In Evangelism,Pastoral Ministry

The fields ARE white for harvest, even when you see few conversions

When you see few, if any, conversions in your place of ministry, it can be hard to believe that what Jesus said in John 4:35 is true.

In that verse He said to His disciples, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

It’s important to realize that He said this in Samaria—a place where Jews (like Jesus and His disciples) weren’t welcome and where Jesus had seen only one convert, and that one just a few minutes earlier

In other words, the twelve apostles did not consider Samaria a place where there had been, or likely ever would be, many conversions.

And yet Jesus said it was—and by extension the places where we serve Him now are—fields white for harvest.

But most of us know too well the grim reality that you can labor faithfully for a long time and see few, if any conversions. Hosea prophesied God’s Word for seventy years. Isaiah preached faithfully for fifty. But both of them had reason to pray the prayer of Isaiah, “Who has believed what they heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1).

J.I. Packer, in his great book, A Quest for Godliness, writes of one early Puritan preacher who knew what it was like to preach God’s Word for years and see little evident fruit.

Richard Greenham was [pastor] at Dry Drayton, seven miles from Cambridge, from 1570 to 1590. He worked extremely hard. He rose daily at four and each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday preached a sermon at daybreak, to catch his flock before they dispersed into the fields; then on Sunday he preached twice, and in addition catechized the children of the parish each Sunday evening and Thursday morning. Mornings he studied, afternoons he visited the sick or walked out into the fields “to confer with his Neighbors as they were at Plough”. In his preaching, Henry Holland, his biographer tells us, “he was so earnest, and took such extraordinary pains, that his shirt would usually be as wet with sweating, as if it had been drenched with water, so that he was forced, as soon as he came out of the Pulpit to [change clothes].” . . . He was a pastoral counselor of uncommon skill. . . . His friends hoped he would write a book on the art of counseling, but he never did. . . . In a letter to his bishop he described his ministry as ‘preaching Christ crucified unto my selfe and Country people”. . . . Yet for all his godliness, insight, evangelical message and hard work, his ministry was virtually fruitless. Others outside his parish were blessed through him, but not his own people. “Greenham had pastures green, but flocks full lean” was a little rhyme that went round among the godly. “I perceive no good wrought by my ministry on any but one family” was what, . . . he said to his successor. In rural England in Greenham’s day, there was much fallow ground to be broken up; it was a time for sowing, but the reaping time was still in the future.[1]

Of course, he never saw the results during his lifetime, but it’s hard to say that Greenham’s ministry was unfruitful when we’re still talking about it more than 425 years later.

Nevertheless, occasionally, if not often, most ministers feel about their ministries as Greenham did about his—virtually fruitless.

Another who ministered quite a bit later in Cambridge was Charles Simeon. He faced something of what Greenham experienced. For twelve years he was so opposed that those who rented the pews (which was the custom of the day for providing financial support for the church) would not only stay away from worship, they kept their empty pews locked so no one else could sit in them. Those who wanted to hear Simeon had to stand in the back of the church or in the aisles for the entire worship service, and this went on for twelve years. Despite such opposition, he persevered as pastor and eventually enjoyed a fruitful ministry for half-a-century.

Speaking on this same statement of Jesus in John 4:35, Simeon said regarding those who don’t see a harvest, “The Lord of the harvest will not suffer any one of his labourers to work for nought. In the very work itself he shall find a rich reward.”[2]

The Apostle Paul was inspired of God to put it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” [emphasis added].

One of the reasons Richard Greenham kept preaching and ministering so faithfully, even though there was absolutely no response was because he believed that the fields are white for harvest. Even when like Greenham we see few conversions, and when like him we are in a ground-breaking, foundation-laying, reformational ministry, we must see with spiritual eyes that the fields are white for harvest.

And yet, while it is true that faithful men can labor long without conversions, one of those familiar with Greenham’s life, Charles Spurgeon, said,

If I never won souls, I would sigh till I did. I would break my heart over them if I could not break their hearts. Though I can understand the possibility of an earnest sower never reaping, I cannot understand the possibility of an earnest sower being content not to reap. I cannot comprehend any one of you Christian people trying to win souls and not having results, and being satisfied without results.[3]

Let us “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” even when we see few conversions. But may we never be “content not to reap.”

Preach the Word. Remain faithful. Share the Gospel. Pray for the Spirit’s blessing. For “the fields are white for harvest.” And “in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

 

[1] J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990) 43.

[2] Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible: Luke 17-24, John 1-12, vol. 13, Outline 1621, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1956), 311.

[3] C. H. Spurgeon, “Tearful Sowing and Joyful Reaping,” in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1869; reprint, Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1970), 237.

3 Comments

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