“They were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

They may not be the most intelli­gent of all God’s creatures, but when it comes to the spiritual life, sheep do have some character traits in com­mon with us. Like us, they know that they depend on their shepherd for their provision and protection. Like us, they are capable of learning how to hear and follow their master’s voice. And again like us, they also tend to wander away from their mas­ter and get into trouble. They know what’s good for them, but they are easily distracted and prone to making the wrong choices.

Jesus also likened the people he met to a field of grain ready to be harvested. Much as a farmer enjoys gathering the ripened crop, Jesus loves to gather his people together. “But the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37). That’s why he sent out the Twelve as his missionaries. It’s also why he sends us out.

We can get overwhelmed by the call, especially when we consider the sheer number of people who seem far from the Lord—all those lost sheep wandering around! We may also get discouraged by past efforts that haven’t been too successful.

Don’t let thoughts like these keep you down! On the face of it, the challenge is greater than any of our abilities. But it doesn’t all depend on us. Remember: Jesus is the one who touches hearts and minds. He is the one who draws people to himself. Our call is simply to help him gather them in.

What does this mean practically? One of the most important things we can do is listen. Listen to people when they tell you how things are going for them. Listen to their joys and hopes, their fears and frustra­tions. Listen for signs of God’s work in their lives and for signs that they are longing for something more than this world can give. This simple act of listening is very powerful because it opens your heart, both to the per­son you are sharing with and to the Holy Spirit’s promptings.

So don’t be concerned about your own shortcomings. Jesus will do the heavy lifting. All you have to do is lis­ten, and then respond.

“Lord Jesus, give me a listening heart. Help me follow your lead as I work with you to bring in the harvest.”

Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13 Psalm 115:3-10