Throughout the Bible, the harvest carries spiritual significance. It is used in parables (Luke 8:4–8) and as a metaphor for spiritual growth and health (2 Corinthians 9:10; James 3:18). The harvest has always been a beautiful and important part of life on earth, the time when the year’s work bears fruit and the people are fed. It is symbolic of bounty, health and abundance. Israel celebrated the time of the harvest with a feast, appropriately called the Feast of Harvest (Exodus 23:16).
Jesus spoke of a spiritual harvest waiting to be reaped. As Jesus traveled, “he saw the crowds, [and] he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘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’” (Matthew 9:36–38). Here, Jesus referred to the many souls needing to be brought to repentance and faith as a harvest waiting to be realized.
Jesus used the same metaphor of a spiritual harvest in Samaria. After talking to the woman at the well, Jesus told His disciples, “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). In the days following this statement, many of the Samaritans became believers in Christ (verse 41). Jesus saw the spiritual harvest of souls awaiting in that village.
A spiritual harvest is the result of God’s work in the heart of man. It is clear from the parable of the seed and the sower that some people’s hearts are good soil; when the Word of God is sown there, the person accepts it and continues to mature (Luke 8:9–15). There is nothing we can do to change the soil—that is God’s job (Ezekiel 36:26). However, we can be faithful to sow the seed, help the plants to grow, or reap the harvest. The process of spiritual growth and maturity, from the heart’s regeneration to the recognition of faith, is often a long journey. In fact, the Bible indicates that the sower, the tender, and the reaper are likely to be different people at different times (John 4:35–38; 1 Corinthians 3:6–9).
Just like the physical growth of a field, the spiritual growth of people is a natural, organic process, overseen by God Himself. If we don’t see anyone getting saved, it can be discouraging, but we need to remember that sowing is just as important as reaping. Some of us are sowers and may never see the result of our labor. That is why our focus should be on pleasing the One who sent us into the field rather than on controlling the rate of growth or the amount we reap.
God’s laborers in the spiritual harvest of souls are promised great reward for their faith and perseverance (James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; 2 Timothy 4:8; Hebrews 11). This applies to all aspects of our spiritual lives, including witnessing and seeing people saved and growing in the Lord, which is the spiritual harvest we all long to see. Sometimes we don’t see it. Nonetheless, believers are exhorted with these words: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9) and “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18) and “Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them” (Psalm 126:6).
Jesus told us to pray to the Lord of the harvest for more laborers (Matthew 9:38). We should pray about all aspects of the spiritual harvest process, including the preparation of the soil. We can ask God to change people’s hearts. “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24–25). God will use us in His fields, each according to our gifts and the need of the moment, as we trust Him.