The Harvest Is Plenty. The Laborers Are Few. Where Are You?

There seem to be quite a few folks out there extremely disillusioned with their churches. I can completely empathize. I have been part of my church for over a decade and trust me- I know and I GET it more than I ever wanted to.

Things usually go along these lines: Things are moving too slowly, people are crazy, people are lazy, people have problems, our vision seems to wander off to Alaska every three months, our youth is disappearing, half of our worship group is about to quit, and the pastor is exhausted with battling with stubborn sheep, and does anyone even care??

If this resonates at all, read on. Hopefully I can articulate a few things that may help.

Basically, every church has problems simply because it has people. However, without people, there is no church. Therefore, we have a choice: we can walk away as victims (citing that everyone hurt us (not realizing that you hurt others as well) and disobey the Word of God (Hebrews 10:2)) OR we can learn, grow, serve in, and help our churches.

Today, I am an advocate of the second option. I honestly wasn’t at first (I desperately wanted to leave and go back to Bible school) but here is a glimpse of what I have learned in this past year on how to be part of the local church, with its warts and all:

So to those disillusioned with your church, here are some questions to ask yourself.

1.) First two questions:

 Are you giving (tithing) to the church?
     Are you serving in the church?

I was not at a point and because of this, I was extremely disassociated from the workings and well being of the church. So if you are not tithing or serving, get on that. If you are not producing, you are consuming. If you are not participating as a member, then you are a customer and last time I checked – church isn’t a mall, it’s a Body.  This leads me to the next question:

2.) Are you a bench warmer criticizing those who actively serve in the church? Or a Monday quarterback? Backseat driver?

I totally was! (Still am sometimes to be honest). I think to an extent, we all are. If yes, how do I put this gently?

Hush. Please. Just hush. (Yes me too.) Last time I checked, there is not a single place in the New Testament that lists “loud mouth critic” under the gifts of the Spirit or ministries to the Body.

Folks have shared how completely demoralizing it is to see you come service after service, agree with all the theology, and yet be completely unmoved to action and service within the Body. So when you come up to me acting like you are Jesus’s chief consultant– Lord help me, but I’d like to sign you for the Mars colonization project.  

Can I put it this way? If you are not serving in the church, please do not be a grievance and a ball and chain to those who are serving. Do not nitpick their faults. Do not broadcast their failures. They are human too. Instead, honor them. Pray for them. Respect them. Encourage them. Moreover, consider joining them.

I learned this one the hard way in a different way. While I didn’t disrespect them, I was completely callous to the work they were doing already. When I came back from Bible school, I could quickly identify certain structural issues that were at the core of many of our problems. I have nary a subtle bone in my body and I quickly shared the problems as I saw them with our ministry team. (These folks give up almost every free evening of their schedules to participate and serve in church activities.) They looked at me, one of the women close to tears, and said “We already know about those problems.” Not only did I realize that they knew these issues more intimately than I did, they also hurt over them more keenly than I as a bench warmer ever could. Which brings me to my next point.

3.) In small churches folks who are serving are probably doing more than one thing. We have folks in youth ministry leading worship feeding the church at least once every month for our fellowship meal. With the famous words of Bilbo from the Shire, most folks serving in churches “feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” When you come up to them with an administrative issue, chances are that they already know about that issue and there isn’t just enough of them to go around.

So here is an idea: what if you take ownership of the problem you see? Let us make this clear: Church, worship, youth group, missional community – these things are not products and you are not a customer. These are fellowship, ministry, hard work, and the Body of Christ functioning.  Why don’t you, instead of being a consumer or a critic, become a co-laborer in the fields?

The key word here is – co-laborer or coworker. Not boss, not executive, not a replacement for the Spirit or Jesus – but a coworker willing to give up time, effort, money; a coworker who rolls up their sleeves and commits; a coworker who encourages those who are serving and sticks through the hard and harder times; a coworker willing to submit to existing leadership and structure and most importantly – willing to learn.

Now for those laboring already, take heart.
“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” -Galatians 6:9

Are the workers few?
“Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” -Matthew 9:38

Are your priorities aligned?
Here is a rather illuminating story:
“A humble gardener presents a bunch of carrots to his king because he so esteems and loves his sovereign. The king rewards his love with a plot of land so he can continue to bless his kingdom. A courtier sees this and thinks, ‘An acre of land for a bunch of carrots—what a deal!’ So the next day the courtier presents the king with a magnificent horse. The wise king, discerning his heart, simply accepts the gift with a ‘Thank you.’ When the courtier is disconsolate, the king explains, ‘The gardener gave me the carrots, but you have given yourself the horse. You gave not for love of me but for love of yourself in the hope of a reward.’

Are you feeding the hungry or are you feeding yourself? Are you clothing the naked or are you seeking your own reward? Are you serving God or serving yourself? The Bible talks often of reward, but that reward is God himself—the joy of knowing and pleasing the God we love and in whom we delight.” (Spurgeon & Tim Chester, You Can Change)

Also remember:
“If God exists and has revealed himself, getting the right things done means doing the things God wants done — and in the way he wants them done” (Matt Perman, What’s Best Next).

Is your heart right?
“Your own heart must be right with God or you will know little about the way of making others so. Example must support exhortation, or the latter will have little effect.

Much of the effort of the present day is sadly lacking in devout seriousness, spiritual earnestness, and holy solemnity. It is a bustling, prayerless, unsanctified activity. There is, in too many, a frivolity about it that looks as if those who are engaged in it know not, or forget, that they are doing the work of the Lord—all is so light and trifling that it is evident in this case zeal is only another species of amusement.

The zeal that is likely to be continuous, to honor God, to do good to our fellow-creatures, is that which is cherished in the closet of devotion, fed by the oil of Scripture, and fanned by the breath of prayer. (James John, Female Piety)”

There is honestly so much more to say  but as someone just beginning to pick up my plow in the field and for the sake of brevity (if it’s not too late for that) – I will stop here. :)


The Conclusion of the Matter: Fear God And Keep His Commands

I have spent an unhealthy amount of time researching psychology these past 3 years.
I’ve discovered some pretty interesting, accurate even, and helpful stuff these past years.
I’ve also read some ridiculous nonsense that I’m pretty sure was written by idiots. But that’s material for another post :)

And for all my research, for all my introspection, all my analysis, all my searching, all the money spent – I realized this: all is vanity.

Yes, Solomon could have told me that. And he did tell me that. Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit cynical by nature or maybe I’m just exhausted by the latest fad or craze that’s the food of the gods or the knowledge of the ancients that’s supposed to revolutionize my life  – my heart finds rest when Solomon declares:

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already in the ages before us.

There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be among those who come after.

And I mean these are the words of a man who had it all. He did it all.

He had more money than he knew what to do with.
He was a brilliant business man who expanded to his empire to heights of glory.
He had a 1000 women at his beck and call, exclusive to himself.
He had the best horses and chariots (cultural equivalent of cars back then).
He built gardens, temples, palaces, and cities.
He even went to the other extreme and lived a simple minimalistic life.
He fathered beautiful and intelligent children.
<insert here something you’d like to do because Solomon already did it better>

And at the end of Ecclesiastes, this is what he declares:

 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

So Solomon spent his life being raised in the wisdom of his father King David, even recording what he was taught by his father in the book of Proverbs. The first three chapters are spent with the father pleading with the son – pursue wisdom, seek wisdom, treasure wisdom more than anything else.

Maybe that is why when God asked Solomon what he wanted; Solomon obeyed his father’s proverbs and asked for wisdom. That could be very well why God was pleased with Solomon – that he was walking in the instruction of David, who God declared to be a man after his own heart.

Just read the second chapter of Proverbs (I like to imagine David teaching Solomon as he was growing up) :

My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He holds success in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
and protects the way of his faithful ones.

Then you will understand what is right and just
and fair—every good path.
For wisdom will enter your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Discretion will protect you,
and understanding will guard you.

Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
from men whose words are perverse,
who have left the straight paths
to walk in dark ways,
who delight in doing wrong
and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
whose paths are crooked
and who are devious in their ways.

Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman,
from the wayward woman with her seductive words,
who has left the partner of her youth
and ignored the covenant she made before God.
Surely her house leads down to death
and her paths to the spirits of the dead.
None who go to her return
or attain the paths of life.
Thus you will walk in the ways of the good
and keep to the paths of the righteous.
For the upright will live in the land,
and the blameless will remain in it;
but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
and the unfaithful will be torn from it.

So what happened? He asked for wisdom and got it. Where did Solomon go wrong?

Could Solomon, in having the gift of wisdom from God, have felt that He had no need to pursue, treasure, and bind wisdom to himself? Could he have felt no need for further wisdom?

It’s a heady thing for a man to be the wisest, richest, best looking cat in the whole world. People must feel like little ants to you. And of course they start treating you like a god. So obviously superior, you start acting and thinking like one.

I really think Solomon stopped giving glory to God for the wisdom God gave to him (I say that because it was Solomon’s fame that grew throughout the kingdom, not Yahweh’s). Instead of looking to Yahweh for wisdom , he looked to himself for wisdom.

I wonder – what if when the Queen of Sheba came to him, she was drawn not  just by the legends of Solomon’s wisdom, but by the God of Solomon who gave Him this wisdom(for if this God could bequeath such wisdom to man, what wisdom must He possess himself?)

What if Solomon made much of Yahweh through this gift of wisdom, instead of himself?

And what if instead of offering Solomon extravagant gifts, the Queen bowed her head to Yahweh and offered Him her heart? And as she walked away, she would have sang praises to Yahweh instead of Solomon? Perhaps, her soul would have been saved. Perhaps her country would have come to worship Yahweh.

Maybe, instead of just reconfirming what David taught him through his proverbs (which is what Ecclesiastes ultimately is), Solomon could have searched out and brought to light greater, deeper, and more wonderful truths of God. I cannot even imagine what glory on earth it would have been if Solomon had surrendered all to the pursuit of God’s glory.*

I still see people like Solomon around around me today. I still see that self sufficiency, that pride, in myself as well. Incredibly gifted people with amazing strengths yet in their pride, snubbing God to pursue their own glory. And I know, I know for certain, that in the end they will look back with pain on the wasted years., searching for more. There’s a reason why Solomon says “Pursue God while you’re YOUNG!!”

Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”—
before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;
when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;
when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint;
when people are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags itself along
and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

It is so so important to remember, that when God lifts you to the zenith of glory on earth, that you are just a reflection of him, meant to proclaim HIS glory – not yours!! And how are we to do so? Fear God and keep His commands. Why? Because For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. Oh let our deeds be good. Let them be God exalting.

You are part of HIS plan for HIS glory. Christian, we are called to greater than the praise of men. We are called to greater than to build empires. We are called to greater than stockpile riches. We are called to greater than finding cures for cancer, saving third world countries, and founding the next Apple. We are called to make much of Him so that the world make come to know HIM. You may do so BY finding cures for cancer, saving third world countries, or founding the next Apple but remember first – HIS glory, HIS purpose.

Ultimately there are things in life to test, to stand up to, to fight against, and there are things that you just need to submit to. And ultimately you will prove God’s word true either by the blessings you reap or by the consequences you bear.

If you choose to spend your lifetime testing the truths of God by rebelling against them or by ignoring them, just know this:

Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is God.

You can do that while you’re young and strong (and serve Him like David), you can do that at the end of your life (when you’ve wasted away your life and reap the consequences of your sin like Solomon), or you will do it in hell.

Your life can be the proof of blessing that the path of life that brings and God calls you to(fear God and follow his commandments) or your life can be the proof of death that sin and Satan bring that God also promises.

Your choice.

* While Ecclesiastes is an incredibly self centered book – I went here, did this, it was pointless. I went there, built that, it was pointless. I slept with her, her, and her, it was pointless – Ecclesiastes is an incredibly powerful book for it shows that the end of our efforts is vanity. For all my speculations about Solomon and David, I bow to God’s judgement on placing it in the Bible. :)