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The pastor as a harvest worker: Praying the radical prayer1

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Archives / 2011 / January



The pastor as a harvest worker: Praying the radical prayer1

Derek Morris
Derek Morris is editor of Ministry.


Have you ever prayed a bold prayer? I am not talking about, “Thank You for the world so sweet, thank You for the food we eat,” or “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” I am talking about a bold prayer.

Like Elijah, when he stretched himself out three times over the lifeless body of the son of the widow of Zarephath and prayed, “ ‘O Lord my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him’ ” (1 Kings 17:21).2 That was a bold prayer.

Or like Jesus, when He held a small lunch in His hands and prayed to His heavenly Father to provide food for a vast multitude (Mark 6:41). That was also a bold prayer. The Gospel writers do not give us the exact words of Jesus’ prayer, but surely He was not just saying, “Thank You for the world so sweet, thank You for the food we eat.”

The radical prayer

Jesus challenges you to pray a bold prayer. A radical prayer. Listen to the words of Jesus:

“The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2).

At first reading, this may not sound like a radical prayer. But a careful study of these words of Jesus will reveal that this represents a radical request. There are several Greek verbs that can be translated “pray.” Is Jesus asking us to make a request? To express a desire? It is more intense, for the Greek verb used, deomai, means “to beseech,” “to plead earnestly,” “to beg.” The request of Jesus comes across so much stronger than simply “to pray.”

Let us consider some passages where this verb is used. We find it twice in connection with this teaching of Jesus to pray to the Lord of the harvest. It is also found in Luke 5:12, in connection with a leper who begs for healing; in Luke 8:38, where a man who has been freed from a legion of demons earnestly pleads to go with Jesus; and in Luke 9:38, where a man also pleads for his son’s deliverance from an evil spirit. Do any of those occurrences sound like simply expressing a desire or making a request?

Perhaps even more helpful for our understanding is the use of this verb in Luke 22:31, 32. Here Jesus prays, “ ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail’ ” (emphasis added). Peter was in danger of eternal loss. Satan wanted to sift him like wheat. How do you think Jesus prayed for Peter? He used the verb deomai. Jesus earnestly pleaded with the Father on Simon Peter’s behalf. That is how Jesus tells us to pray the radical prayer. Pray earnestly. Beg.

The earnest appeal

Notice, this verb is in the imperative: “therefore pray the Lord of the harvest . . . ” What do authors imply when they use an imperative? It’s a command or an appeal. An imperative expects an active response. If a firefighter runs into a public building and shouts, “Vacate this building immediately,” this should not be considered a polite suggestion but a command. If a teacher says to her students, “Turn in your homework at the end of class,” that is not just a tentative request. She expects an active response. Similarly, when Jesus says to the disciples, and also to us, “Pray the Lord of the harvest,” He expects an active response.

The logical thought might be, Wait a minute! I don’t understand. Why do I need to beg the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers? Why do I need to start begging the Lord of the harvest as never before? Doesn’t the Lord of the harvest already want to do this? Absolutely. So why then do we need to beg? The answer, I suggest, is that begging has more to do with changing our hearts than changing God’s.

Throwing out laborers

What, then, is so radical about this prayer? As we dig deeper, we find the answer in the words of Jesus. We are to earnestly plead with the Lord of the harvest to do what? “Send out laborers into His harvest.” That does not sound very radical. But “send out laborers” is not an accurate translation of the Greek. The common verb in Greek for “send out” is apostello, from which we get the noun apostle. When the Gospels record that Jesus “sent out” the disciples, the authors use this verb. But Jesus used a much more radical verb in Luke 10:2.

“Send out laborers” is not even an accurate translation. It is far too polite. The verb used here is ekballo. Ballo means “to cast” or “to throw.” This verb describes the disciples casting their nets out of the ship (John 21:6), when the enemies of Jesus picked up rocks to throw at Him (John 8:59), and when John the Baptist was thrown into prison (John 3:24). Yet it still does not capture the complete meaning of this radical prayer.

Jesus used the Greek verb, ekballo, in Luke 10:2. The prefix ek means “out.” So ekballo means “to throw out,” or “to cast out.” On numerous occasions in the Gospels, this verb is used for casting out demons and also when Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple (John 2:15). This is not a soft verb, and Jesus is not asking you to pray a soft prayer. Jesus asks you to earnestly plead with the Lord of the harvest “to throw out” laborers, “to hurl out” laborers, “to cast out” laborers into His harvest. We call that a radical prayer.

A personal request

You cannot possibly pray this radical prayer unless you are willing to be a part of the answer. Let us rephrase it this way:

“Lord of the harvest, I earnestly beg You to throw out laborers into Your harvest, and You have my permission to begin with me.”

Jesus Himself was willing to be thrown out. Matthew records that immediately after His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus came out of that wilderness to begin His active ministry. Mark, on the other hand, records that Jesus was “thrown out” by the Spirit. Most translators do not translate the Greek accurately. The verb used in Mark 1:12 is ekballo. Jesus was willing to be thrown out into God’s harvest field.

The logical question is, What will happen to me if I give the Lord of the harvest permission to throw me out into His harvest field? That is God’s responsibility, not ours. He will throw you out where He wants you to be. It may be to a distant land or where you currently live. Your assignment, my assignment, is to be willing, to be ready, to pray the radical prayer, to earnestly plead, “Lord of the harvest, I earnestly beg You to throw out laborers into Your harvest, and You have my permission to begin with me.”

My testimony

Since I have started praying this radical prayer, my life and ministry have been radically transformed. Early in 2008, for example, I received an invitation to hold a citywide evangelistic meeting in Vancouver, Washington, United States. My natural response in the past would have probably sounded something like this: “You need to ask an evangelist like Mark Finley. I’m just a local church pastor.” However, because I had been praying the radical prayer, I recognized that I was being thrown out into the harvest field.

As I began to prepare for this harvest work, God opened the door for me to participate in Discoveries ’08 with Mark Finley. I was blessed to serve alongside him and learn both by observation and active involvement. Pastor Finley graciously helped me craft an eight-part reaping meeting, which we called “The Radical Teachings of Jesus.” We addressed the following important topics: what Jesus taught about Himself, what Jesus taught about the Scriptures, what Jesus taught about salvation, what Jesus taught about His return, what Jesus taught about the Sabbath, what Jesus taught about the judgment, what Jesus taught about death, and what Jesus taught about His church.

That series of presentations was life changing, not only for many of those in attendance, but also for me. I caught a clearer vision of what the Lord of the harvest can do when we radically depend upon Him. During those meetings, I was impressed that God wanted to use that series to impact people worldwide. Through a series of miracles a book,3 audiobook, small-group DVD series, and leader’s kit are now available.

Your response

Not everyone who responds to the appeal of Jesus in Luke 10 will be “thrown out” into the same harvest work. I am simply encouraging you to earnestly pray the radical prayer and see what the Lord of the harvest will do in your life: “Lord of the harvest, I earnestly beg You to throw out laborers into Your harvest, and You have my permission to begin with me.”

I challenge you to cry out to the Lord of the harvest. Say, “Whatever You want me to do, I’ll do it. Wherever You want me to go, I’ll go. Just show me what You want me to do, Lord. I give You full permission. I yield fully to You. Throw out laborers into Your harvest, and You have my permission to begin with me.”

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