Missions: Moving out of our comfort zones

Matthew 9:35-38

Comfort zones are areas from which we seldom stray. Some have social comfort zones and have little contact with anyone outside their own socioeconomic level. Others have political comfort zones and do not have much to do with those who do not share their political persuasion. Some of us even have our comfort zones in the church. We all have little comfort zones whether they be in literature or the arts or music or sports or whatever. It is easy to get comfortable and never venture out of a comfort zone. Comfort zones take the cutting edge out of many lives.

When we study the life of our Lord we find that He was continually moving men and women out of their comfort zones. He called those fishermen up in Galilee to throw down their nets and follow Him. That is, He called them to leave the comfort zone of their surroundings. Everywhere He went He called upon people to leave their comfort zones whether it was Zacchaeus down in Jericho, or the rich young ruler, or the woman at the well in Samaria.

Comfort zones keep us from our potential. In the business world salesmen can gravitate toward them. We’re even prone to find our comfort zones in our own ecclesiology. Comfort zones kill productivity and production.

The Lord Jesus came into this world. Now, if we want to think of leaving a comfort zone think of Him. He laid aside His glory and came to walk the dust of this earth. And with whom? Publicans and sinners and the despised and the multitudes. And then His followers impacted the world in one generation. How? They moved out of their comfort zones. This is a word to those of us who have gotten comfortable. The Bible, especially those words in the New Testament written in red, are not too comfortable at some points.

Once in His home territory of Galilee, our Lord Jesus addressed this subject specifically. He called upon us to see our world through His eyes. He challenged us to look backward, outward, inward and upward. He instructed us regarding our pattern, our potential, our problem, and our priority. He called upon us to see four very important things in our text.

Our pattern…how do we discover it? …look backward

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd (Matt. 9:35-36).

The Lord Jesus stayed busy. He “went about all the cities and villages” (Matt. 9:35). He was out there among the people. He did not find a comfortable spot, some comfort zone, and wait for them to come to Him. The Bible tells us He was “teaching.” Matthew uses a New Testament word here to describe that our Lord was instructing, explaining, expounding to the people. The tense also indicates that this was a continual thing. He stayed at it. Note he was also “preaching.” Here the word means to proclaim as a herald. We can see Him as He was standing on street corners and heralding what? Seven habits of successful people? Some new phrase of popular psychology? Five ways to possibility thinking? No. The text tells us He was preaching the “gospel.” He was laying forth the good news. Then, He was “healing.” The Greek word here is therapeurō. It means to cure and one can readily see that we get our English word therapeutic from this Greek word. It is important to see that the Lord Jesus was not only teaching and preaching but He was touching physical, mental and emotional needs. He was with the hurting. He got down where they were. There was something therapeutic about His very presence.

This is our pattern for ministry. We look back to Him to find it. It has to do with the head. He was teaching. It has to do with the heart. He was preaching. It has to do with the hand. He was healing; He was touching people’s needs. Some of us gravitate to one or the other and get out of balance in the process. Some have only preaching with a strong emphasis on evangelism. Others are overbalanced on teaching. They fill minds with truth but make little application. Some others are busy getting their hands dirty with social action but with little mention of evangelism or teaching. Our Lord Jesus Christ was balanced in his approach. He is our pattern for ministry. Our Lord didn’t stay within His little group of twelve. There were important times for that, but by and large He was “out there” among the people in the villages and cities.

Then something happened. “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them” (Matt. 9:36). While others looked, Jesus saw. There’s a difference between looking and seeing. The word we find here is translated in most other passages and scripture as “to know or to perceive.” Jesus saw right into their hearts and He knew them. Have we seen the multitudes lately? Oh, we’re not asking ourselves if we’ve looked at them. Have we seen them? Do we know what they’re thinking? Do we know how they’re hurting? Some of us drive past a hundred mission opportunities to come to our churches and pray for our missionaries in faraway lands. Jesus “saw” the multitudes that were all around Him.

Then the Bible tells us He was “moved with compassion.” The middle voice indicating that the subject was acting upon itself expresses what was deep within His innermost being. This is the motivation to get out of our comfort zones. It does not come from outside encouragement but it comes from inside of us. We remember that the good Samaritan on the Jericho road met the wounded man’s need because first of all his “heart went out to him.”

The Lord Jesus sees the multitudes today and He is still moved with compassion. Why? Because they’re “weary.” The word means they are faint, they are about to faint, they’re weakened, they’re exhausted, they’re about to collapse. The Lord Jesus saw them weighted down by life. Some of them were weighted down by sin and others by circumstances like so many people today. He also saw that they were “scattered.” The word means cast down or thrown down. In fact, the same word appears in Acts 27:29 to describe the anchor that was cast from the boat. It is also used in Luke 17:2 to describe the millstone tied around someone’s neck and cast into the sea till it sank. It is a strong descriptive word. Jesus saw a people who had no hope. They were beaten down by the circumstances of life and sinking in their own experience. They were weary and scattered. What an apt description of so many in our world today.

Jesus goes on to say that they were “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). There was no one to feed them. There was no one to lead them. They were looking for someone to point the direction to bring them provision and protection.

As we look around at our cities, do we see the same thing Jesus saw in His day? There are men and women all around us in the same circumstance and situation. They are weary and scattered like sheep having no shepherd. Oh, that more of us could see the multitude through the eyes of the Lord Jesus Christ. When we do we would see a world and we would be moved with compassion to leave our comfort zones and get involved.

Where is our pattern? We find it by looking backward to see the life of our Lord. He was busy like so many of us today. But, He saw something. Perhaps some of us have been looking and really not seeing. The Lord Jesus is our pattern. We will never get out of a comfort zone unless we become motivated from within. He calls us today to not only look backward and see our pattern, but also He reminds us of:

Our potential…how do we discover it? …look outward

“Then He said to His disciples the harvest truly is plentiful” (Matt. 9:37A).

Listen to our Lord. He is reminding us that we exist for those who are not here yet. He says the harvest truly is plentiful. When read in the language of the New Testament, we find no verbs here. We hear Him simply saying “harvest plentiful!” The harvest is mentioned three times in this context. This is Christ’s emphasis. He is not talking about plowing nor planting nor cultivating. He is talking about the harvest! He was speaking about those in verse 36 who were weary and scattered. He said, “I came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Our Lord told His three most familiar stories in Luke 15 and the major emphasis upon each one of them was the fact that people were lost. We will never see the multitudes through the eyes of Christ until we see them as lost.

In our current church culture today it is not popular to call men and women “lost”. We have other names for them today. We call them unreached or "unchurched" or some of us even refer to them as seekers. We refer to them as anything but lost. Thus, if we do not believe that people are truly lost, we lose the urgency to see them what? Saved! Lost. That is indeed a haunting word. That is the word that robbed heaven of its pearl of great price. That is the very word that caused the angels to bow low when He laid down His glory. That is the very word that caused the Father to turn away when His Son hung on the cross and darkness enveloped the earth. What is the real problem in our Western world today? We point to drugs, the loss of character and integrity, and a thousand other things. But the real problem is that men and women are lost, without hope and without Christ.

Jesus says, “The harvest truly is plentiful.” Once in Samaria He reminded His followers to not say that there were four months into the harvest but He challenged them to lift up their eyes and look upon the fields for they were “white already under harvest.” (John 4:35). Our first pastorate was in the wheat farming community of Hobart, Oklahoma on the southwestern plains. I was 24-years-old, fresh out of seminary, and I learned so much from those good and godly wheat farmers like Mervin Greb, Kenneth Lawford, John Cokely, and a host of others. They taught me about the harvest. In fact, my wife Susie and I moved to Hobart during the wheat harvest of 1972. The land is so flat there that people often say you can stand on a brick and see both oceans. You could drive as far as you could and see miles and miles of waves of wheat. They were golden at harvest. It reminded me of the patriotic anthem that exclaims, “Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain.” And yet, Jesus said the fields are “white unto harvest.” For a young preacher this was confusing. What I saw were amber, golden grains of wheat when it was time for harvest. One day I asked Mervin Greb about the harvest. He said, “Preacher, when the harvest gets white it’s almost too late to harvest it. It’s almost over-ripe. It means you have to get it out in a hurry when it’s white. There’s an urgency about it.” Our Lord Jesus said the harvest is plenteous but it’s also white. Men and women are ready but the time is short. It takes months to grow a good crop but harvest time is short, very short. When the time comes, the harvest must be gotten out in a hurry.

I used to sit at the old A&B Cafe off the city square in Hobart and talk to those farmers in the early morning hours. They would sit leisurely and tell their stories into the morning. However, when harvest time came they didn’t sit around. They didn’t sit at the tables and talk about how to run their combines or how to transport their wheat to the silos. They did not get into their pickups and drive by the fields and talk about how plenteous the crops appeared. No, the time was short. They stopped talking and got into the fields. They got their hands dirty. If they didn’t get the harvest out they would lose it. How much of the harvest in America have we lost? Sometimes we find ourselves only talking about it. The heart of the Lord Jesus is on the harvest of souls right now. He wants us to see our potential and the only way we can do that is by looking outward at the fields that are ripe unto harvest.

Pastoring in that part of the world I learned what happens to wheat if it’s not harvested in time. In fact, if you go down to the A&B Cafe today, they’ll tell you. It’ll get over-ripe. Then it will become useless, too old, it will rot and be lost forever. It will fall to the ground and decay.

The problem in America is that we are watching the rotting of a culture. Why? We’re quick to point our fingers at the legislature, the judicial branch, or the administrative branch of government. But, the harvest is plentiful, it is white unto harvest. However, the church has not gotten into the fields. Too many of us have hunkered down within our four walls. We seem to be down at our own A&B Cafe, cozy and comfortable within our comfort zones. Our culture does not know Christ because we have left the harvest rotting and not made Him known. And all the while Jesus continues to cry, “the harvest truly is plentiful.”

Some of us think we cannot harvest until we plant. Did it ever occur to us that the Lord Jesus Christ has been planting? He said one plants, another cultivates, and another reaps the harvest. He has been working on hearts. He has been plowing, He has been cultivating. Remember, He is the Lord of the harvest. He told those disciples when they were in Samaria that the fields were “white already unto harvest.” But, who plowed the fields in Samaria? Who planted in Sychar? The disciples? No, they’d never even entered into the village. Those folks had never heard a gospel witness. Who plowed and planted? God did. He was working on empty hearts.

We look backward to see our pattern but we also look outward to see our potential. The harvest is plenteous. Do we see it? Jesus goes on to remind us of:

Our problem…how do we discover it? …look inward

“The laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37b).

Things haven’t changed much. The crowds still come. After all, our Lord had thousands of folks gathered on the Gallilean hillside but when it got right down to it, He only had 120 in the upper room who truly left their comfort zones. Jesus said the problem today was the problem then, “the laborers are few.” Oh, not the spectators. They are many, but those who truly look back and see their pattern, look outward and see their potential, and who leave their comfort zones are few.

God’s problem today is not out there in the fields. They are plenteous. They are waiting. They are ready for harvest. Men and women in our cities are ripe to be harvested. They’ve tried everything else. They are weary. They are scattered. They do not know Christ paid for their sins on Calvary. They think it best that He might have made a little down payment and they have to work the rest of the way. We have good news to share with them. But when we look inward we find our real problem.

God’s problem is with His own people. “The laborers are few.” This must break His heart and certainly ought to break ours. When deacons have to be begged to share their faith. When Sunday School teachers wait for us to come to them instead of leaving comfort zones and getting into the harvest, it must break the heart of Christ. When we see a world in need of the Gospel and so many of us in our comfort zones, we see the reality of His exclamation, “the laborers are few.”

Our Lord calls us to look backward and see our pattern, to look outward and see our potential, to look inward and see our problem, and finally, He calls upon us to see:

Our priority…how do we discover it? …look upward

Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest (Matthew 9:38).

Here’s the heart of Christ’s message. If we miss this we miss all that Jesus is trying to say to us on World Missions Day. “Therefore pray!” Matthew uses a word to describe what Jesus is saying here. The word we translate “pray” means to ask or to beg. Yes, we’re supposed to plead, to beg. But some of us are pleading and begging the wrong person. We think we’re to plead and beg those in the church to go into the harvest fields, but note that Jesus moves prayer up to the front of the priority list for the harvest! Since the harvest is plenteous and the laborers are few, our natural inclination is to do anything we can to enlist workers. We beg them. We plead with them. We coerce them. Some of us even try to motivate them by guilt. But Jesus points to intercessory prayer as the primary resource to move men and women out of their comfort zones, to get them out there into the harvest.

The Lord Jesus always made prayer His own priority. Before choosing His first twelve laborers, the Apostles, He prayed all evening. Then He chose them and sent them into the harvest (Luke 6:12-13). He did not have to beg them nor to plead with them. He prayed and God the Father moved in their hearts and they were ready!

The Lord Jesus says, “Pray.” But pray for what? Should the object of our prayer be in the direction of those in the fields? No, Jesus says we are to pray for “laborers.” Some of us are busy praying for neighbors, or friends, or family members. We should be praying that God would send someone to leave their comfort zone and go to them and reap the harvest. This should be exciting to all to all of us. What would happen if we would see people as Christ sees them and pray that He would send forth laborers into the harvest? He would send some of us who were earnestly praying!

The Lord Jesus says to pray the Lord to what? He challenges us to pray that the Lord would “send out” laborers. Here we come to the place in our English text that we can never grasp the meaning of unless we read it in the language in which it was written. There are four words in Greek which we translate “send” in our New Testament. What was Jesus saying? Was He using the word that’s translated “send” in Acts 13:3 when he says that the church at Antioch sent out Paul and Silas? The word there means to “release, or to let go.” Was He using this stronger in Acts 13:4 when He said the Holy Spirit “sent” Barnabas and Saul on their missionary journey? Here the word is prefaced with a strong preposition meaning that the Holy Spirit thrust them out. Did He perhaps use the word that we find in Matthew 10 verse 5 when the word translated means to “send with an official summons”? We get our word “apostle” from that word. None of these words were used in our text. The word here is ekballō. It means to throw out with a violent motion. The same word is translated in Matthew 21:12 when Jesus threw out the money changers from the temple area. The same word is used in Acts 27:38 during the shipwreck when the sailors were busy “throwing out the cargo.”

Jesus is saying that we are to pray to the Lord of the harvest that He will pick up and thrust out people into His harvest fields. That men and women can literally do no other. How much better when He sends us? The Lord Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to go out and recruit workers but to pray that the Lord would so move on their hearts that they could do no other. Fresh on my mind as I pen these words were those days in my life when I was being called into the ministry. There was simply no option! I knew God had picked me up and thrust me out into His harvest.

It’s interesting to note that our Lord is not just sending us into the fields but into the harvest. This is the pressing need today. That is, the harvest. It is already ripe. Our Lord sees it. Do we? And, it is important to note that He is the Lord of the harvest. Consequently, whose harvest is it? It is His harvest. What a privilege for us to be a part of the harvest.

The time is ripe for us to leave our comfort zones. These words from our Lord are a challenge to look backward. The Lord Jesus is our pattern. He left His own comfort zone and found Himself out there among the people who were in need. This is also a challenge to look outward. This is our potential. The harvest is all around us. This is also a challenge for us to look inward. This is really our problem. Do we see it? The laborers are few! Finally, our Lord’s challenge is one to look upward. This should be our priority. To call upon Him. To ask Him to send out laborers into His harvest field.

Our Lord Jesus left his own comfort zone because you were part of the harvest. He laid aside His glory. He worked upon you and me through circumstances, perhaps through suffering, perhaps a word fitly spoken like apples of gold and settings of silver. Perhaps some of us are weary. Others of us may feel scattered. He sees us and His heart is still moved with compassion for us.

Hark the voice of Jesus calling

Who will come and work for me

Fields are white and harvest waiting

Who will bear the sheaths away

Loud and long the Master calleth

Rich reward He offers free

Who will answer gladly saying

Here am I send me, send me!

- “Hark the Voice of Jesus Calling”
Words by Daniel March

ON A PERSONAL NOTE:

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