We all know what reapers are and what they do. They are the harvesters. When the fruit is ripe for picking, they gather the peaches, apples, nectarines, oranges, and olives from the tree. They also gather the grapes from the vine. And reapers are the ones who harvest the grains from endless corn and wheat fields.
Much of today’s harvesting is performed with the help of machines. Even fruit as delicate as raspberries are harvested with a machine that “brushes” the fruit free from its bush.
However, though reaping involves serious work, most reaping only goes after the “easy pickings.” For even when assisted by today’s machinery, reapers still fail to harvest all the fruit. The pickings on the uppermost branches of trees are left behind. The stubborn fruit that clings to the branch is neglected. Stalks of corn and wheat are still left standing and its grain ungathered. Thus, even when the reapers have had their way, there’s still plenty of work to be done.
A more difficult, labor-intensive, and lower-yield effort must be made to gather what the reapers have left behind. This is where the gleaners come in. Gleaning is defined as “to gather slowly and laboriously, bit by bit. To gather (grain or thelike) after the reapers or regular gatherers.” The gleaners have to employ ladders to reach the fruit on the uppermost branches. They have to pluck by hand the stubborn berries and heads of grain. They must stoop to the ground to pick up the ears that have fallen and gone neglected.
If you ask the reapers how hard it is to gather the harvest, they’d tell you it’s easy and huge yields can be gained with the right methods. But if you ask the gleaners about the work of harvesting, they’d have a different story to tell. The gleaners would tell you that it’s hard work and requires maximum effort for minimum yields.
I thought about this last Sunday while listening to my pastor’s sermon. He is a fabulous preacher and a great soul-winner. In every service, many people come to the altar to receive Jesus Christ into their hearts and lives. It’s awesome to see. And often our pastor will encourage his parishioners to be witnesses for Jesus Christ—regardless of their inadequacy. Now, he has never, ever said, “Just look at me—winning souls is easy.” But some people could get that impression.
Then I thought about the many Christian believers I know personally. They are soul-winners also. But they don’t have a harvest “dumped into their lap” like the big preachers seem to have. They invest a lot of prayer, labor, and love into building a relationship and trust with the unbelieving person before they can even lead them to the Lord. They are the gleaners. And they must make the extra effort to gather in the harvest, to gather the fruit that’s been neglected by the reapers.
I believe the big preachers are the reapers. They gather in the “easy pickings.” But, let’s set the record straight. The so-called easy pickings are only easy to them. They may be clueless to the prayers and labors others have invested into that person’s salvation. As Jesus once pointed out to His apostles, “I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor” (John 4:38).
Nor should we overlook God’s miraculous work of grace that goes into the salvation of one soul. Jesus said, “With people it is impossible (to save a sinner). But not with God. With God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).
Nor should I minimize the so-called “easy pickings” that the big preachers gather in. God has called them to do this marvelous work. Every time they preach, they demonstrate the truth of Paul’s word, “For the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Praise God for their faithfulness in proclaiming the gospel.
Yet, let’s not forget the gleaners. It’s left to the gleaners to do the more difficult work of reaching the inaccessible, hostile, and stubborn unbeliever. They must go the extra miles to bring one sinner to Jesus Christ. Praise God for them as well. God is mindful of their ceaseless and unsung labors of love. Just as Jesus knew the unseen sacrifices behind the widow’s tiny gift (Mark 12:41–44), He also knows the agony and toil gleaners endure to lead the lost to eternal life. Great is their reward in heaven.
Dear Father in heaven, please encourage the hearts of Your people—especially those who labor for You in obscurity and without recognition and reward in this life. O God, for Jesus’ sake, strengthen them by Your Holy Spirit. Focus their thoughts and their faith on Jesus who awaits them in heaven. Remind them, dear Father, that you see and reward all that is done in secret for Your eternal kingdom. Amen.