Across the nation, pastors and the members of their churches have convinced themselves the reason they are not reaping a spiritual harvest that could be called “plenteous” is that their town is hard, and unusually unresponsive to evangelism. It is as if we think that souls could be won and churches could be built some places, but not in our town. Yet we are still looking at promises from our Lord that, “The fields…are white already to harvest” (John 4:35), and that we can expect to, “Bear much fruit” (John 15:1–8), based not on any favorable circumstances in the world, but rather on the continuing realities of the Christian life.
Paul expressed hope that he would indeed bear much fruit from evangelism in Rome, a city he had never visited before (read Romans 1:13–15). “I am sure that, when I come unto you [he wrote to the Roman Christians], I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:29). To the church at Colossae he said that, “The truth of the gospel…is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it” (Colossians 1:5–7). The gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful, and brings results wherever it is spread. To blame the fields for the failure of the harvest is not consistent with the Word of God (read Matthew 9:37–38). There are other reasons why we are having trouble reaching people. It is not that our town is too hard to reach.
1. Because It’s Not Really Being Evangelized
In Jerusalem, the Christians were accused of saturating the city with the gospel. The authorities complained to the apostles, “Ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine” (read Acts 5:17–32). This should be the goal of people who were commanded by Jesus to, “Preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
The fact is, that most cities we label as gospel-hardened are really gospel-ignorant. In Ephesus (read the story in Acts 19 and 20), the gospel was spread, “Publicly, and from house to house” so that “all that dwelt in [the province of] Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus” in two years’ time.
What about your town? Has every home received an evangelistic visit? Has the city been covered with gospel literature? How many evangelistic meetings were held in the last year to which believers were actively urging the attendance of unbelievers? Is witnessing a part of the pastor’s life, and does his example, encouragement, and instruction help his members be soulwinners?
If there is little spreading of the gospel going on in your town, there is something you can do about it. It isn’t the town that’s so hard; the problem is that the church is not really evangelistic.
2. Because We Are Not Really Filled with the Holy Spirit
Our witness to Christ is supposed to be given in the power of the Spirit of God. The Lord Jesus made this clear before He went back to Heaven. Remember that on the Mount of Olives, His parting words were:
Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.—Acts 1:8
In the book of Luke we are told that we must preach, “Repentance and remission of sins…among all nations,” but that in order to accomplish this mission, we must be “endued with power from on high,” referring to the power of the Spirit (read Luke 24:46–49). Speaking of spreading the gospel, Simon Peter testified, “We are witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (Acts 5:32).
The night before He died on the cross, our Lord introduced His disciples to the new ministry of the Holy Spirit, which would begin on the day of Pentecost. He would live within them, and would act as their “Comforter” (Helper), giving them the power to obey the commands of Christ (see John 14:15–17). He explained His role in our witnessing with these words:
When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me…It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you [believers]; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…—John 15:26–27 and 16:7–8)
The Holy Spirit in believers will reprove the world and prepare lost men to receive the Saviour. With the Holy Spirit testifying to the truth as we witness for Jesus, sinners will see their need of Jesus. In this way, we can expect to bear fruit (read John 15:1–8).
Now every Christian receives the Spirit when He believes in Jesus (Ephesians 1:13), but every believer, thus sealed with the Holy Spirit, is commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18–21). That happens when we surrender to obey the Lord Jesus, no matter what (see John 14:15–17 and 15:14). Before fulfilling our horizontal duty to evangelize, we must address the vertical issues we have with God, just as the first Christians did in the days before Pentecost. When we line up with Jesus and are thus abiding in Him, we are filled with the Spirit for evangelism and our witness is made effective.
Spirit-filled Christians have power in their witness, and men will be saved (look at Acts 4:31–33). God gave us all we need to meet the needs of our town (Luke 11:1–13), but the town seems hard when sins and rebellion keep us from being filled with the Spirit. We need to get on our knees before we start blaming our town.
3. Because Satanic Influences Are Not Being Resisted
Often, we fail to fix spiritual problems because we fail to take into account activity in the invisible world. We are told:
Stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day…—Ephesians 6:11b–13
Not every spiritual problem is caused by Satan, but there is a hierarchy of evil powers active in this world that must be confronted by anyone who wants to be used by God. We must “resist the devil” for him to “flee” from us (see James 4:7 and 1 Peter 5:8–11).
Sometimes the problem in our town is in the invisible world. Perhaps we are being opposed in our work of evangelism and preaching by satanic principalities and powers. Thankfully, the Lord Jesus Christ defeated the devil and his angels (Ephesians 1:15–23), and we can stand against them successfully in the authority of our Lord. In prayer, let’s bind them and bring them to defeat. It can be done, and often must be done before the truth can advance.
4. Because Nobody Has Had the Patience to Prevail
Persistence is an essential element in winning spiritual victories. Have you run across the Scriptures that call on us to persist and not give up (such as Matthew 15:22–28, Luke 11:5–8, and Luke 18:1–7)? In the New Testament, the work of evangelism is compared to the work of farming. We plow, sow, water, and reap, but it is God that gives the increase. Farming requires patience and persistence (be sure to read Matthew 13:1–9, Mark 4:26–29, and 1 Corinthians 3:6–9).
We must stay at it if we are to reach our town: stay at evangelizing, stay at praying, stay at seeking the Lord, stay at letting God lead us, stay at living for Jesus, and stay at believing for results. When our church persists in such things, it looks like the church in Acts!
Often, a town gets the reputation of hardness because nobody has stayed at it long enough to reap a harvest. The city of Ephesus finally saw the triumph of the gospel after several years of sowing the seed in the power of the Spirit. Read the story again in Acts 19:1–20. Somebody will have to persist in the important work of getting the love of Jesus to everyone in your town, and sticking with people until they are made into His disciples!
It never helps to make excuses for the lack of results, especially when the Bible promises them. Let every preacher and every witness for Christ focus scripturally on spreading the gospel, learning to be filled with the Holy Ghost, standing against the powers of darkness, and persisting in the work until we see a powerful, soul-saving work done in our own town.