“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Luke 10:2
I have spent most of my life being surrounded by laborers. Farm laborers, factory laborers, ship yard laborers, and landscape laborers just to name a few. I have visited other countries where this is also true – on any given morning on any given street the hustle and bustle everywhere was of laborers who did everything from laundry to construction, and some simply walked along the roads each day and picked up trash. I have seen trains in big cities packed to the seeming breaking point of laborers shuffling from home to job and back again. Every day, no matter what else in life is swirling about, people working for others do just that – they get up, go out, and they work hard – for someone else.
People who are motivated know how to work. The term “laborers” carries with it the understanding of hard, physical exertion. Jesus was not talking about tourists, or onlookers. He wasn’t referring to passers-by, or those whose station in life has made it so that they have others do their work for them.
No, Jesus was talking about the grit and grime of exhausting, sweat-producing, ongoing work.
So who are these laborers? Who is Jesus referring to?
In one sense surely Jesus was talking about the disciples who would start his church. The world was ripe for a huge harvest and after his work was done, the harvest began. But in another very real sense there is another group of workers who must sit up and listen as we heed Jesus’ words. For in the same way that he was speaking to his disciples (and also to us) when he said, “go, therefore, into all the world and make disciples…” he was speaking to the same future disciples when he spoke the words of Luke 10:2.
We are those workers! We are the ones who are to live giving our lives and energy and devotion to the sweet and rewarding task he has called us to. Isn’t it wonderful to know that you have been hand-picked by the maker of the universe to be in his service?
But let me ask you something that might make you wince a little….
When was the last time you broke a sweat for the Gospel? When was the last time you fell into bed exhausted from your efforts to woo people to the warmth and peace of the Love of Christ? When was the last time you labored to see another soul brought to Christ? When was the last time you were working so hard at this that you thought you couldn’t go on?
(I’m asking myself these questions, too.)
I wrote once about the joy I found in cleaning a particularly filthy bathroom because I realized I was doing it for the Lord. That has remained a powerful lesson in my life. It doesn’t matter what God asks me to do, I’m happiest doing that, knowing Who it is that I am really serving, than I am doing anything else! There is great joy – giddy, delightful, soul-rejuvenating joy – when we know that our work is for the Lord of the Harvest!
Work is hard, but work is good. Sometimes I have to remind my kids that work was not part of the curse when sin entered the world. God gave Adam work to do before Eve came along! Work is our mission. Work is sweet and rewarding. We were made for work!
Toil is what came about as part of the curse. Toil is that relentless, exhausting, fruitless struggle that brings about no product for all our effort and barely keeps us from losing ground. Toil is part of our existence right now, but work is, too.
Being a laborer in Christ’s harvest is magnificent work. If you’re finding that you are lacking joy in your mission, let me lovingly suggest that you might be toiling for the wrong harvest, because Jesus promises that his burden is easy and his yoke is light.