What's the hurry?

Missions: The heart of God

Commentary on John 4

"Don't you have a saying, It's still four months until harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest" -- John 4:35

Across the years, Jesus' references to harvest-ready fields have sparked a passion in people for world evangelism. Sermons and songs have frequently featured the harvest idea. For example, Robin Mark's 1994 "Days of Elijah," proclaims: "These are the days of harvest. The fields are as white in the world."

In exhortations recorded in Matthew 91 and Luke 102, Jesus spoke of the need for workers to gather the harvest. In John 4, our Lord's words spotlight the urgency of the task. Delay in harvesting a ripened crop usually ends in spoilage and a sense that hours of soil preparation, planting, fertilizing, weed control, and watering have been in vain.

Verses 4-42 of John 4 describe an event at what was then a 2,000-year-old well. Jesus and his disciples had stopped there during a trip northward from Jerusalem to Galilee. On this particular journey, they went through Samaria, a region whose inhabitants were shunned by the Jews as "half-breeds."

When they came to Sychar, the disciples left Jesus at the ancient water source and went to buy food. While they were gone, a woman came to draw water. To the Samaritan woman's surprise, the Jewish man at the well asked her for a drink. Then, He talked to her about a kind of water that could satisfy thirst forever.

When the disciples showed up with lunch, the woman hurried away to call townspeople to come meet someone who just might be the Promised Messiah. As people from Sychar "made their way toward Him," Jesus urged His disciples to open their eyes and look at the ripening fields. Since people were the "fields" Jesus had in mind that day, it's easy to imagine Him gesturing at the approaching Samaritans -- whom most Jews despised -- as He said, "Open your eyes and look . . ."

Jesus referred to a common catchphrase of that time: "It's still four months until harvest." I have never heard anyone use that saying today. However, it would fit well in the same contexts in which we exclaim, "What's the big hurry?" and "Where's the fire?" To those with such a what's-the-big-hurry attitude regarding Gospel proclamation, Jesus said, "Look at the fields! They are ripe."

In using the harvest metaphor, Jesus was saying, "This is urgent!" Talking about global outreach as a harvest indicates that we face windows of opportunity that open and close. Harvesting cannot be postponed until a more convenient time. When crops mature, they must be harvested right away.

Each day, tens of thousands of people go out into eternity each day never having heard about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Isn't that a ripened harvest going to waste? Oh, when will we feel the urgency?

Discussion questions

  1. In what ways does Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well illustrate the urgency of the task of evangelism?
  2. How can Jesus' reference to ripened fields ready for harvest be used to inspire Christians to engage in global outreach?
  3. Why do you think some people may have a "what's the big hurry" attitude towards Gospel proclamation? How can this attitude be overcome?
  4. What can Christians do to respond to the urgent need for worldwide evangelism in ways that ensure the ripened harvest of souls is not wasted?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

1"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 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 9:36-38

2"After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.'" -- Luke 10:1-3

This mini-essay on a world missions Bible passage is one of more than three dozen articles in the "Heart of God" series published in Engage magazine. That series explores what the Bible says about missions.

Harvest-themed songs about Great Commission fulfillment

"Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe." -- Joel 3:1

"Harvest" excerpt from "Days of Elijah" by Robin Mark

Other songs with harvest motif

The Battle Is the Lord's - E. Margaret Clarkson and Meyer Lyon
"The harvest fields are white: How few the reaping hands appear, their strength how slight! Yet victory is sure."
[ printed music and words from 1962 Christian and Missionary Alliance hymnal ]
Bringing in the Sheaves - Knowles Shaw and George Minor
"Sowing in the morning . . . Waiting for the harvest and the time of reaping, we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves."
1874 [ YouTube ] [ printed music ] [ "Great Hymns of the Faith" hymnal ]
The Call for Reapers - J.O. Thompson and J.B.O. Clemm (also called "Far and Near")
"Far and near the fields are teeming with waves of ripened grain. . . Lord of the harvest, send for reapers!"
[ printed music ] [ Great Hymns of the Faith hymnal ] Also published in Hymns of Glorious Praise
Come, Labor On! - Jane Borthwick and J. Buchanan MacMillan
"Who dares stand idle on the harvest plain while all around him waves the golden grain?"
1962 (Music), Christian Publications [ printed music and words from 1962 Christian and Missionary Alliance hymnal ] [ lyrics and audio file ]
Disciple the Nations - Dan Whittemore
"The harvest is plenty, the workers are few. With each daily victory, there's much more to do."
1976, Lillenas
Faithful Men - Twila Paris
Come and join the reapers . . . Come and share the harvest, Help to light the darkness"
1985, Straightway Music / Mountain Spring [ YouTube ] [ sheet music ] [ Recorded on CD: "Perennial: Songs for the Seasons of Life" ]
Hark! The Voice of Jesus Calling - Daniel March and Louis von Esch ( also known as "Hear the Voice of Jesus Calling")
"Who will go and work today? Fields are white, the harvest waiting. Who will bear the sheaves away?"
1868 [ printed music ] [ found in Hymns for the Family of God hymnal as "Hear the Voice of Jesus Calling" ]
Harvest Bells - William Penn and J.M. Hunt
"The harvest field is white, and many souls are sinking into eternal night. The harvest bells are ringing."
Harvest Time - Paul Rader and Lance Latham
"The harvest fields are bending with precious ripened grain; More reapers now are needed."
Harvest Time - Wanda Smith
The grain is falling; the Savior's calling. Oh, do not wait! It's growing late. Behold, the fields are white; it's harvest time."
1949, Aim High Music Group / BMG Music Publishing [ printed in Sing His Praise" hymnal ]
Here I Am, Send Me - Melody Green-Severeid and Wendell Burton
"Lord, you said the harvest was great, but Lord, looks like the workers are late. It's getting hard to understand how they ignore your great command."
1979 and 1987, Birdwing Music / Cross Purpose Music / Ears to Hear [ recorded on CD "Keith Green: The Ministry Years, Vol. 1" ]
I'll Go Where You Want Me To Go - Mary Brown and Carrie Rounsefell
"There's surely somewhere a lowly place in earth's harvest fields so wide where I may labor through life's short day for Jesus the Crucified."
1899 [ YouTube ] [ printed music ] [ "Great Hymns of the Faith" hymnal ] Published in Hymns of Glorious Praise hymnal
Labor On - Christopher R. Blackall and W. Howard Doane
"In the harvest field there is work to do, For the grain is ripe, and the reapers few"
[ sheet music with words ]
Lift Jesus High - Scott Wesley Brown
"The season of harvest is now. Rise up and take up your plow. Work while there's still light, night draweth nigh. Enter the nations, lift up your banner high."
1995, Integrity's Hosanna! Music [ accompaniment tracks ] [ recording on CD "Mission of Praise" ]
Lord of the Harvest - Bill O'Brien and Dick Anthony
"Lord of the harvest, the laborers are so few . . . We go now as we ought."
1977, Lillenas [ printed in "Hear the Call" songbook] [ printed music ]
Lord of the Living Harvest - John S. B. Monsell and Lowell Mason
"Lord of the living harvest that whitens o'er the plain . . . Accept these hands to labor, these hearts to trust and love."
1866 [ printed music ]
Seedtime and Harvest - Bill O'Brien and Dick Anthony
Seedtime and harvest, fields full of grain. . . Use me, Lord Jesus."
1977, Lillenas


The metaphor of "harvest" is frequently used in Christian gospel outreach for several reasons:

Biblical Foundation: The concept of harvest is deeply rooted in the Bible, particularly in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus often used agricultural metaphors to illustrate spiritual truths. For instance, in Matthew 9:37-38, Jesus says, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." Here, this metaphor points the abundance of people ready to be brought into the Kingdom of God.

Seasonality and Timing: Just like physical harvests, spiritual harvests have their seasons. There are times of readiness and receptivity among people to receive the message of the gospel. This harvest metaphor underscores the importance of discerning and seizing opportune moments for evangelism and outreach.

Labor and Diligence: Harvesting requires labor, effort, and diligence. Similarly, spreading the gospel involves intentional work, dedication, and perseverance. The harvest metaphor encourages Christians to recognizew that evangelism and investment and commitment.

Fruitfulness and Growth: Successful harvests yield abundant fruit. In the context of evangelism, the "fruit" refers to people coming to faith and experiencing transformation through the Holy Spirit. The harvest metaphor highlights the joy and fulfillment that comes from seeing lives changed and communities impacted by the message of Jesus Christ.

Unity and Collaboration: Harvesting often requires teamwork and collaboration among laborers. Similarly, Christian outreach is most effective when believers come together to work collectively to share the gospel and then make disciples.

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