published in the 2006 version of Frontlines Magazine.
God's desire for the whole world is expressed clearly in I Timothy 2:3,4 where we read, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” Paul writes in I Corinthians 15:34 that it is to the “shame” of believers that there were those living “who have not the knowledge of God.” This all indicates God's need and desire for believers to go forth sharing the Gospel of the grace of God. This is further emphasized by our Lord in Luke 10:2 where He calls our attention to the great harvest and commands us to pray. “Therefore said He unto them, ‘The harvest is truly great, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth labourers into His harvest.'”
Jesus bases prayer for laborers on two clear facts. One is the truly great harvest. The harvest was great in Jesus' day. It is even greater today. There are millions more people living today than when Jesus was on earth. The population is increasing at an alarming rate. There are hundreds more languages spoken today than when Jesus was on earth. Conservative estimates indicate at least 2,000 spoken languages with no part of God's Word in them. Likewise, false religions are on the increase adding greater confusion to the lost masses of people. Approximately 175,000 people die with each passing day, most of whom have never once heard the “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10).
I remember standing at the gate of the ferry operating between Kowloon and Hong Kong and watching the people pass by. Masses crowded by hour after hour, and one wondered where they all came from. All kinds of people: sad, poor, burdened, sickly, and worst of all, LOST because they are without Christ and without hope.
Likewise, I remember being in the Tokyo railway station among unbelievable crowds of people moving from their homes to work and back again. It seemed like a mad rush to eternity. So it was, for these masses of people are as sheep without a shepherd.
In a little different way I have been in remote primitive Indian villages and have seen people in their filth, poverty and disease who were bound by fear of witch doctors, evil spirits, and death. Not the great masses as in Hong Kong and Tokyo but isolated, neglected and lost. The harvest truly is great.
The Laborers Are Few
The second fact Jesus referred to was that “the laborers are few.” Most United States denominations complain of a lack of pastors for their churches. Most pastors complain of a lack of workers for the many jobs in local church functions. Sunday school teachers, deacons, elders, youth workers, and visitation workers, with a heart for the work seem to be very scarce. Many a pastor feels he is pretty much alone in the battle for the Lord. Many church organizations that were evangelical a few years ago are either modernistic or on the road to it today, so that from many pulpits another gospel is sounding forth.
Years ago I worked in some of the more neglected areas of the United States. There are areas with fewer laborers than others. If we were to compare the laborers we have in the United States with what we could and should have, it would look very bad. But, if we compare the laborers there are in the United States with those in other parts of the world then we must conclude that we are rich in workers and there is great abundance of Gospel ministry. If there is a labor shortage in the United States, how much more there is a shortage in other parts of the world. In the United States there are many who don't hear the gospel because they choose not to hear. In many places there are millions who can't hear and this is by no choice of their own. Truly the laborers are few.
There is no doubt that the Lord's desire is that there will be laborers right out in His harvest to reap and save the harvest. God does not want people to perish. God wants all to come to repentance. God is unwilling that any should be lost. It is God's will for all to come to knowledge of the truth. Laborers are essential since God has chosen to do His saving work through the instrumentality of you and me, who are His people. Satan is opposed to workers going forth; and there are many problems to overcome before laborers get out into His harvest.
I Am Willing
Willingness to go and acknowledging God's call and leading are necessary, since God does not kidnap nor move His children by force. God could move us that way, but He hasn't chosen to do so except in a few isolated cases. God working in us both to will and to do is His declared method of sending workers. No person goes anywhere for God until he comes to the place where he says, “I will” to God and His will. Through the years, many thousands of Christians have answered missionary appeals. They have acknowledged publicly that God was calling them and openly dedicated their lives to missionary service. Where are these thousands that expressed willingness and volunteered their lives for service? I don't know where they are. I do know where they aren't. Except for a very meager few, they aren't in the tribes of South America, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines and other places of great need.
Some time ago I came across some statistics that have stuck with me. I presume they are still fairly accurate, at least, as accurate as this kind of statistic can be. These statistics stated that out of a hundred folks who volunteered, only 12 took a further step in training for God's service. Twelve out of 100 is not a very good percentage. Willingness is necessary, but is not sufficient by itself. God wants more than willingness.
Training often is a first step to a mission field. The “twelves” have added up to a very large number since many Bible colleges and institutes are having increased numbers of students attending year after year. However, by the time these students have completed their training there are only a meager few who are looking beyond the shores of comfortable America for their place of service. Statistics report that only two out of the twelve missionary trainees will go beyond the shores of the United States. Training alone is not sufficient.
Much prayer is needed to get these “twos” on their way. Visas for many countries come hard and slow. Finances for travel fares and support seem impossible in these days of spiraling costs and inflation. In answer to prayer, finances are provided and the necessary workers arrive on the field of great need. Being on the field and having an overseas address, however, is not sufficient.
It is a sad fact that not all who get to a mission field continue on faithfully in an effective ministry. Acts 26:20-22 indicates that Paul not only began but also continued until the day of his martyrdom. He fought a good fight. He kept the faith. He finished the course. In contrast we have the sad commentary of Demas recorded in II Timothy 4:10 where it says, “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world…” I fear there are more of the Demas-type missionaries than the Paul-type. Statistics tell us that less then 50% of those who go overseas continue beyond the first term.
Short-Term is Not Enough
There is much emphasis these days on the “short term” missionary. This is the Christian who goes into the mission field for a short period of time to help in a project or do a specific job that his ability enables him to do. We acknowledge the help this type of ministry is in many cases. However, the “short term” approach to missions will never get the job done that needs to be done. Nothing short of years of labor, study, sacrifice and dedication will see a pagan tribe, evangelized and transformed by the might and power of God. Men and women are needed who will go and then stick to it until the job is completed.
Willingness, training, and going are all necessary, but not sufficient, if it ends with their arrival overseas. Laborers who will continue in a fruitful, effective and faithful ministry are essential if we are to see our generation reached for Christ.