What Does “The Harvest Is Plentiful but the Laborers Are Few” Mean?

Forge

November 7, 2022

“And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'” —Matthew 9:35-38, RSV

THE STORY

As Jesus was traveling from one small town and village to another, He began noticing some heartbreaking patterns. He observed people of all ages—from every social and economic level—living in survival mode. Some were physically sick. Others were sin sick. Most seemed lost and wandering. At best, people were shuffling through life. Jesus wanted so much more for those He was encountering. His desire for them was walking, running, delighting, and dancing—not shuffling. After all, Jesus had come to deliver some very good news about living their best life, a fulfilling and meaningful life up-close to God. 

What Jesus saw in the eyes and faces of people burdened Him. Compassion filled His heart and gripped His gut. The human plight Jesus witnessed in every direction He looked reminded Him of a very familiar scene—lost and wandering sheep, harassed and helpless, with no shepherd to care for them or lead them to safer, greener pastures.  

That’s when Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37).

Jesus—in one powerful and relatable sentence—told the disciples everything they needed to know: people here, there, and everywhere are ready to receive the life-changing solutions Jesus offers, but the workforce needed to share and spread Jesus’ good-news message is woefully under-sized. 

THE OPPORTUNITY

Imagine an apple orchard that spreads as far as your eye can see. Trees, loaded with ripe red apples, bend low and kiss the ground. So many nutritious and delicious apples to eat and enjoy—right there and ready—“ripe for the pick’n” as some say. And it’s not just an “okay” crop or a “good” crop. No, this is a “bumper” crop—or as Jesus said it, “a plentiful harvest.”

The picture Jesus painted for the disciples was a ripe and ready harvest—not of apples—but of people wanting more, needing more, and ready for more. And life, real life, was right there for so many to receive and enjoy. Harvest-ready people—here, there, and everywhere—were one step away from the God-centered, joyous life always meant for them. All that was needed was for God’s people to share with them the life and invitation Jesus had to offer.  

THE PROBLEM

plentiful harvest is not the issue. Plenty and harvest—who doesn’t want that?! It’s the workforce needed to gather the harvest that Jesus points to as problematic. “The laborers are few,” Jesus says. Can you imagine being a farmer with a super-bountiful harvest only to discover you don’t have enough help to gather it all in? And this isn’t one of those tough growing seasons where extreme weather conditions have yielded a meager crop. This is a filled-to-overflowing cornucopia of goodness just ready to be picked… and sadly, willing workers are scarce. 

Intensifying the issue is the fact that harvesting isn’t complex, it can be done by nearly everyone! The word Jesus used with His disciples was “laborer.” A laborer is a worker who rolls up his or her sleeves and gets things done. No specialized skills are required, just a willing heart with active hands and feet. And yet, the laborers—the willing workers—remain few

It wasn’t the harvest that was in short supply, it was the harvesters! It’s a problem that still exists today. In every direction, geography, and station of life, people are wanting more, needing more, looking for more. And Jesus continues to ask, “Where are the laborers?” Jesus wasn’t suggesting (nor is He still) that the Kingdom harvest problem requires more…

  • Pastors
  • Missionaries
  • Writers
  • Singers
  • Podcasters

Each and all of those have their needed and forward-moving place in the Kingdom. Jesus, however, didn’t pray for any of those in regard to the Kingdom harvest need. He prayed for more laborers—everyday people, willing to actively love God and people every day, everywhere.

THE SOLUTION

The harvest is still plentiful. The workforce remains in short supply.

The solution?

A willingness for more people who know and love Jesus to get active in loving God and others as Kingdom laborers.

The answer isn’t complicated. It is, however, costly enough that few choose it. After all, having an all-in active love for Jesus and others requires offering and trusting Jesus with our time, energy, resources, reputation, relationships, and so much more. Many speak of such love, but far too few activate it. Those who trust Jesus to supply whatever they need as they daily share His love and message discover the Kingdom laboring life to be plentiful and well worth it… for those they engage and for themselves. 

WHAT DOES THE HARVEST IS PLENTIFUL BUT THE LABORERS ARE FEW MEAN FOR YOU?

Jesus is looking for willing, roll-up-your-sleeves, no-special-skills-required people to get active in their everyday places of Kingdom harvest. If you genuinely love Jesus and people, you have what it takes. Will you raise your hand? Will you commit yourself to a life of daily laboring for God’s Kingdom? After all, the harvest is plentiful; it’s the laborers who are far too few. It’s time to actively engage in contributing to the answer of Jesus’ more laborers prayer.