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[dropcap cap=G]od’s plan is a two thousand-year-old plan. But don’t let that scare you away. It’s as relevant, powerful, doable, and as important today as it was when Jesus first put it into action. Problem is, somewhere along the way, parts of it got watered down, distorted or even forgotten. To understand it we have to rewind 2,000 years to the time when Jesus walked the earth.[/dropcap]
When I read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and try to picture in my mind how He lived and went about His ministry, I’m struck by how differently most of us live our lives and approach ministry today. Let me give you an example.
When Jesus traveled from place to place, He was keenly aware of the needs of people around Him. He didn’t race from one place to another. He didn’t hurry past the poor and needy—without even noticing them—so He could get to the synagogue.
He slowed down and saw their needs."…Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36, RSV, emphasis added).
This passage and others like it reveal that Jesus saw the people around Him as He traveled from place to place. He really saw them!
Most of us only “see” people by their captions. We’re even somewhat self-revealing about the way we don’t see them, as we refer to them by their “category”—That’s “the waitress”. He’s “my mechanic”. That’s “the store owner” where I tend to shop. They’re “my neighbors”. She’s “my haircutter”. He’s “my doctor or dentist”.
But often we don’t know their names, their family members names, or have never bothered to know a single detail about their life or their story.
We’ve not seen them.
The potential is there for us to follow Jesus example as he made his way through life. There were no “strangers”. God doesn’t make “strangers”. He makes “people to love”.
And like Jesus, we could enjoy human exchanges with people along the way, demonstrating high value for them, learning their names, asking questions, expressing practical love or blessing, perhaps eventually really knowing them as people who are lonely and weary of not being seen or warmly interacted with in their everyday lives.
Think about it. When’s the last time you really saw the waitress who serves you at your favorite restaurant? I’m not talking about just seeing her with your eyes. I’m talking about seeing her with a fully engaged mind and heart as well. When’s the last time you really saw the checkout girl at the grocery store? The teller at the bank? The guy at work who seems so self-absorbed? The kid down the street whose parents work all the time?
Jesus saw those sorts of people. Every direction He looked, He saw how directionless people were. They were turning every direction, but had no direction. They were harassed and helpless—wandering aimlessly through life without hope and purpose. And Jesus saw them. He saw them with His eyes, and He saw them with His heart.
Now, that may not seem like a big deal to you, but it is.
Have you ever personally felt like you were unseen and overlooked by others around you? How did it make you feel? If you’ve ever been unseen by others, then you’ll understand why it was so important that Jesus saw people and their needs.
Next time someone serves you at a restaurant, bank, or store, speak to them as if you truly see them. Don’t just treat them like impersonal servants. Treat them like real people. And don’t just view your time with them as transactions—view them as interactions. Greet your servers by name (it’s usually clearly marked on a nametag) and ask them how their day is going. Encourage them. Tell them what you appreciate about their service.
If you do, you’ll be among the very few who truly sees them. And you’ll be setting your actions back two thousand years.
Seeing is important. But Jesus didn’t just see people. He also stopped and served them—right where they were.
Most of us don’t do a very good job at stopping to serve others. But Jesus did. In fact, seeing and stopping were two of the recurring hallmarks of His love.
He looked into the faces of children not highly valued …and He stopped to hold them on His lap.
He didn’t just see and hear a leper’s cry of uncleanness, he stopped and touched him. He saw beggars and men lying by the roadside with crippling physical illnesses…and He stopped, placing His healing hands on their diseased bodies. He encountered women living sad and hopeless lives of adultery…and He stopped and talked to them about a better way to live.
When he came face to face with those who were oppressed and tormented by evil spirits…and He stopped and delivered them. Others overlooked and walked past them daily. Jesus didn’t.
He met people where they were. Seeing and stopping made all the difference.
At one point, Jesus turned to His disciples and shared with them the one word that was His response to all of the needs they were seeing and stopping for. It was the one word that represented His Plan A for reaching the world with His Good News.
And He gave no other option for a Plan B. There’s apparently no contingency plan if this one doesn’t work.
It was His one word to describe people who would be willing to see the needs of others and stop to serve them.
So, what word did Jesus choose?
“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’” (Matthew 9:37-38, RSV, emphasis added).
What the world needs, Jesus said, is laborers. Common laborers. Laborers are Jesus’ means for reaching the world with His love and forgiveness. And they aren’t just critical to His plan. They are His plan. His only plan.
Kingdom laborers are God’s Plan A. And there’s no Plan B.
But what exactly is a laborer?
After all, it’s not a familiar, “household” word used to describe most Christians. As I’ve examined Scripture, I’ve come up with a clear and simple definition: Laborers live lives of difference-making love (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Daily they love God deeply and love others actively. They are followers of Jesus' timeless example. Every moment, everyday, they live a life of love. This enables a laborer to be a difference-making active minister. Not just the “professional” kind like pastors and missionaries, but the common, ordinary kind like my wife (an art teacher) and children (students).
Laborers are “everyday, every-place ministers” like my friend Shane, who works as a radio executive, and leads some of his seeker friends and coworkers in a regular Bible study to help them discover God’s amazing love and purpose for their lives. Or like my friend Bill, who owns a large auto company and deeply cares for the welfare of his employees.
Laborers are ordinary people who express their love for God through practical, hands-and-feet service. They’re Jesus’ primary means for reaching the world with His love and forgiveness. And because they naturally show up on the everyday scenes of life, they can influence people that no professional minister could. Because they have everyday kinds of jobs, they can reach people who’d never step foot in a church building.
Want to know what a laborer looks like? Look in the mirror.
God wants you to be one. And since laborers are God’s Plan A for reaching the world, that means you are God’s Plan A for reaching the world around you.
You are God’s Plan A to the other soccer moms and dads as you take your kids to practices and games. You are God’s Plan A to your co-workers, with whom you spend more hours than nearly anyone else. You are God’s Plan A in your neighborhood, where you have time and opportunities to develop natural and meaningful relationships with your neighbors. You are God’s Plan A in your high-school classroom or college dorm. You are God’s Plan A at your favorite restaurant, where the waiters and waitresses know your name.
Not your pastor. You.
You are God’s Plan A. (And did I mention there’s no Plan B?)
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