The Shofar is the ancient trumpet which called the people of God to prayer, repentance, sacrifice and war.


Matthew 9:36-38
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By Stephen Green.  (First published in Christian Voice: July 2009)

Matt 9:36  But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.

37  Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;

38  Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.

Luke 10:2  Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. 

John 4:35  Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.

I have been greatly blessed and challenged by listening to Andrew Murray's 'With Christ in the School of Prayer ' recently.  One of the words he examines, in which Christ teaches us to pray, is Matt 9:37-38.  This matter of the harvest of souls must have lain heavy on our Lord's heart.  In Matthew he spoke of it just before sending out the Twelve, then He repeated it when sending out the Seventy in Luke 10, and then we read that He mentioned how overdue was the harvest - white (Gr: leukos) - during the discourse with the woman of Samaria in John 4.

In John the Lord then set out the principle that one may saw and another reap, which Murray alludes to when he observes that our prayer is not to be selfish.  We may ask for things for ourselves, he suggests, but only if these are for God's glory and for His Kingdom.  In the Lord's Prayer, (Matt 6:9&ff. Luke 11:2&ff) we are to pray for God's name to be hallowed, His will to be done and His Kingdom to come before praying for our daily bread, for forgiveness of sins and for a forgiving heart, against temptation and finally for deliverance.  Even that prayer for material things is for our daily requirement, not for riches, not for what we might want but for what we actually need.

It is a matter of priorities, of putting God first.  And speaking of priorities, Murray shows how Christ taught His disciples to pray and how to pray but seldom what to pray for.  We have the Lord's model prayer, in which we are indeed taught what to pray for, but the only other instance is this of the labourers.  So after we have finished praying according to Christ's model, the next priority appears to be to pray for men to be sent out to preach the Gospel.

James says that one who leads another to Christ will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins (Jas 5:20), while Jude urges us to pull them out of the fire with the fear of God (Jude 1:23).  Saving souls is a priority, which is why Christian Voice leaflets, even while they are witnessing against an evil, always carry the Gospel.  And the witness itself is a testimony against a sinner's evil ways, convicting of sin, perhaps sowing a seed for another to harvest later.

We might sow and another reap, but 'so what?' asks the Apostle Paul.  So long as Christ is preached Kingdom work is being done (Phil 1:18).  One plants, another waters, God gives the increase (1Cor 3:6) and we are to delight in that.  But at the same time, as our gracious Lord reminds us, there are not enough of us labouring in the harvest field.  The King's business requires haste (1Sam 21:8), that is, to be put before everything else.  The needs of our God and of our neighbour are real and we should pray and do whatever is necessary to raise up others alongside us to do the work.

Murray raises two questions which take us to the heart of prayer in relation to God Himself.  They are these:

(1) Why could Jesus not pray for the labourers instead of leaving it to the disciples? Would not one prayer of the Lord's be worth one thousand of ours, or of theirs?

(2) Why does not God see the need and send the labourers in any case in His perfect timing?

The answer to these questions appears to take us into the depths of what prayer is about.  Firstly, it seems the Lord wants to make the supply of labourers dependent on the disciples' prayer.  They are to enter into the mind of God, see things from His perspective, and then let heartfelt prayer pour out from them, prayer which, if it is so prayed with the mind of God, will certainly be answered by the hand of God. 

John Wesley famously observed that God does nothing except in answer to prayer.  Our prayer is important, indeed vital, to the Lord's Kingdom purposes.  That is why it is necessary to know the word of God, in order to see things through the eyes of God and pray with the mind of God.  It would be terrible if a work of God's were left undone because no-one saw the need to stand in the gap and intercede.

Looked at another way, the disciples of the Lord are to learn to have the same compassion on the multitudes as He had Himself.  If the fields are indeed white, they are already overdue, and are due to rot and perish if the reapers do not go in at once.  This is true love of our neighbour, to pray for one to meet him in the name of the Lord, or to be that one ourselves.

Perhaps the most humbling and challenging response to the questions is to realise that God is inviting us to be partners with Him.  How true it is that He could do it all Himself, without us clogging up the works.  God could do sovereign acts and save Himself a lot of the trouble of waiting for fallible men and women to pray the prayers He wants to hear.  We could say that God will send a man a prayer to pray of His sovereign will, but Christ still told the disciples to pray for a specific need and then left it up to them - and by extension to us - to do it.

Whichever way we look at it, God is for some reason generous enough to delegate part of His work to us, and to let us then have the joy of His triumph, whether of a single soul saved or a blasphemous theatre production left in ruins. a gay pride event rained off or an MP made to resign.

Such a partnership is not new.  The saints of old were entrusted with the things of God.  Moses was provoked into praying for his people when God already had a purpose to lead them into the promised land.  Joshua was given a complicated prayer walk to bring down Jericho when God could have brought the walls down immediately.  Elijah had the terrible task of praying for the rains to be withheld, when God could have simply told him to prophesy the evils of Ahab and the stopping of the rain whilst leaving God to do it.  Jonah had to go to Nineveh when God of His sovereign power could have granted a spirit of repentance to the king of Nineveh there and then.

Scripture is replete with examples of men and women being entrusted with key tasks, including prayer, without which the purpose of God would apparently not be done.  God could indeed just do it, but He wants us to take some credit, perhaps to be held up as an example, as James holds up Elijah (Jas 5:17), or as the heroes of the faith are listed in Hebrews (Heb 11:32-40), or more likely merely to take joy in the fulfilment of our Master's work.

For it is certain that prayer has a power to bring about definite results.  The popular slogan 'Prayer changes things' can be more properly expressed as 'God changes things in answer to prayer' but it comes to the same thing: The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (Jas 5:16b).

Do we believe in a powerful, prayer-answering, miracle-working God who chooses to work with and through those He has created?  Well I do.  I have seen God answer prayer and send miracles on the battlefield.  I have seen His gracious provision both for the Christian Voice ministry and for me personally, provision which I still see daily.

So let us be fervent in prayer for additional labourers, knowing that a lack of such prayer would be a sin separating us from Christ's heart of compassion, and that Christ waits and longs for such prayers.  Let us pray against a slothful spirit and live and work for our Lord's Kingdom and for His glory.  As Murray concludes: 'And let our hearts be filled with the assurance that prayer offered in living faith in the living God will bring certain and abundant answer. Amen.'