In the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus talks about harvesting people’s souls. He gives an example of this as he shares God’s truth with the Samaritan woman at the well. As a result of Jesus’ witness, not only did the woman believe, but she became a witness who brought the whole village out to hear what Jesus had to say. What a harvest of souls there was on that day!
In verses 34-38,[i] Jesus talks about our part in the harvest of souls:
You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike! You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.”
The apostle Paul uses similar imagery when he talks about sharing some people planting the seeds of God’s truth within people’s fertile hearts, and others watering those seeds until they come to fruition. In 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, he writes:
After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.
Last week, we said that during the holiday season, people are more aware of our Christian witness than at any other time of the year. Their hearts tend to be more open to the gospel. Our job, according to Jesus and Paul, is to get active at tending God’s garden. Some people plant seeds—little kernels of spirit and truth and grace along the way. Those planters may never see their seeds sprout and begin to peek above the surface. They may only be planters, frustrated at the fact that they don’t see results in the lives of those people into whose hearts they are planting. Feeling unfulfilled, they may even decide that those people are unfertile ground. But the thing is, it’s not their job to water and nourish. It’s just their job to plant.
Other people are encouragers, watering those seeds and making sure they have all the fertilizer and other nutrients they need to grow. While we help create the necessary fertile environment, only the Holy Spirit can make people’s hearts grow until they are able to open up to God’s presence. Waterers may become frustrated because they spend all their time “equipping” people, yet they never see the fruit of their labors. Yet it’s not their job to harvest. It’s their job to water.
Then there are the harvesters. We like to think that these are effective evangelists who may lead people in a “prayer of salvation,” or may help someone make a “decision for Christ.” We assume they are preachers who may greet someone at the end of an invitation song at church or a revival or rally. But these benchmark moments aren’t the only ways we know a person has been “harvested” for God. In fact, these may even result in false harvests of sorts. In fact, Jesus’ says that, ultimately, the angels will be the harvesters at the end of the age (Matthew 13:39). In Matthew 9:39 and Luke 10:2, Jesus says that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few, and asks believers to pray that the Lord of the Harvest will sent workers into the field. But ultimately, we won’t know the quality of that harvest til the very end. Good crops grow together with harmful or useless weeds, and it’s not our responsibility to judge the final produce—that’s God’s job (Matthew 13:24-29, 36-43). Our job is to be faithful workers in God’s garden
My mom is a master gardener. She has a great tool shed. It’s stocked with all sorts of rakes, hoes, shovels, Garden Weasels, trowels, buckets, pitch forks, and everything you could imagine. But no matter how much I love her tool shed, if anything’s going to happen out there, I can’t stay in the shed just admiring the tools. The problem is that too many Christians go to church and stay there, simply admiring the tools. They never go out into God’s garden to do any planting, watering, or harvesting. In John 4:35b, Jesus says, “…Wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest.” We need to make sure that we get out of the tool shed, and get into the field.