This is your life—a place of unrelenting preparation.
I guess farms are popular vacation destinations. I found this blurb recently:
“Escape the city and experience what it is like to live on a farm at our Bed and Breakfast. Wake up to the morning chores of milking a cow, feeding the baby calves, looking for chicken eggs, visiting with the bunnies and feeding the goats. It’s a farm vacation you’ll remember for years to come!”
Something about this ad doesn’t resonate with how I think about a farm. At least according to my concept, farming is all about growing a crop. That means stinky smells, uncomfortable machinery, sweating, lifting, pushing, pulling, getting up early, going to bed late. Maybe modern farms don’t fit that description, but for sure before the industrial age, no farm would have made anyone’s vacation wish list.
Wouldn’t it be funny if people looking for a vacation farm experience accidentally showed up to a working farm? Here comes mom and dad in their designer overalls and Gucci work gloves, with Junior in tow: “We’re here to bottle feed the baby calf!” The old farmer is a little confused, but he says, “Okay, when you’re done, make sure all the rest of the cows are fed, too. Then I’ll need you to slop the hogs. When you’re finished, hoe the side garden.” Now it’s the parents’ turn to be confused. “What about Junior?” they ask. “We came here so he could enjoy the farm.” The farmer shrugs. “Okay. Tell him to start shoveling that manure.”
Sometimes I poke fun at North American Christians, because in a similar way, we get the working Church mixed up with the vacation Church. We come looking for bits and pieces of spiritual experience—morsels of Bible study here, some “service” over there, but not so much that we become that authentic, operational church.
Under those circumstances, there’s always going to be a collision of expectations.
Revelation chapter 14 shows us a God who is working all day, every day, toward a harvest moment. You are part of His global Enterprise—a vast field of believers that Christ is personally committed to cultivating.
14:14 Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.
Christ as the Son of Man here, presides over the harvest. As one who has fully entered the human experience, He has tasted the deepest principles of human life with its suffering and temptations. He knows everything about proceeding through the stages of maturity. His overcoming life, faithful death, and triumphant resurrection uniquely crowns Him with authority over this field.
15 And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.”
Oddly enough, it seems the angel here is bossing Jesus around. But he’s not. He came out of the temple, from where he had been standing before the face of God. He’s a runner, bringing a directive from God to the Son. Remember, according to Jesus, the rapture here is under the purview of God the Father—“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Mt. 24:36).
16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.
More than likely, this is a wheat crop. First fruits had already ripened and been reaped in Revelation 14:1-5. Now the rest of the field is reaped, making the harvest complete. At this point, the admirable, honorable, faithful, loving, and wise work of the Son of Man has brought believers all the way from regeneration to rapture.
That is commitment of an unparalleled order.
About twenty-five years ago, my dad led a work crew from Arizona to Dayton Ohio. He was refurbishing hotels, which meant a lot of old furniture would go out, and new stuff would go in, get assembled on site, and situated in rooms. Since I lived only forty-five minutes away in Cincinnati, I dropped in for the day to work for him. My dad was going to be my boss. The funny part was that the work crew assumed that since I was the son of the boss, I was only putting in a cameo appearance. I wouldn’t be doing much. But my being the son meant the opposite. Far from relieving me of concerns and responsibilities, it meant I was the most committed man on the crew. In fact, I was the most committed person in the city of Dayton.
In a much greater way, the Son is committed to His Father’s field—us. How committed? Well, His first work was to die to make sure the seed of God’s Word got into your heart. The fact you are born again with a modicum of interest in spiritual things, cost Jesus His life. And if He was that committed from the very start, how much more that the seed would take root, develop, and bear fruit?
So much is now happening on this farm, yet when we describe it, we use simplified terms like “Bible study.” It’s as though we’re conscious of nothing more than information transfer, learning little lessons for life. But during your reading, at an entirely different level, the Son of Man is packing the root complex of your heart with truth.
And prayer? As we squeak out words of need and pain, He pours the water of the Holy Spirit into us. His inward tending work causes us to love and obey Him from the inside out. This is what draws us forward. We don’t follow Jesus lifelong just to avoid negative consequences, like divorce, or kids on drugs. Jesus knows that threats of disaster aren’t enough to produce growing Christians. We must be inspired by the sight of glory as the Father reveals to us the Son, and the Son, the Father (c.f. Mt. 11:27).
Additionally, the Son of Man allows various sufferings into your life, dislodging you from places you have gotten stuck. There will never be a time when you get down on your knees with tears in your eyes to tell Jesus about your situation, that He doesn’t already know about it. In fact, there are plenty of things about you that you don’t know. These afflict even the most serious Christians.
Take pride, for instance. We have an unconscious love for the limelight. In the last few years I attended some large Christian conferences. I couldn’t help but notice a pattern among some of the speakers. Before they preached to huge crowds, they often gave a preamble that included the statement, “I stand here before you humbled.” Having heard this assertion recycled a few times, it made me wonder if they hadn’t gotten it wrong. Our being humbled doesn’t come from thousands of enthusiastic listeners. It comes from expecting thousands of listeners, but only having a few dozen show up. Such disappointments do a better job of producing humility than adulation ever could. The Son of Man knows this.
Another hidden area has to do with control issues. You’re familiar with the feelings attached to this one—the irritation of not getting your way, of taking it as a personal slight when people don’t line up on your ideas. Or when unforeseen circumstances wreck your perfect plan.
Anxiety is another. This nervous energy pressures us into over-extension, and burnout, as we try to solve our problems and everyone else’s. We could name many more camouflaged afflictions—selfish ambitions, legalism, vindictiveness, manipulation, and insincerity. Rest assured the Lord of the Harvest knows how to deal with such.
When we become aware of anything in this lineup, we have predictable reactions. The first is simple denial—Oh, that doesn’t describe me at all! Even if we admit to the shortcoming, we resort to excuses—Of course I’m this way. Look at how I was raised! And if we accept the blame, our last tactic is to simply conceal it under a guise of Christian perfection. The Son won’t let us, though. These things, after all, frustrate our maturity. That’s why some of our difficulties seem circular. Whatever we fail to learn soon revisits us with the same basic lesson, although wrapped in slightly different details. Eventually, He calls you to cooperate with him, to “work out your own salvation” (Phil. 2:12). You are being prepared for the harvest. The Son cannot and will not fail the Father.
In the midst of all this activity, Jesus is still kind to you. Perhaps He has been laboring for months to lift up a drooping, fruitless area of your life, even as you complain that His field is not enough fun. He is kind to the clueless, a term that often describes us.
But there’s a lot of things growing in this world, not just faith. More than one kind of harvest is coming.
17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.
Don’t confuse this vine with that of John 15, because the destiny of this one is not positive. The harvest of God’s people, the wheat, is taken into the Masters Barn (c.f. Mt. 13). But this dark crop is crushed, with blood flowing deep and wide. God has reserved it for last, for the sake of giving adequate warning to those who are a part of it. Unfortunately, as sinners often do, they took delayed judgment to mean cancelled judgment—that there would be no final reckoning. They therefore persisted in becoming what they wanted to become.
A crop this displeasing to God grew in a compost pile of dark entertainment, distractions, lustful gratifications. James said, “sin when it is fully grown, brings forth death” (1:15).
The ripening of these two harvests is a study in opposites. When wheat ripens, the moisture in it dries out, but when a grape ripens, moisture fills it. The worldly person has a palette conditioned for worldly values, pleasures, aspirations. They find these things delicious, and swell up with them.
But as the wheat, you ripen when worldly juices dry out of you. You stop seeing this world as being glorious and desirable. This is not to say we become cynical, only that our reference point of beauty and hope, of delight, and desire, transfers someplace else—Christ.
We need to make sure we’ve joined an operational, working farm. This largely amounts to getting serious about your own growth. And yet not just your own. Though the harvest here in Revelation symbolizes the end of this age, and the field hands are angels, we’re supposed to become participants right now.
Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Mt. 9:37-38). He knew that Christians would tend to be sedentary, limited by self-interests. It would take prayer to move them off their couches, and get them involved in care for others.
- Root level—Enriching, enabling, facilitating someone’s efforts to care for their own spiritual life.
- Shoot level—Guiding, teaching, equipping someone as they develop an area of service.
- Fruit level—Assisting, encouraging, or supporting someone’s work as they try to affect others.
I hope that you, in your own small way, could be an answer to the prayer for laborers.
Grab a shovel. Grab a rake. Grab some seed.