I remember an incident shortly after my call to ministry. It came after many weeks of prayer for God to show me the point of passion that would fuel my ministry. During this time in my life, I had a weakness. This weakness was an inability to express compassion, which I knew was the result of a lack of compassion in my heart. It was not as if I did not care about people – I certainly did, but there was something missing in my heart – a passion for people. I knew that if I were called to ministry, God would have to somehow fix this weakness. I knew that I could not endure all that is required to fulfill a call to ministry without a deep, all-consuming passion for people. Somehow he would have to impassion me. Of course, Jesus’ love for me should be enough – but how would His love transform into love expressed by me? What would cause me to hunger after the lost – what message would I bring that would create this passion and make it contagious? I wrestled with the issue through prayer, introspection, and counsel. I remember clearly the day God gave me my answer.
My wife and I were driving through one of Jackson’s busiest intersections en-route to some errand. I was mulling over a sermon I had just delivered in Martin, Tennessee. It was about “joy”. I wondered if the message was received. As I day dreamed a bit on the subject I began to look at the faces of the people in the vehicles around me – so many faces. Some carried obvious worry. Some carried obvious anger. Some carried obvious sorrow, Some carried obvious pain. Very few carried obvious joy.
It was then, that afternoon, that I began to truly weep for people. Hiding behind the mask of long-held allergies to spring pollens, I wept – mostly inside. I remember whispering to God, asking him to explain what was happening. He reminded me of the incredible Christian heritage that we enjoy as southerners. He reminded me that most of these people accepted that God was real. He reminded me that most of the faces I saw represented long lineages of Christian allegiance and service. He reminded me that most of them went to churches on Sundays – after all that is what good Christian people do.
But, then he gave me an insight that I did not expect. He reminded me of a little phrase from 2 Timothy 3:5, “having a form of godliness but denying its power”. Yet, this reminder was not in the judgmental tone that Paul spoke it in. It was not in the apocalyptic tone that marked Paul’s words. It was as if God was walking to and fro between the cars on that busy street- trying to get their attention. “I am more than this”, He would say. “I am more than picking out Sunday clothes. I am more than saying, ‘yes, mam’, or ‘no, mam’. I am more than singing all the harmonies in Amazing Grace. I am more than telling the preacher he did a good job. I am more than putting a good offering in the plate. I am more than saying my name in the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’. I am more than posting my commandments in a court house. I am more than a prayer before dinner or a baseball game. I am more – so much more.”
“I want to know you. I want to talk with you. I want to share in your hurts and struggles. I want to be a real presence in your lives – not just a garment that you wear on Sunday mornings. You say you know me, but we never talk. You say you know me, but you never hear me. You say you know me, but you never recognize me. I remember when you were small, and used to wear that lacy dress on Easter Sunday. I also remember you, and that bow-tie your grandfather bought you to wear the day you were baptized. Do you remember me? Do you recognize me?” From car to car He would go, and no one recognized him, no one noticed he was there.
It was through this experience that I truly began to have a heart-felt and genuine compassion for people. Here in the south, we have much to be proud of. Our southern culture tends to celebrate God. We are quick to anger when the commandments are ordered off a courthouse wall. But, sometimes we are not so quick when God says, “Come, walk with me for awhile.” We are so busy being good people and doing what good people do that we have forgotten that none of us – none of us- are good apart from God. Without a true, personal, experiential relationship with God, we are just doing the motions of life, not thriving in it as He desires for us.