Three cultural trends which sometimes indicate “the fields are white for harvest”

John 4:35 Jesus 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.”

But Jesus’s disciples couldn’t see it.

The “fields” before them at the moment were a large group of Samaritans walking toward them. Jews and Samaritans were suspicious of each other. Besides, Samaritans had their own religion. Except for a woman who’d believed the Messiah’s message just a few minutes earlier, there were no followers of Jesus among the Samaritans. Surely, reasoned the disciples, the Samaritans would have no interest in the Christ of the Jews. No fields white for harvest here. Not now, anyway.

Jesus calls us to believe that “the fields are white for harvest” even when we see few conversions.

How could Jesus say that the fields were white for harvest when He’s had just one convert among the Samaritans?

How can we believe the fields are white for harvest when we’re seeing so few converted in our place of ministry?

Let’s look at some of the trends in our culture.

Look at the current interest in practices like meditation and yoga. Almost everyone has heard of Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, or the Dalai Lama and others famous for promoting some form of non-Christian meditation. But meditation is so mainstream to the culture now that one need not be a devotee of a New Age leader or an eastern religion to advocate it. Attempting to argue for a purely secular form of the practice, ABC news anchor Dan Harris wrote an award-winning book claiming that such meditation can make us 10% happier. Yoga has so grown in popularity that about one in ten Americans has tried it.

Look at the interest in near-death experiences. Books about what Tim Challies called “heaven tourism” have, according to the Washington Post, “conquered the publishing world.” Despite their conflicts with biblical teaching, more than twenty million copies of such books have been sold, and at least one has been turned into a major motion picture. Most people want to know what’s beyond the veil of death.

Look at the interest in spirituality. A 2012 survey by the Pew Religion and Public Life Project indicated that 37% of Americans considered themselves “spiritual but not religious.” The group has become such a large demographic group that it now has its own acronym—SBNR. Everyone is “spiritual” today. Just try to find someone who will say, “I’m just not very spiritual.”

“Sure,” you might say, “all that interest is out there, but none of it is the right kind of interest. What does this have to do with the fields being white for harvest?”

Spurgeon compared this kind of interest in meditation, near-death experiences, and spirituality to spiritual thorns, but then said:

If I were going to take a farm, I would sooner take one that was overgrown with thistles than one which grew nothing at all, and it is better to lay hold of a man who really does think about something than of one who thinks about nothing at all.[i]

Am I saying that if someone has one of these interests then he or she is on the verge of becoming a follower of Jesus? No, for only God can know that.

What I am saying is that, like Jesus, let’s look for such interest in those around us and use that interest as a bridge to the good news about Jesus.


[i] C. H. Spurgeon, “Fields White for Harvest,” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1867; reprint, Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1980), 462.


The unloved, the unlikely, and the unprepared

In John 4, Jesus Christ met a woman from the city of Samaria who had come for water to the well where He was resting. When Jesus’s disciples returned to Him with food from the city, “they marveled that he was talking” with her (v. 27).

Why? Because it seemed evident that there was no common ground between the two. Nothing about her would have caused the disciples to think of her as a potential follower of Jesus. Surely Jesus could see this, too, so they couldn’t understand why He would spend time talking with her when He could be resting, or praying, or doing something more profitable with His time.

Let’s notice what Jesus did here and learn from His example.

Jesus looked upon the unloved. No one loved this woman. The many men in her life apparently hadn’t loved her; they had only used her. The other women didn’t love her, that’s why she was drawing water by herself in the heat of the day instead of going to the well in the evening with other women from the town.

Who in the regular routines of your life is unloved? You’ve never thought of him or her or them as being ready for the good news about Jesus, any more than the disciples thought of this woman (or she thought of herself) as being on the verge of conversion. But now you will.

Jesus looked upon the unlikely. No one was more unlikely than this woman and these Samaritans. For starters she was a woman. Rabbis in those days wouldn’t be seen talking with a woman in public, sometimes even their own wives or daughters, lest it be misconstrued by those who might see them talking. Supposedly there was a group known as the “Bruised Pharisees” who wouldn’t even look at a woman in public, but would close their eyes or turn their head. As a result they were always running into buildings, the corners of houses, and other stationery items.

Worse than that, this was an immoral woman. On top of that, she was a Samaritan woman. And all the people coming out of the city to Jesus were Samaritans. They were all unlikely prospects.

As you lift up your eyes, who in your fields would be considered too far from Jesus to be interested in hearing the message about Him? Who is someone unlikely to hear from many Christians because of their politics, or their views on abortion or homosexuality?

Jesus looked upon the unprepared. Who would’ve thought these Samaritans were prepared to hear from this Jewish rabbi?

The predecessor of Martyn Lloyd-Jones at London’s Westminster Chapel, G. Campbell Morgan, said on this text,

If those disciples had been appointed a commission of enquiry as to the possibilities of a Christian enterprise in Samaria I know exactly the resolution they would have passed. The resolution would have been: Samaria unquestionably needs our Master’s message, but it is not ready for it. There must first be plowing, then sowing, and then waiting. It is needy, but it is not ready.[1]

By contrast, Jesus says, “Lift up your eyes and look on the fields.” Look on the unlikely and think, “Right now, these people don’t look like it, but God may have prepared some here to be ready to come to Christ right now.”

Who do you know in one of these three categories? Who do you know who is unloved, or unlikely, or unprepared, but could—like this woman—by the power of God, come to Christ right now?

We can believe that anyone—regardless of preparation or background—might be ready to come to Christ right now. That’s because it’s the power of God that opens people’s eyes. It is the power of God that gives people a readiness, even a sudden readiness, to hear the Gospel and believe. In one moment He can remove a heart of stone and give someone a heart for the Gospel that they have never had nor ever evidenced before that moment.

Because of the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel, we need to have the “right now” view about expecting anyone to come to Christ.


[1] As quoted in Leon Morris, Expository Reflections on the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990), 149.

The “Not Now” View vs. the “Right Now” View, part 2

Read the previous post here.

In John 4:35 Jesus 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.”

The disciples weren’t expecting a harvest there in Samaria, at least not now. “There are yet four months, and then comes harvest” was a proverbial statement that Jesus said reflected their view of the spiritual possibilities presently in Samaria. But Jesus says such a “not now” view is the wrong view about what God can do in an apparently unlikely setting.

God wants us to have the “right now” view about expecting to see people converted to faith in Christ.

The “right now” view requires you to “lift up your eyes.” Notice that Jesus said, “the fields are [present tense; right now] white for harvest.”

Jesus wanted His disciples to look at things from the spiritual perspective. He isn’t talking about crops when He says “the fields are white for harvest,” but rather about the Samaritans coming out of the city toward them.

So to “lift up your eyes, see that the fields are white for harvest” means to look at all fields, including your fields—the fields in which you live and work for Christ now—from the spiritual perspective. Jesus is saying that we should look on every field—every person and every place—as a field where God may be ready to convert someone right now.

Of course, you may discover after giving the Gospel to some that they are not willing to receive more. To continue to give them the Gospel when they don’t want to hear it would be, in the words of Jesus elsewhere (Matthew 7:6), casting your pearls before swine, that is, giving the valuable pearls of the Gospel to those who can’t appreciate their value. But until they prove otherwise, assume that they are ready, right now. Because our tendency too often is to wrongly assume that they aren’t ready—not now.

We need the “right now” view about what God can do through the Gospel.

The late R. F. Gates said two words in a sermon that I’ve never forgotten: “Think evangelism.” He continued, “Wherever you go, whatever you are doing, think evangelism. If you are going to the store for a box of corn flakes, think evangelism. If you are going to the gas station, think evangelism. Whenever you meet anyone, think evangelism.”

That’s what Jesus was saying to the disciples. “Lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest”—think evangelism.

Too often, like the disciples, we think only on the material plane.

I was guilty of this one memorable time during the annual Southern Baptist Convention. After only four hours’ sleep, I had to leave Atlanta very early that morning and fly to Dallas to conduct an emotionally draining funeral. Immediately after the funeral I rushed back to the DFW airport, only to learn that my 6:30 flight was delayed. It was delayed over and over, and at 11:00 I’m still sitting in Dallas. All I could pray was, “Lord, I’m so tired; please let me get back to Atlanta so I can just go to bed.” I never thought about whether God had any purpose in it all.

When we eventually boarded the plane, I leaned against the window thinking, “Lord, I just want to sleep on this flight; and if I can’t sleep I need to read.” At last the Lord broke through my spiritual fog and I realized that He might have me on this plane and in this seat at this time for His purpose.

A woman took the seat next to me. “Okay, Lord,” I dutifully prayed, “if You’ll give me a clear opening, I’ll witness to her.” As she got settled, she put a book on her lap and I saw that the words on the cover were in Hebrew. I quickly tried to mentally review my Hebrew alphabet to see if I could piece together enough to recognize any of the words. Finally I pointed to the book and said, “Does that say that the author’s name is Amos something?

“Yes,” she said, as she looked at me in amazement. “How do you know Hebrew?”

“Well, I studied it for a year once. Maybe you could help me review a few things.”

I learned that Penninah was an architect from San Diego who had her own successful firm. For the entire flight to Atlanta I got to talk with her about Jesus Christ, the Cross, the Resurrection, repentance and faith, and what she thought Christianity taught.

It all happened when I began to lift up my eyes and to look at the field next to me from a spiritual perspective, to think evangelism.

I remember one summer during Vacation Bible School when I was pastoring. I lifted up my eyes and realized that for five mornings our building was full of children—not to mention helpers from the youth group—who needed much more than for me to simply fulfill my obligatory pastoral responsibilities in the daily opening assembly. They needed to know Jesus. So in addition to preaching to the large group at the start of each morning, I tried to pull some of them aside individually every day and talk with them about their soul.

“What use are sermons, sacraments, schools,” asked Horatius Bonar in his Words to Winners of Souls, “if souls are left to perish.”[1]

What fields do you need to look upon with the “right now” view?


[1] Horatius Bonar, Words to Winners of Souls (American Tract Society, 1950; reprint ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979) 33.

The “Not Now” View vs. the “Right Now” View

I thrill to read of the 3000 saved when the Apostle Peter preached in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. I glory in reading of people coming in great numbers to Christ when George Whitefield, or Jonathan Edwards, or Charles Spurgeon preached. I believe such spiritual harvests actually happened as reported.

And I pray for and sincerely believe that there will come another day of spiritual harvests like these. But too often my difficulty is believing that such a response to the Gospel like that can happen right now.

This is exactly the problem Jesus addressed in John 4:35 when 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.”

Many Christians have the “not now” view about expecting to see people converted to faith in Christ.

The disciples’ mistaken attitude, as portrayed by Jesus, is revealed in their viewpoint, “There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest?”

• The “not now” view believes God has saved many in the past and will again in the future, but “not now.”

The disciples had seen God work through Jesus to touch lives in the past, and at this point in John 4 they had an incredibly optimistic view about what God was going to do in the future. But they didn’t expect Him to do anything at the moment. They were in Samaria. The enmity between Jews and Samaritans was little different then than between Jews and Palestinians today.

The disciples didn’t consider these Samaritans likely to be interested in their message about a Jewish Messiah. So the disciples weren’t thinking of a harvest here. They were between Judah in the south, where Christ had done great things in the past, and Galilee in the north, where Jesus would certainly do great things in the future. But they didn’t expect anything to happen in Samaria, at least not now.

I’m prone to the same kind of unbelief. My preacher-hero, Charles Spurgeon, described my lack of faith almost a century before I was born:

Many unbelieving Christians have a very large stock of reasons for not expecting to see many conversions. They suppose that any present manifestation of divine power in connection with the truth is not to be expected. They read the history of past ages and they wonder, and sometimes, when their eye is sufficiently clear, they look forward with some sort of hope to the repetition of these scenes in future years, that is to say, when they themselves are dead and buried, and a new age shall have come upon the world. But as to God working any wonders in the world now, as to the conversion of thousands now, they do not expect it; and if it were to happen they would be surprised, and beyond all measure astonished. They are for ever dwelling in the past, or seeking to roost in the future; but as for now, now seeing God’s arm made bare, now setting to work for the conversion of men, now expecting that God will win hearts unto Himself, they are not brought up to this mark yet. Their common reason for expecting nothing now is this; that there are yet four months, and then cometh harvest. They say, “This is not the time; we must have patience; we must wait; this is not the man; this is not the hour; this is not the place; we must wait till, under other circumstances, other men being given, we look for grander results; but we must not expect them now; there are yet four months, and then cometh harvest.”[1]

We can believe God blessed better men and better preaching in the past, and we can long for the purity of doctrine and practice that was theirs. We can pray for a future day of reformation and revival such as our heroes of the past saw. But as for our own day, our own denomination, our own town, our own church, our own preaching, it’s so easy to unbelievingly think, “not now.”

• The “not now” view believes God sends only special harvest times, not a constant one.

Some think that Jesus wasn’t saying in John 4:35 that there will always be a ready harvest, but rather that there will be only special times of harvest, such as the one about to be seen among the Samaritans, who were approaching at that moment.

And we know by history and experience that there is some truth to this. There are “harvest seasons” which are often preceded by periods, sometimes long periods, of sowing and watering.

Samuel Stoddard, for example, the grandfather of Jonathan Edwards and the man Edwards came to assist in Northampton before assuming the pastorate there, spoke of periods of harvest. In Iain Murray’s biography of Edwards, he writes of Edwards describing his grandfather’s ministry saying, “[Stoddard] referred to five periods of special spiritual awakening–‘five harvests’, was his grandfather’s phrase–which saw ‘the conversion of many souls’.”[2] William Carey and Adoniram Judson certainly experienced this on the pioneer mission field.

But Jesus doesn’t seem to be teaching about taking advantage of a unique opportunity. To be willing to give the Gospel when people are standing in line for it is obvious. He’s teaching us that the “not now” view is not right. He wants us to come with the attitude that the fields—all fields, for “fields” is plural—are always white for harvest.

Certainly there will be times when we will see more of a harvest than at other times. But His point is that usually the problem is not with the harvest, the problem is with our view of the harvest. Too often our view is that a field–a person, a family, an area–is not ready for the Gospel. The problem is not with the harvest, the problem is with our eyes.

Instead of the “not now” view of the harvest, we need the “right now” view. I’ll write about that in the next post, God willing.


[1] C.H. Spurgeon, “Fields White for Harvest,” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 13 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1867; reprint, Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1980), 457.

[2] Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 88.

Walk with the Wise

We’ve all heard of the three “wise men from the east” (Matthew 2:1) and the role they played in the story of Jesus’ birth. Who are the three wisest people you know? Do you know how to gain wisdom like theirs?

Wise King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 13:20, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise.” The wisest men, of course, are in Scripture, for divine inspiration fills their words. And the wisest of them all is the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ. So if you want “the wisdom from above” (James 3:17), go often to the Bible and walk with the wise people who live in its pages.

But what about the wise who have lived since the times of the Bible, including the wise people of God alive today? How do we walk with them?

Woman reading book

One of the more obvious ways is to read their books and the stories of their lives. Walk with them through the lines they toiled over and let them tell you their best and wisest thoughts. Glean the insights discovered by the biographers who walked with these wise men several hours every day for many months and years.

You can also walk with wise people by hearing them. Go where they will be speaking. Listen to them via radio, the Internet, or recording.

Find a wise person to disciple you. You may know a wise role model, but protest, “He’d never be willing to spend time with me.” You’ll never know unless you ask. Look for creative ways to offer a skill or service to him in exchange for his wisdom. One of the busiest, most sought-after pastors I know spends two to three hours each week with a young man who offered his services as a personal trainer. As he “walks with the wise” from one weight machine to another, his soul is trained spiritually and the pastor’s body is trained physically.

When you anticipate being with an unusually wise person, prepare a list of questions. One of the most profitable days of my ministry came when I learned that I’d be in a van for hours with several other men, including a couple of well-known, experienced ministers, who were driving together to a conference. I made a list of the toughest theological and practical questions in my ministry at the time. I’m sure that Solomon would agree that “riding with wise men” can be as profitable as walking with them. I'm with Stupid shirt

You will become like those with whom you “walk” or spend a great deal of time. If you spend much of your discretionary hours with foolish or worldly people—including those on TV shows and commercials—you’ll grow more foolish and worldly. But if you become one who “walks with the wise” you’ll become wise.

Who has displayed wisdom in an area where you sense a need for more wisdom? Through books, recordings, or in person, walk with them and you will become more wise.


Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 115-16.

Equipping the Generations: Family Ministry & Motherhood (Part 2)

[Read part one of this post here.]

Then I heard Jean tell her own story. She would keep Bibles open in several rooms—in the kitchen, nursery, bathroom—and look at them when she could. While preparing a meal or changing a diaper, she’d glance over and perhaps read only one verse. But this intentionality helped her keep the Word in her heart and the presence of God in her awareness. And as the children’s needs grew less demanding, her disciplines were already in place to receive any additional time she could give them. Even though Jean felt almost spiritually dormant during those years in comparison to her early growth as a Christian, she kept alive the spiritual disciplines through which her soul would thrive in years to come.

Jean also realized that her opportunities for evangelism and ministry were not eliminated, they merely changed. She had the best opportunity of anyone in the world to share the gospel with the three little souls (who are Christian adults today) God had entrusted to the care of her and Roger. Additionally, she learned more about cultivating the heart of a humble servant by ministering to her children—who seldom adequately appreciated her serving them—than she likely would have otherwise. She also learned some creative methods of evangelizing and ministering to other moms and children she invited for coffee and play.

Like Jean with three in diapers, you may be in a situation that curtails many of your spiritual activities. You may be looking at many years of such limitations. Do what you can for Christ and his kingdom, with joy and without guilt. God does not love us more when we serve more, nor less when we serve less. He accepts us, not because of what we do for him, but because of what he’s done for us in Christ. As Ephesians 1:6 puts it, God accepts us, not on the basis of our work, but “in the Beloved [that is, Jesus.]” And nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

Love God, and within the limitations he has sovereignly placed in your life at this time, do what you can for his glory. Realize that just your mere presence at church—even without a recognized ministry there and as weary as you are—can be a ministry to your pastor and teachers who prefer listeners to empty seats. In fact, talking to your pastor or an older sister in Christ about your feelings in this season will probably encourage you.

Be careful, though, that you do not excuse yourself from all effort in the pursuit of God and the extension of his kingdom outside the walls of your home. In every season there will be temptations to coast spiritually, and then to decline into a cold-hearted, spiritual inertia. Also, resolve that once this season of life changes into the next that you will never think of serving the bride of Christ as simply a nice idea for people who have spare time.

Yes, the mom at home can be doing real ministry and evangelism there, and with the result that both she and the body of Christ become stronger for it. But she should anticipate the day when she returns to her place in her local church’s ministry “when each part is working properly,” and through her Christ “makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16).

[Read part one of this post here.]

This article by Donald S. Whitney originally appeared in the Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry, Vol. 2:2 (Spring/Summer 2012) p. 86

Equipping the Generations: Family Ministry and Motherhood (Part 1)

Twenty-four years of pastoral ministry have taught me that moms—especially mothers of young children—often come to church feeling tired, then return from church feeling guilty. While at church, they hear sermons and announcements about doing evangelism and serving in the church, and they often sense that they are failures at both.

There never seems to be enough time for their maternal responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, wiping noses, and teaching their children, much less for reaching out to a lost world with the gospel of Jesus in fulfillment of his Great Commission or for building up the body of Christ in their local fellowship. Even finding a few minutes for Bible reading and prayer occasionally is difficult.

Thus the pulpit proclamations of the biblical mandate to reach a lost world for Christ, and the earnest pleas of the pastor about the need for workers in the church do not sound like spiritually-galvanizing challenges that inspire greater faithfulness, rather they often fall as crushing condemnations upon the weary hearts of many moms.

Seasons change in everyone’s lives, and perhaps there is no more radical change that occurs in the life of a woman than the one that happens the day her first child arrives. It’s a season that changes with dramatic suddenness and lasts as long as there are young children around the dinner table and until she has watched her final soccer practice and piano recital. And among the parts of life that seem forced into hibernation during this season are private devotions, personal evangelism, and consistent ministry in the local church.

My wife and I have a friend named Jean who was one of the countless Christian women who felt as though her options as a believer were either family or spirituality; children or church. Discipled well after her conversion in her late teens, Jean thrived on a spiritual diet meaty with disciplines like the reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word, prayer, fellowship, service, evangelism, worship, solitude, journal-keeping, and Scripture memory. She felt herself making spiritual progress almost daily. All this continued after she married her equally-dedicated husband, Roger.

Then, in rapid succession, Jean had three children in diapers. Caring for their most basic needs eliminated almost every moment of the time she used to devote to caring for her soul and ministering to others. Her longings for the things of God reached as high as ever, but her time and energy for them had new and severe limits.

On at least three occasions I’ve eavesdropped as Jean conversed with young moms in similar situations. In effect she’s told them, “At this season of your life, you can’t do what you’re used to doing. You don’t have time for all your heart desires to experience in your spiritual life. Nevertheless, do what you can do, even though it’s precious little. Just don’t deceive yourself by thinking that you can put off a devotional life or ministry in the local church until you have more time. Because when the years roll around and you finally do have more time, your spiritual habits will be so ingrained that you won’t give more attention to the things of God at all.”

Part 2, including details of Jean’s own story of how she fought spiritual inertia as a mom of young children, will appear in the next post.


This article by Donald S. Whitney originally appeared in the Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry, Vol. 2:2 (Spring/Summer 2012) p. 86