It is amazing to me how I can go through life and miss so much. I get caught up in my routine, focus on the task before me, and the rest of the world becomes a blur. It is a like the people I see working out at the gym. They are surrounded by activity, but with their ear buds in place and their music playing, they are oblivious to it. They just go about their routine, barely acknowledging those around them.
I tend to be what might be called an office rat. Some pastors spend more time at coffee shops than they spend in their office. Not me. In order for me to get my work done, I have to have a controlled environment, with few distractions. I am also a creature of habit. I have a particular routine that I follow pretty much every week. When my routine gets unexpectedly altered, I feel out of rhythm. Therefore I tend to zone into my routine, and zone out other things.
A week ago, I challenged everyone, at the end of our worship service, to put feet to their faith in some practical way. Being a task oriented person, I had in mind how I was going to personally meet that challenge. Developing a more robust ministry to international students is one of my goals for this year. So I arranged to meet with two international students to get to know them better and to ask for their input. But God had a totally different plan for me.
On Friday, at about 11:30 AM, a young, homeless man walked into our office looking for help. He had stopped by the church twice before. On the first occasion, I gave him some money to get food. On the second occasion, I had turned him away. To put this in context, we get requests for help on a regular basis. In the majority of cases, we send them to the Salvation Army. When this young man showed up for the third time, something within me said, you need to help this man. I talked with him for a short time, trying to get an idea of his real needs. I gave him some immediate assistance, and promised more help, if he would furnish me with certain information.
I want to say, at this point, that I believe these encounters were orchestrated by God. Normally, when a young man like this comes, I would send him to talk with our Associate Pastor. On all three occasions, when this young man appeared, I was the only pastor at the church. On the first two occasions, he arrived at unusual times, which limited my access to “normal procedures.” The third time around, God finally captured my heart. I saw a sincere, frightened, helpless young man. I could almost hear Jesus asking me, Dave will you care for this young man?
We live in a world filled with needs. Most of us feel overwhelmed by the scope of the problems. We feel helpless to really make a difference. Therefore, we tend to steel ourselves against the bombardment of requests. To protect ourselves, we just say no. I understand that, but there are times, maybe many times, when Jesus calls us to drop our defenses and step out in faith.
We need to ask God to restore a heart of genuine compassion within us. On one particular occasion, Jesus and his disciples were trying to get away from the crowds to get some needed rest. The pressure of the needs of the people were overwhelming them. So they got in a boat and sailed from one side of the lake to the other. But when they arrived, the people had beaten them there. Then Matthew records, When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36) Instead of sending the people away, Jesus sat down and taught them.
There are two kinds of compassion. There is a pragmatic compassion, which sees a need and gives in order to get rid of the person. This kind of compassion is more about quieting our guilt than meeting a need. On the other hand, there is genuine compassion, which sees a person and gives to embrace them and share life with them. I am often guilty of the first, and need desperately to grow in the second.
We need to ask God to open our eyes to the opportunities to serve others that are all around us. Because it is easy for us to pull into our own safe, little world, we often miss the chance to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Most of the time these are small acts of kindness, simple words of encouragement, or opportunities to open a spiritual conversation. These are around us daily, but too often we are blind to them. Like the song states, we need God to open the eyes of our hearts.
Paul challenges us to open our eyes and take advantage of the opportunities God puts in our path. Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16) We take advantage of these opportunities by offering God’s grace to those around us in practical ways. At first, this will seem hard, but the more we train ourselves to respond with God’s grace, the more adept we will become at it. With all of the demands on us, this can seem overwhelming. But if we will be intentional and persevere, it will pay off. As Paul says, Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:9-10