Pray the Lord of the Harvest: The Harvest, the Need, and the Need to Be Sent

When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-38)

Ever since we were introduced to Jesus and his mission in the earliest verses of Matthew, the whole story has been centered clearly and completely on him. His has been a solitary and individual mission, one laid out by the prophets for the messianic king.

As we’ve read about the encounters between Jesus and his people in the last two chapters of Matthew, every encounter has been all about him. He has been the single contact point between the needy and God, between Yahweh and Israel.

So verses 37-38 of Matthew 9 mark a significant shift. They are the first time the contact point broadens—the first time Jesus brings others on board to join him in his work. They are the first time he indicates this mission will require more hands than just his.

This will prove to have extraordinary implications for the kingdom and for Jesus’s mission as we understand it today. For the first time in Matthew, we’re getting the sense that the kingdom-is-at-hand work of Jesus isn’t just for Jesus but also for his followers to carry out.

This is, in other words, the first time in Matthew that we get a glimpse of the church.

But for now, it is simply a moment in time when Jesus looks out on a huge crowd of people and describes an immediate and pressing need.

The Harvest Is Abundant

The language of “harvest” in this passage indicates that something long-ago prepared has come to fruition. All throughout the history of Israel, something has been planted. Something has been watered. Something has left its original seed form and grown, and now it is ready to be brought into the barns.

There is urgency to this language, which Jesus’s contemporaries would not have missed. Although growing a crop is a long and slow process, requiring patience, when its kairos moments come they will not brook delay.

A missed harvest will spoil. Its fruit will rot; its plants will go to seed.

A harvest that is not brought in at exactly the right time will fail to fulfill its purpose and waste all the effort and resources that went into producing it.

And Jesus’s language indicates a greater urgency than usual: this harvest is abundant. It’s bigger than expected. It’s more than any one worker can bring in on his own.

First, Pray

So Jesus tells his disciples: “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.”

Notice this: his first solution to this problem of an urgent, abundant harvest is not “go into the field and get to work”; it’s “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers.”

Jesus isn’t implying that his disciples won’t be sent—that God is going to send someone else, so all they have to do is stay comfortable at home and remember to pray. On the contrary. The very next passage will have Jesus sending his disciples out.

But there is an order to things, and a necessary equipping.

The harvest, after all, belongs to God. So it’s God who must take the initiative and commission workers, thereby giving them the right to work in his fields in the first place. They need authority for this work.

They also need to be equipped. To bring in a physical harvest requires tools: scythes, threshers, barns. To bring in a spiritual harvest requires tools also. We cannot do this work on our own.

So Jesus commands us to pray the Lord of the harvest to do something. There is a general principle here: as someone wiser than me has quipped, “Don’t just do something, stand there.” And while you stand there—pray.

Prayer is how we partner with God. It’s how we bring heaven to earth. It’s how we access his will and his power to get it done.

Prayer should always be our first response when we see a need—not because we aren’t willing to roll up our sleeves and help, but because we recognize that we need authority and gifting from God in order to do it.

The Baal Subtext …

As is common in the gospels, there’s subtext here. In Israel’s idolatrous history, which led to their captivity and oppression both physically and spiritually, the worst of Yahweh’s rivals was Baal. Interestingly, one of Baal’s titles was “Lord of the Harvest.”

In the ancient past, God’s people had turned to the pagan god Baal to bless their harvests and provide for them. It was a tragedy and a travesty.

Jesus, who has come to turn his people back to God, uses wording with an “in your eye” kind of undercurrent. He makes it clear this Yahweh’s harvest, he alone is Lord, he alone can do something about the need. Baal can step down, effective immediately. Jesus is taking back all spiritual authority in this region.

Once again, this story becomes about worship and loyalty. First, pray—because the task at hand is not as important as recognizing the One who is Lord over it.

Sent Out

When John came preaching “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2), the message carried a sense of unexpected interruption. Various people in Jesus’s day were trying to prepare for or even usher in the kingdom, but suddenly, without warning, it was here.

Jesus’s language around the harvest carries a similar sense of disruption. The Greek word he uses for “send out workers,” ekballo, means to violently eject or throw something. (In the gospels, it’s most often used of demons being “cast out”). In this case it implies urgent, interruptive action. The abundance and urgency of the harvest necessitates pulling laborers away from their current occupations to employ them here instead.

Before anyone could see it coming, the kingdom has come. Sooner than anyone expected, the harvest is here.

By nature, this is a disruptive call. It means we cannot go on living business as usual. We must pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers—and then, no matter how great an interruption it may be, we must be ready to go when he calls.

The Set-Up

The next scene Matthew shows us is the call and authorizing of Jesus’s apostles, his twelve “sent ones.” The Lord of the Harvest has responded and is beginning to send out workers.

In the following several chapters, Jesus begins to make clear the cost of following him—and of joining in his mission. He has moved simply encountering and healing individuals to calling fellow laborers into the harvest. He has moved from identifying himself as the King to calling a kingdom around him—an “ekklesia,” a church, made of kingdom people with kingdom authority and power.

It is here that the call of Jesus takes on true urgency, power, and a cost. That call will be our subject in the coming weeks.


I would love to hear from you. Scroll down to leave a comment below!

This is Part 137 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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7 responses to “Pray the Lord of the Harvest: The Harvest, the Need, and the Need to Be Sent”

  1. Oke Abiodun Julius Avatar
    Oke Abiodun Julius

    Please kindly help me with tracts for distribution in my local area and church as a means of reaching out to the unsafe souls.
    God bless you

  2. John McKay Avatar
    John McKay

    Thankyou Rachel
    Wonderful insights
    Bless you
    Deacon John

  3. Patricia Mitchell Avatar
    Patricia Mitchell

    I was praying this morning around 3am and I heard the phrase “pray to the Lord of the Harvest” . I wanted to understand what those words meant and when I typed the words “lord of the harvest” your blog page came up. Thank you so much Rachel.

    1. Rachel Avatar

      You’re very welcome! Thanks for sharing this piece of your journey :).

    2. Linda Klocek Avatar
      Linda Klocek

      I was awake at 5:30 this morning praying for a friend who is having financial difficulties. As I prayed I also heard pray to The Lord of the Harvest.
      This message truly helped because I don’t think I’ve ever prayed specifically to God as The Lord of the Harvest.

  4. Kit Tosello Avatar

    I love the emphasis on prayer first, on acknowledging our King. On allowing ourselves to be unified and to some degree organized, rather than a bunch of spazzy workers. Thanks for the inspiration today to ready myself while listening for my next assignments.

    1. Joel de la Cruz Avatar
      Joel de la Cruz

      Interesting comments about the scripture.

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