Then he said to his disciples, ‘‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’’ Matthew 9:37–38

The Lord frequently taught His disciples that they must pray, and how they should pray, but seldom what to pray. This He left to their sense of need and the leading of the Spirit. But here we have one thing He expressly commands them to remember. In view of the abundant harvest and the need of reapers, he tells them to cry to the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers. Just as in the parable of the friend at midnight, He wants them to understand that prayer is not to be selfish. It is the power through which blessing can come to others. The Father is Lord of the harvest, so when we pray for the Holy Spirit, we are to pray that He will prepare and send out laborers for the work.

Is it not strange that He should ask His disciples to pray for this? Could He not pray for laborers? Would not one prayer of His accomplish more than a thousand of theirs? Did not God, the Lord of the harvest, see the need? Would He not, in His own good time, send forth laborers—even without the disciples’ prayers? Such questions lead us to the deepest mysteries of prayer and its power in the kingdom of God. Answers to such questions convince us that prayer is indeed a power on which the ingathering of the harvest and the coming of the kingdom truly depend.

Prayer is not an empty form or show. The Lord Jesus is Truth. Everything He spoke on earth was truth. ‘‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’’ (v. 36). He called on the disciples to pray for laborers to be sent among them. He did so because He really believed that their prayer would effect what was needed. The veil that hides the invisible world from us was transparent to the holy human soul of Jesus. He looked long and deep and far into the hidden connection of cause and effect in the spirit world. He showed from God’s Word how, when God called men like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and Daniel, and gave them authority over men in His name, He at the same time gave them the authority and right to call the powers of heaven to their aid as needed. He knew that just as the work of God had been entrusted to these men of old, and to himself for a time here on earth, so now it was about to pass into the hands of His disciples. He knew that when this work was given over to them, it would not be mere form or show. Instead, the success of the work would actually depend on them, whether they were faithful or unfaithful in prayer. As a single individual within the limitations of a human body and a human life, Jesus felt how little a short visit could accomplish among the wandering sheep He saw around Him. He longed for help to have them properly cared for. So He told His disciples to pray—both then and when they would have taken over the work from Him on earth—as one of the chief petitions in their prayer, that the Lord of the harvest himself would send forth laborers into His harvest. The God who entrusted them with the work and made it so largely dependent on them, gives them authority to appeal to Him for laborers to help, and makes the supply dependent on their prayer.

How little Christians feel and intercede for the need of laborers in the fields of the world that are so white for harvest. How little they believe that our labor supply depends on prayer and that prayer will supply as much as is needed (Luke 11:8). It is not that the dearth of labor is not known or discussed, or that efforts are not sometimes put forth to supply the need. But how little the burden of the sheep wandering without a Shepherd is really carried in faith that the Lord of the harvest would send forth laborers in answer to prayer. There is no solemn conviction that without this prayer fields ready for reaping will be left to perish. But these are vital truths.

So complete is the surrender of His work into the hands of His church, so dependent has the Lord made himself on them as His body through whom alone His work can be done, and so real is the power that the Lord gives His people to exercise in heaven and on earth, that the number of laborers and the measure of the harvest actually depends upon their prayers.

What a solemn thought! Then why do we not obey the injunction of the Master more wholeheartedly and cry more earnestly for laborers? There are two reasons: First, we lack the compassion of Jesus that gave rise to this request for prayer. When believers learn that the Father’s first commandment to His redeemed ones is to love their neighbors as themselves and to live entirely for God’s glory, they will accept the care and concern for the perishing as the charge entrusted to them by their Lord. By accepting the lost not only as a field of labor, but as individuals in need of loving care and compassion, the cry will ascend with an earnestness previously unknown: ‘‘Lord! Send forth laborers.’’

The second reason for neglect of the command is a lack of faith. This can be overcome when in true compassion we plead for help. We believe too little in the power of prayer to bring about definite results. We do not live close enough to God and are not given over to His service and kingdom enough to be capable of the confidence that He will give us the faith we need in answer to our prayer. Pray for a life so one with Christ that His compassion will flow into you and His Spirit will give you the assurance that your prayers will be answered.

Such prayer will ask and obtain a double blessing. First there will be the desire for an increase in people entirely given up to the service of God. It is a terrible blot upon the church of Christ that at times individuals simply cannot be found to serve the Master as ministers, missionaries, or teachers of God’s Word. As God’s children pray for this in their own circle or church, workers will be given. The Lord Jesus is Lord of the harvest. He has been exalted to bestow the gifts of the Spirit. His chief gifts are people filled with the Spirit. But the supply and distribution of these gifts depend on the cooperation of the Head and the body.

The other blessing to be asked is no less important. Every believer is a laborer. Every one of God’s children has been redeemed for service and has his work waiting for him. Our prayer should be that the Lord will so fill all His people with a spirit of dedication that not one may be found standing idle in the vineyard. Wherever there is complaint of a lack of workers or of competent helpers for God’s work, prayer holds the promise for their supply. There is no work for God where He is not ready and able to provide workers for it. It may take time and importunity, but Christ’s command to ask the Lord of the harvest is the pledge that the prayer will be heard: ‘‘I tell you, he will get up and give him as much as he needs’’ (Luke 11:8).

It is a sobering thought that this prayer has been given to us to provide for the world’s needs and to obtain helpers for God’s work. The Lord of the harvest who told us to pray will hear us. Christ, who called us especially to pray in this way will support our prayers offered in His name and interest. Let us set apart time and give ourselves to this part of our intercessory work. It will lead us into fellowship with His compassionate heart that led Him to call for our prayers in the first place. It will elevate us to an insight into our regal position as those who have had a part with God in the advancement of His kingdom. It will make us feel how truly we are God’s fellow workers on earth. A share in His work has been entrusted to us. It will make us partakers not only in the travail but also in the satisfaction of Jesus as we see how blessing has been given in answer to our prayer that otherwise would not have come.

Blessed Lord, you have again given us a wonderful lesson in prayer. We humbly ask you to help us to see clearly the spiritual realities that you speak of. The harvest is so large; the people are perishing. They wait for sleepy disciples to give the signal for laborers to come. Lord, teach us to look upon the harvest with hearts moved with compassion. The laborers are few. Show us how serious is our sin of prayerlessness in this regard. We know the Lord of the harvest is able and ready to send them forth. Impress on us how important our prayer is—prayer that is sure to be answered.

We do not understand why you trust such work and give such power to people who are so slothful and unfaithful. We thank you for all whom you are teaching to cry day and night for laborers to be sent forth. Breathe your Spirit on all your children that they may learn to live for this alone: the kingdom and glory of their Lord. Make them and us fully awake to faith in what our prayer can accomplish. Fill our hearts with the assurance that prayer offered in loving faith in the living God will bring certain and abundant answer. Amen.