the next step.
- Allow God to burden you with a specific need: “Jesus had compassion [Esplanchnisthe] on them…”
Esplanchnisthe means Jesus was “moved in his guts.” He was stirred deep down inside. Several years ago I was introduced to Courtside Ministries, which provides prayer, counseling and referral to people who are going to court. It was started by a Christian attorney named J. Tyler Makepeace (what a wonderful name!) who has since gone on to be with the LORD. Mr. Makepeace, a Christian, noticed the crowds of broken people going up and down the courtroom steps as he was on his way to and from his own appearances in court on behalf of his clients. Like Jesus, he walked slow enough to watch the crowds and see how harassed and helpless they were. So he gathered a group of attorneys and others to be at the steps of the courthouse, to stop people on their way in and out, and to offer prayer personally and on the spot. Prayer led to counseling, and counseling led to referrals of all kinds. When I checked back into their website today I found that they have prayed for more than 300,000 people, referred more than 25,000 to local churches and faith based human services including food banks, shelters, job training, legal aid and counseling services. “We believe that ministry must be holistic, meeting the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of every person with whom we have contact. We have prayed with 16,807 people to commit their life to Christ.”
Who says God can’t work through attorneys? (just kidding!)
This is not a prepackaged formula or program. It doesn’t depend on our planning and execution. It doesn’t cost anything—except the sacrifice of our own plans and competencies for the priority of focusing on Jesus Christ himself. This process could take a matter of seconds or a matter of years. The only thing that is not a variable is our commitment to focus on Jesus Christ—his ministry, his eyes, his heart, his voice, his diagnosis, his direction, his authority.
Next week I will share about waiting on Jesus for his diagnosis, his call and his authority to fulfill his vision.
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President & CEO of the American Anglican Council.