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Harvesting Souls

Author
Category Articles
Date November 5, 2013

Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting (Psa. 126:5).

Read carefully. If your church does not evangelize, then it will surely perish. I say this even if you have several hundreds or thousands of members and are presently a vibrant, fast growing church. We all know of churches that fifty or one hundred years ago were hotbeds of evangelistic fervour but now have dwindled to next to nothing or have sold their church buildings to Hindus or Muslims. You can be easily deceived. If your church is primarily growing by having babies or by receiving disgruntled Christians from other churches, then you are kidding yourself. The seeds of death are already sown in your church. The culture is decidedly one of maintenance ministry. Sooner or later your church will no longer be the cool place to be. Some other church will gain that distinction, and you will see major decline. When I speak to pastors and elders of many churches, asking them specifically how many professions of faith they had last year, how many people have they directly shared Jesus with in the last six months, the answers are often pretty discouraging. You must evangelize or you will perish. You must have a harvest of souls.

Okay, what must we do to see this happen? Psalm 126 is a ‘Song of Ascent,’ a song sung by God’s covenant people as they joyfully made their way up to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. The Psalmist begins, ‘When Yahweh brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream.’ In other words, their release caused them to rejoice exceedingly. They were ‘beside themselves’ with joy. This is not necessarily referring to the return from Babylonian captivity. There were many other times of captivity for the people of God – four hundred years of Egyptian bondage, perennial trouble with the Philistines, wicked kings during the time of the Judges – but whatever time it was, the return from captivity brought great rejoicing. Why does the Psalmist refer to Zion? Why not Judah, Jerusalem, Israel? Charles Spurgeon observes that Zion was a hill on the north side of Jerusalem, the place where the Temple of God stood, that the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob (Psa. 137:2).1 When the people of God were released from their captivity they were overjoyed, astounded at God’s mercy and grace to them. Even the pagan nations around them observed how Yahweh, their God, had shown kindness to them. This even caused Israel to say, ‘Indeed, the Lord has done great things for us. We are glad.’ But then the Psalmist offers a prayer, asking Yahweh to restore their captivity, to deliver them afresh and anew, as the streams of the Negev. The Negev is a dry and parched land between Jerusalem and Egypt. Most of the year the wadis or river beds are utterly dry. However when the rains come the wadis become a mighty torrent of rushing water. The ‘streams of the Negev’ are symbolic of revival, as cool, refreshing water comes to God’s weary people and sustains them (Exod. 17:1-7; Num. 20:8-13; Ezek. 47:1-12; John 7:37-38). When these mighty, rushing waters of revival come then God’s people are able to sow in tears, and reap with joyful shouting. The farmer intentionally, at the right time of year, in the correct fashion, sows the seed. He does so in tears. Sowing is hard, frustrating work. Sometimes his plans are thwarted by drought or flood, but at other times, when the great harvest comes, he rejoices, bringing the sheaves of wheat into the storehouse.

This Psalm gives us four necessary action steps if we are to harvest souls, if we are to see our churches flourish and not die. First, ask for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:1-13). The believer, of course, has the Spirit indwelling him, but he can quench (1 Thess. 5:19), grieve (Eph. 4:30), or resist (Acts 17:51) the Spirit. People without Christ are not buying what you are selling. They have no hunger or thirst for God (Rom. 3:10-20). You must have the Spirit’s convicting, convincing, and regenerating work if you are to see anyone, anytime come to Christ. Do you, my friends, ask for the Holy Spirit? Are you aware of hardness or dryness, often brought by the neglect of your soul, that renders you powerless in the face of unbelief?

Second, you must remember your own captivity. Never forget what you were and from where you have come. You were dead in your trespasses and sins. You were in the ‘hip pocket’ of the devil. You were dominated by the world’s folly. You were guilty of indulging, in your creative fashion, the desires of your own mind and flesh, coming up with a myriad of ways to displease the Lord. Therefore you were facing condemnation, just like everyone else in the world. You had no hope at all. You were without God in this world (Eph. 2:1-3, 11-12). Had you died one minute prior to God’s regenerating grace, then you would surely have gone to hell, and you would have deserved that judgment. But God was rich in mercy toward you, making you alive together with Christ, saving you, making you his own workmanship, drawing you near by the blood of his precious Son (Eph. 2:4-10, 13). Therefore you are debtors to God’s grace (Rom. 1:14-15). Smell the smoke of perdition, feel the flames of the lake of fire, hear the awful words of judgment from Jesus. This was to be your lot, but God was rich in mercy toward you. Do you regularly celebrate your deliverance from captivity? Do you say, ‘When the Lord restored my captivity from the devil and hell, I was like one who dreams. My mouth was filled with laughter and my tongue with joyful shouting.’

Third, sow the gospel seed in tears. You must be intentional. The first two points are ‘heart’ issues. Get your heart right by grace. But now you are to be intentional. Like the farmer who knows he must cultivate the ground and sow the seed at the proper time, so you must cultivate relationships with people, asking the Spirit to cause a hunger for truth to overcome them, and then you must give them Jesus, the most marvellous and gracious Saviour. In other words, it is one hundred percent man and one hundred percent God. The farmer sows the seed (100 percent man), but he then is completely dependent upon God for the rains to come at the right time (100 percent God). What must you sow? Sow obedience to God’s law. Sow faith. Sow repentance. Sow kindness and compassion to those with whom you share Jesus (Col. 3:12-14).

And fourth, you are then to reap souls with joyful shouting. Expect people to call upon the name of the Lord. Expect to find people who want to hear the gospel. Offer Jesus to them. Our problem often is that we do not expect anything to happen in our gospel work. Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God. If you are not experiencing a harvest of souls, then ask yourself, ‘Why not?’ Could it be unbelief (John 14:12)? Could it be unrepentant sin which blocks the flow of the Spirit into your ministry (Psa. 66:18; Isa. 59:1-2)?

Ask for the Holy Spirit. Remember your past captivity. Sow in tears. Reap with joyful shouting.

Notes

  1. The Treasury of David, volume three, part two, page 72.

Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.

If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at al.baker3@yahoo.com.

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