The Harvest is at the end of the age,
not at the end of the Bible study.
We are often inspired by stories about people who came to know the Lord during their initial exposure to the truth of the scriptures. I recall one individual who gave a series of talks at Glen Eyrie stating that in his monthly studies, he would share a clear presentation of the Gospel after the first few meetings. I received the impression that a significant number of those present trusted Christ at that point. Some Evangelism methods to which we are exposed have a several week progression from information about the Bible, the person of Christ, and the commitment necessary in your life. Other methods assume that the new birth takes place the first week of exposure to the study. Overall, we are sometimes left with the assumption that somewhere along the line, most people will come to know the Lord during the Bible study. For most individuals, however, repeated exposure to the truth of the scriptures and the lives of other Christians are required over a longer period of time in order to bring them to faith. The last few decades have seemingly increased the time necessary for an acceptance of the truth. A lack of God-consciousness and secular world views will require more time for change to occur.
“The harvest is at the end of the age,” (Matthew 13:39) not at the end of the Bible study. Thankfully, a number of individuals do come to faith during Bible studies whether in personal or group study. The majority, however, in my experience, have not. I well recall one friend who commented at the end of our studies that if Jesus were to come again, He would not say the same things He did the first time, because His sayings gave Him so much trouble. He went on to say that in his own life that he had become more like a Hindu than anything else. Another friend claimed that our study had excluded whole cultures of individuals from God. One couple ended up in a divorce soon after the study was completed. A number of individuals maintained attendance, but without any transformation of their lives. Some politely chose to not pursue further studies of the Bible. Others, however, begin to slowly embrace the truth intellectually , and then commit their lives to Christ over the next several years. Sometimes a difficult circumstance in their lives such as an unexpected illness years later stimulated them to again look at the truth and commit their lives to the Lord. The Holy Spirit had continued to use the sword of Spirit in their lives years after our involvement with them in the study.
The harvest is at the end of the age. I have also had opportunities over the years to interact with others at the end of their lives, enabling me to see the fruit of prior exposure to the Bible. One of these situations involved a lady in a coma that had lasted for one week. I was called for respiratory evaluation in her terminal state. The day I saw her, however, she had awakened, and was quite alert. I reasoned that the only explanation for this was that she might hear the gospel and trust her life to the Lord. In conversation with her, she related that she had previously been exposed to the scriptures but had not responded at that time with a commitment to Christ. She did embrace the truth and became a follower of Christ that day. Later that evening, she passed from this life. The harvest of the fruit of the word of God took a lifetime to occur.
Another of my patients was interested initially in the Gospel but after a few visits and discussions declined to discuss it further. After a few years, I was called by the emergency room at the hospital to evaluate him. He had developed a stroke at home, and was unable to speak or move one side of his body. He was admitted to the hospital, where he was cared for by the staff. After a few days, I noticed that his eyes would follow me around the room. A day or so later, he would try to speak to me when I entered the room. As he began to regain his speaking ability, he would excitedly mumble to me for a few minutes during my daily evaluations at his bedside. Several weeks later, his speech regained enough to a point where he could tell his story. He said that even though he had rejected the Gospel, it came to his mind as he was developing the stroke. Although he was unable to speak or move, he was still able to think clearly enough to trust Christ as his Savior. He related that during those days spent lying in bed at the hospital, he hoped daily to have an opportunity to tell me about his transition to faith. The harvest of the Gospel, in his case, came just as he could well have been slipping away from this life.
The fact that the harvest is at the end of the age should motivate us in three ways; in prayer, in patience, and in perseverance. The Lord’s work is not finished at the end of the Bible study. For many, it may just be the beginning. Prayer is necessary that the word implanted will be watered, nourished and brought to fruition. Mark 4:27 states, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” We need to pray that the Lord would send other laborers into their lives to share not only the word of truth with them but their lives as well. We are dependent upon prayer. We should never give up in our prayer for others. A friend of mine once told me that I had responded years previously to her question, “How long should we pray for a non-believer?” with the reply, “As long as they are still breathing!”
We are instructed about our Lord’s patience with us in Romans 2:4 and in II Peter 3:9. If He is patient with us, can we not be patient with others? We should not force them into the Kingdom on our schedule. We cannot instruct them to pray a prayer, or sign a card when their understanding or commitment may be slower than we would anticipate. Being patient means that we leave the timing to the Lord, not ourselves. We can give opportunity, but we cannot coerce the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart.
As we pray in patience, we must also persevere in the lives of others. We need to continue our relationship with them despite a seeming lack of interest in spiritual things. In some instances, I have found other Christian literature or books to be helpful to those who are no longer interested in the scriptures themselves. I have also had opportunities to take individuals to hear a speaker, despite lack of interest in further Bible studies. There are also various movies that have spiritual truths that might help them change their world view. They may also benefit from an introduction to other believers who would have opportunity to impact their lives. Winston Churchill’s words “Never give up, Never give up, Never, ever give up,” although given in a secular context, are true of our Lord in His relationship with us, and should be true in our relationships with the lost around us. As we pray, and persevere with patience, we can have hope in our with others, because the harvest is at the end of the age, not at the end of the Bible study.
In Christ, Richard Spann