The Harvest

Recently I had a conversation after church with an Oklahoma wheat farmer and his wife. Their crop was a total failure this year. Weather conditions did not cooperate, and their crops of wheat and canola did not survive the spring snow and ice that has plagued the country, during this prolonged winter. What has inconvenienced most of us, was a disaster for them.

There they were. Both of them, in church, singing and praising God, in spite of this major setback. She said of her husband, "He has more faith than anyone I have ever known."

Some times preachers talk about taking our faith to the streets. They challenge people to be the church, not just come to church. Farmers take their faith to the fields, and pour it into the ground. They are often disappointed with the results, but they are seldom discouraged enough to quit.

I have always thought that farmers were the poster boys of faith. Dry land wheat farmers are a special breed. Year after year they place their trust in an uncertain future that can swiftly be derailed by too much sun, too little rain, unexpected hail, relentless insects, and fluctuating market prices.

Still, their passion for the harvest keeps them coming back year after year to the same piece of land, and the same process. Their diligence and dedication feed a nation and fuel the lives of people they will never meet. Their day begins before it is light. Their hours are long, and the rewards are meager, but they keep at it, regardless of the cost. That's why they call it the "heartland."

Jesus said, "The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask Him to send more workers into his fields." Matthew 9:37 NLT

I am learning a little more each day about the harvest that is taking place around the world. Chinese Christians are growing at a rapid rate, and the Cambodian church has shown remarkable resurgence, in the aftermath of "the killing fields" of the Khmer Rouge. The church is often made stronger by the opposition of the government, and the persecution of believers. The American church would do well to learn this lesson from the prayer book of the persecuted church.

The time has come for comfortable Christians to put on their big boy pants. They look a lot like over-hauls. Inventor, Thomas Edison is often quoted as having said, “We often miss opportunity because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work." With the current explosion of fact checkers aided by Google search, there is some doubt if he did say it, but it is no less true.

Note to self: There will come a day when we have so many fact checkers searching for truth that it will be proven that no one ever really said anything...ever. But I digress.

In Luke 11, Jesus revealed the passion of answered prayer in a parable on "importunity."

"I say to you, though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him..Ask and it shall be given to you." Luke 11:8-9

For the Christian, and the churches they plant, the issue is not opportunity, but IMPORTUNITY. Importunity describes the capacity of a ship to be sailed into the wind, against incredible odds, and to arrive safely at one's destination. The dilemma requires and reveals a spirit of persistence and a desperation in a sailor that drives him to overcome all odds in order to arrive at his port. To do less would mean certain death for his crew, and loss of his cargo. There is too much at stake to go with the flow, or be blown off course. The opportunity is the storm, and it calls for importunity.

E.M. Bounds put it this way, 100 years ago.

"The tenor of Christ's teachings, is to declare that men are to pray earnestly -- to pray with an earnestness that cannot be denied. Heaven has harkening ears only for the whole-hearted, and the deeply-earnest. Energy, courage, and persistent perseverance must back the prayers which heaven respects, and God hears.

All these qualities of soul, so essential to effectual praying, are brought out in the parable of the man who went to his friend for bread, at midnight. This man entered on his errand with confidence. Friendship promised him success. His plea was pressing: of a truth, he could not go back empty-handed. The flat refusal chagrined and surprised him. Here even friendship failed!

But there was something to be tried yet -- stern resolution, set, fixed determination. He would stay and press his demand until the door was opened, and the request granted. This he proceeded to do, and by dint of importunity secured what ordinary solicitation had failed to obtain."

There is growing evidence that the harvest is plentiful all around the world. The lack of it in America may be a revelation of the lack of effort in the arena of prayer. Blessed by a legacy of liberty and legal protections that have enabled the church to exist without resistance, it has resulted in congregations that have diminished in power and passion for the harvest. Pray for a new generation of leaders who will seize this opportunity for importunity.