The Building Blocks of Ministry: The Power of Perception

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Text: Matthew 9:35-38 — And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Introduction: This is the sixth message in our seven-week series, we’ve entitled THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF MINISTRY. Here’s a really quick review of our first five topics: We talked about the Power of Ministry and that every believer is called to minister to others. When we mobilize the church, we touch more lives for the glory of God. We also looked at the Power of Prayer to remove hindrances to a ministry like suffering, sickness, and sin and to replace our fears and doubts with gratitude and good cheer. In our third message, we looked at the parable of the sower and the Power of God’s word to enable us to bear fruit when we receive it with joy. Two weeks ago, we looked at the Power of Love to grow us in our faith and trust in the Lord and in our desire to reach others with the gospel. Last week, we discussed the Power of Salt and Light. Jesus said we are the salt of the earth. This means that we slow moral decay, make things better and help people grow. He also said we are the light of the world in that we follow the ways of God as well as share the way to God.

Now this morning, I want to talk about the Power of Perception. The word means to become aware of something through the use of our senses (hearing, sight, taste, touch, and smell). To be a perceptive person requires that we notice what others miss. Here’s an example of a lack of perception: Joshua Bell is a world-renowned violinist. A while ago, he participates in a project arranged by The Washington Post that they called … an experiment in context and perception. They asked the question, “In a common setting, at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?” To find their answer, they enlisted Joshua to play his violin in a Washington D. C. Metro Station while standing against a wall beside a trash basket. There he was — a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed his violin, which turned out to be a Stradivarius worth more than $3,000,000. Then he placed the open case at his feet, and shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money. Joshua began to play. For the next 45 minutes, he performed music by Mozart and Schubert as over 1,000 people streamed by, most hardly taking notice. If they had paid attention, they might have recognized the young man for the world-renowned violinist he is. But sadly, they did not. In a bit of irony, three days earlier Bell had played a concert to the sold-out Boston Symphony Hall, with the cheap seats going for $100. In the subway, Bell did not fare as well garnering about $32 from the 27 people who stopped long enough to give a donation. It’s safe to assume that the people did not perceive the quality of the music that was played by Joshua Bell on the most expensive violin in the world. They were too preoccupied with their own agendas and so missed a great opportunity to be blessed with his music.

People in a D.C. subway are not the only ones who can lack perception. Sometimes we as Christians can be so focused on the immediacy of our own little domains that we, too, fail to see what’s going on around us.  And as a result, we miss the opportunity to receive a blessing from the Lord by allowing Him to use us to share His love and the gospel message with people who are constantly searching for meaning in life.

Our passage for this morning in Matthew 9 reminds us that we live in a world that is in desperate need of salvation. Our Lord, of course, perceived the plight of the people and was moved with compassion to minister to them. Today, as His representatives in the world, we need to have eyes to see others in the same way. Jesus used the word “Harvest” to refer to those people among whom the gospel was being sown. He made several interesting observations about the Harvest in this text. Let’s look at them together.

The State of the Harvest (Matthew 9:36 — When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd). Jesus talks about the condition of the people to whom He was ministering. He uses a metaphor to which His disciples can relate–shepherding. Christ declares that the crowds because they lacked the right kind of leadership, demonstrate the same symptoms as sheep that have no shepherd.
·      They were Harassed – The word means, “to flay,” as in tearing off the skin of an animal. The Greeks used the word when they compared trouble to the pains of being flayed alive. Here Christ warns that, just as sheep, in the absence of a good shepherd, are subject to needless suffering, so God’s people were being subjected to similar distress because their leaders were failing miserably in their responsibilities to them. This is what Jesus charged the Pharisees and teachers of the law within Luke 11:42-52. He warned the Pharisees that they were giving their tithe but neglecting justice and the love of God. He condemned them for the practice of constantly seeking to exalt themselves yet being the cause of the Israel’s stumbling. One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” 46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.  47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed.  52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” The Pharisees should have taken their role as shepherds of Israel more seriously. They focused on themselves while neglecting justice for the people and love for God. They were preoccupied with their “image,” and in fact had become a stumbling block to the people. The teachers of the law saddled the people with a bunch of rules that they, themselves, didn’t follow.
·      They were Helpless – The word used here refers to the weariness and fatigue that results from laboring under a heavy burden (that’s the harassment part). Our Lord perceived that the people were sinking down under the weight of the rules and traditions of their leaders. They were neglected by those who should have been enlightened teachers and scattered and driven out without care and attention. In short, the shepherds of Israel had completely dropped the ball when it came to caring for their flocks. Listen to God’s warning to the leaders of Israel who chose to neglect their duties in Jeremiah 23:1-2 — “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Application: No wonder Jesus was moved with compassion for the crowds. What the shepherds of Israel were doing to the people was shameful and harmful. Though they should have been leading the people in the pursuit of God, they were driving them to their destruction. This is something shepherds should never do! Illustration: A while back I heard a story about an Israeli tourist guide who was explaining to his party that in the Middle East shepherds never drive their flocks, but lead them. Shortly after he made this claim, the tour just happened to pass by a man driving a flock of sheep along a road. The tour guide asked the driver to stop, then jumped off bus while the tourists lowered their windows and listened as he inquired of the man, “How is it that you are driving these sheep? I have always heard that shepherds here lead them.” The man replied, “You are quite right, sir. The Shepherd does lead his sheep, but you see, I’m not the shepherd. I’m the butcher.” The shepherds of Israel lack perception to see God’s people as He saw them. Instead, they manipulated them for their own gain. That’s why Jesus describes them as harassed and helpless…like sheep without a shepherd! That was the state of the harvest that Jesus saw as He ministered to the people.

The Opportunity of the Harvest (Matthew 9:37 — Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful). Our Lord changed the illustration from a shepherd and his flock to a farmer and his field. He now envisions a large crop of ripe grain that is waiting to be harvested for the kingdom. An assessment that He also shared with His disciples in John 4:35 — Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Now, admittedly, I know little about farming though I worked on a couple of farms as a kid, but it seems to me that timing is everything when it comes to bringing in the harvest. Here’s what we know about it:
·      It is a time of great urgency. When a crop is ready to be harvested, there is a window of opportunity that lasts only a short time. It is possible for a farmer to wait too long and lose the fruit of his labor. The grain may harden or the stalks fall over and the crop is lost as a result. That’s why during the harvest, you will see combines working late into the night. They know they have only a limited amount of time to get the work done and bring in the grain. Application: The same can be said when it comes to ministry to the unchurched, the harvest that our Lord is concerned with. That’s why we need to be engaging with unbelievers now, seeking opportunities to demonstrate God’s love and sharing the good news. The window of opportunity may close for us before we know it.
·      It is a time of great effort. Bringing in the harvest requires hard work for the farmer. He rises early and works until late in the evening because he knows that the harvest will not come to Him. He must go and get it. He also knows that he can slow his pace later, once the crop is in, but for the moment, he must work tirelessly to get the job done.
·      It is a time of great joy. This is how the farmer feels when he finishes the job and his crop is stored. He reflects on the blessing of the fruit of his labors, and the satisfaction of a job well done. Illustration:  Do you remember the amazing rescue of the nine miners trapped in the Quecreek mine in Pennsylvania in July of 2002? They were trapped 240 feet beneath the surface for a total of 77 hours. I recall staying up into the early morning hours and watching on that final day as the men were hauled out of the darkness to safety one-by-one. But the rescue was anything but easy. A drill bit broke in the rescue shaft they had started to drill. They couldn’t get the broken pieces out so after a new one was flown in they had to start another shaft. Communications were disrupted for a while and the miners themselves almost gave up and wrote notes to their loved ones. Their rescue was the result of a coordinated effort by hundreds. I remember cheering and stopping to thank God when they were finally rescued. The men who saved their lives worked hard with a sense of urgency and then when it was over they celebrated. Application: That’s the way it should be in the kingdom of God as well. When we perceive the state of the harvest (harassed and helpless), and grasp the opportunity of the harvest (it is plentiful), then we work as hard as we have to in order to bring in the people.  When the job is finished, then we can celebrate the harvest!

The Challenge of the Harvest. Jesus said that, unfortunately, when it comes to workers for the harvest, the laborers are few. The more abundant the crop, the more laborers that a farmer needs to help bring it in. Jesus knew that there were many people who needed Him. That’s why He went from village to village preaching the good news and healing the sick. Still, He knew that the only way to bring in all the people God has called to Himself was to get more people to join Him in the effort.
·      So He sent out the twelve disciples (Matthew 10:1 — And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction; Matthew 10:7 — And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand). Note that they had a verbal message, the proclamation of the nearness of God’s kingdom, and a visual message in which they were empowered to deliver people from anything that stood in the way of their following Christ. Their works placed on display the power of God as it was at work in and through their lives for all to see. In short, their mission was to multiply the activity of their master who performed the works of God as He invited people to follow Him.
·      This includes all His disciples (See Matthew 28:18-20). Three participial phrases (going, baptizing and teaching) explain how the commission was meant to be fulfilled.

The Hope for the Harvest (Matthew 9:38 — pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Farmers who need help in bringing in the crops must learn to ask for it. In the same way, we’re told that the Lord of the harvest will send workers in response to our prayers. Actually, the word translated “send out” can also be translated “thrust out.” And so here it could refer to those who are yet to be sent and to those who have already been sent but who need to have a fire lit under them. This happens as we pray for laborers and watch as God provides them. He is the source of our hope to finish the job for which we were commissioned by our Lord.

Application: Christians are becoming great planners. We’re learning the value of organizational charts and carefully constructed plans for any ministry endeavor. Yet, in the experience of many, most of these plans never come to fruition. Many turn out to be just “pipe dreams.” Have you heard that phrase before? It’s based on the hallucinations that people smoking opium have while under its influence. They would come out of their “high” with the knowledge that their hallucinations were not real and would never come to be. They were just pipe dreams. Building the kingdom of God is more than a dream. It is our mission in life as Christ’s followers. Here’s a simple two-step plan you might want to consider to help grow His kingdom:
·      Get a Goal. That’s logical. If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time. Ask the Lord how He wants you to minister to others. Perhaps it’s as simple as inviting a neighbor for dinner to get to know him or her better or taking a meal to the people across the street that had a birth or death in the family.  Maybe you are supposed to start praying in earnest for the unbelievers that God has allowed you to connect with. Start small, but start somewhere. Ask God to speak to you about your role in growing His kingdom. I know He will if you have ears to ear.
·      Get Busy. Unfortunately, today there are lots of goal setters, but even the best-laid plans can be short on workers. This is where the “rubber meets the road” for us.  We cannot afford to sit idly by and watch as people perish around us. We have to get on board and do what we can while we have the time to do it.

Conclusion: Jesus perceived that people were harassed and helpless and needed to hear the good news that He came to deliver them from their shepherds who did not love them. He is the good shepherd who loves His sheep and knows them by name. Today, if we will harness the same power of perception to see people the way He did, we will see the same results. We just need to reach out in love and watch what God does as a result. I conclude with this: Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman, a famous evangelist, said that the New Testament tells of forty people, each suffering from the same disease, that was healed by Jesus. Of this number, thirty-four were either brought to Jesus by friends, or He was taken to them. In only six cases out of forty did the sufferers find the way to Jesus without assistance.  You and I both know that of the vast number of people who find their way to Jesus today, most of them reach Him because their believing friends are concerned about the welfare of their souls. Will you engage in relationships with the unchurched and help bring in the harvest! If your answer is yes, then get a goal and get busy.