While chatting with an aging surgeon friend of mine I asked the question, "Doc, do you ever worry about the time when your fingers will lose their skill?"
He paused for a moment and then replied, "No, pastor, but I do confess that at times I worry that the day may come when my heart will no longer feel the suffering of my patients."
One of the most frightening current fulfillments of prophetic Scripture is that men are losing natural affection. Emotions, particularly in the realm of spiritual experiences, are viewed as indications of fanatical trends. Christians can unashamedly weep over the silly sentimentalism of TV and movies, or scream with uncontrolled joy or fury over a home run or touch-down. Yet, the same Christians would be ashamed to display any emotion of contrition or joy in the atmosphere of public worship.
Something is wrong with the evangelical church! It has lost its passion for souls and its compassion for the lost. It glories in its orthodoxy and a robot type of theology. Seated comfortably in its rocking chair it earnestly sings, "Rescue the Perishing." In beautiful harmony but with dry eyes, its voice reminds us, "See from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down."
May I shock you by saying the greatest need of the evangelical church is not the power of the Holy Spirit. That is ever available, but it cannot manifest itself or operate until there is created the only field in which it can be effective. The power of the Holy Spirit to multiply the loaves and fishes was demonstrated only after the heart of Jesus was moved with compassion as He saw the multitudes as sheep without a shepherd. It was a transformed and compassionate Peter who gave to the lame man the gift of health and movement. Every apostolic miracle and dynamic declaration of the Gospel was born in a human heart filled with divine compassion.
The church no longer has the sword in its soul. The Romanist's symbol of the bleeding heart of Mary cannot be accepted by us, but it may have a significant suggestion for us. Simeon looked up into the lovely face of the young mother and said, "Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:35). "She [Hannah] was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore. And she vowed a vow" (1 Sam. 1:10, 11).
"I will greatly multiply thy sorrow . . . ; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children" (Gen. 3:16). This divine decision applies spiritually as well as physically, and today as well as in the day of the Fall.
At a Sunday school convention a pastor told me of his wayward teen-age son. "He has broken almost every law of God and man. He is killing his mother with sorrow and is breaking my heart. What can I do?"
Pressed for attention by other people, I abruptly asked, "Have you ever tried a tender tear?" He went away in anger at my strange suggestion. A year later we met at another convention. He greeted me with, "It worked! It worked! When I got home that night my boy was asleep. As I stood by his bed my heart was flooded with a new and tender compassion. I found myself on my knees clasping my boy to my heart and bathing his face with tender tears. Almost before I knew what was happening he was on his knees beside me weeping, and both of us wept our way back to God. Tom's a new boy. Our home is radiant with happiness."
With surprising frequency God works through the sorrow of compassion. All God's great servants have been refined in the crucible of sorrow and have been men who interacted to the tragedies about them.
Moses cried unto the Lord, "If thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book" (Ex. 32:32).
Abram faced the excruciating heartbreak of Moriah.
Daniel agonized in intercessory prayer as he identified himself with the guilt of his people (Dan. 9:3, 4).
Jeremiah cried, "Oh that my head were waters and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!" (Jer. 9:1).
Christ was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. The rebellious rejection of Himself by the people of Jerusalem broke His heart. He was grieved that His own received Him not when He came to them.
Paul reminded the Ephesian elders, "By the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" (Acts 20:31).
To Timothy, the apostle wrote, "Being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy."
We are trying to produce results with a soul that has never been pierced by the sword of vicarious sorrow. Never has so much truth been preached with so little passion! Never have so many souls been reached but the touch has been without emotion or conviction! Never have so many Sunday School lessons been taught with so little compassion!
In no other historical age have Christians known so much about tragic current events and cared less. Men and women, parents and youth, clergy and laity have been stricken by this strange and terrifying blindness to the implication of worldly and godless trends.
Margaret Mead wrote in The Saturday Evening Post: "What has happened to those roles which have historically belonged to women? Traditionally they used to care for the young, nurse the sick, lay out the dead, attend women in childbirth, comfort the sorrowful, quiet unruliness, and temper hotheadedness with gentleness and wisdom.
"In these days of great freedom . . . we may well ask: How do we women stand? The answer is simple. We stand very badly indeed. The ancient occupation of bathing the dead is now in the hands of morticians, a male profession for profit. Midwifery, and the loving induction of mother and infant into a satisfactory symbiotic relationship, is now in the hands of male obstetricians followed by male pediatricians. Visiting the widowed and sorrowful is done largely by male insurance agents, again as part of the profit structure of our society. Dedicating one's life to God or human welfare is becoming steadily unpopular. The care of the infirm old has been put as far outside the house as possible and delegated to institutions where gadgets replace tenderness and the television set the friendly personal voice."
American women have forgotten how to feel and how to care beyond their own personal requirements.
In our Christian homes the social has superseded the spiritual. The phone, social engagements and the TV have evicted the altar of prayer. The cares of life have driven Mary from the feet of Jesus to the place of employment or the festive board of entertainment. Social graces have supplanted the grace of the Holy Spirit. We are too busy to lead our children into the presence of God. We have little time for the Bible, and intensive study of the Scriptures is a lost art.
We worry over calories and vitamins but are not alarmed by spiritual deficiencies.
Comparatively few Christian young people are willing to dedicate themselves to the extension of the church's ministries. Who is to blame for the lack of interest and dedication? Why do so many mission-
ary candidates fall by the wayside or never return to their fields after their first term? Why, with so many evangelistic sermons preached and so many Bible lessons taught, are so few souls saved? Has the age of science cancelled out the dynamic power of the Gospel? Are we evangelicals satisfied with our progress? What community change would occur if your church would instantly disappear from its location? Would the unconverted world view it as a tragedy and bemoan the loss of its influence?
Look at the first century church. "The multitude came together . . . and were confounded . . . they were all amazed and marvelled . . . they were pricked in their heart and said, Men, brethren, what shall we do? . . . and fear came upon every soul . . . they were filled with wonder and amazement . . . they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus . . . all men glorified God for that which was done . . . the place was shaken where they were gathered together . . . with great power gave they witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus . . . of the rest durst no man join himself to them; but the people magnified them . . . they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth . . . these that have turned the world upside down are come hither also."
Is our today's world less in need of a soul-jarring impact by the church? Should we, living in the last perilous days, be content with less spiritual power and influence than that of the infant church?
What is the missing element in our churches and Sunday schools?
We have a crisis without an awareness. Constantly surrounded by alarming trends we go blissfully on our way of apathy and heartless unconcern. The international trend threatens atomic annihilation. We, sons of God, shrug off our involvement in politics and policies by accepting the trends as part of our eschatological theology. Marriages are threatened, suicides are multiplying, and men's minds and hearts are cracking under the economic pressures of this age.
So what? Either we have no answers to these problems of life or we don't care to communicate them. The spiritual crisis is even more alarming, but there is no alarm in Christian circles. How many evangelical churches have seriously tackled the grim problem of those who fall among spiritual thieves? Busy with our important church program we pass by on the other side and leave the wounded and weak brother to be devoured.
The return of the Lord is a conspicuous part of our hymnology and creed. But how much of a reality is it to us? Is it not true that to many of us the second appearing of Christ would be both surprising and inconvenient? We talk about heaven but build for time. We plan for tomorrow but not for eternity.
We have a need without a concern. If we are to salvage our generation we must establish a new set of values. We must desist from measuring success by money and position, rather than by divine approval. We must stop defining security in terms of policies and social security instead of by eternal investments. To protect our spiritual heritage we must cease from seeking first "these things" and relegating the kingdom of God to a secondary position.
We need to become conscious of our unevangelized Jerusalem. Most evangelical churches stand in communities that are basically pagan. Few people in the immediate church neighborhoods know much about the distinctives or mission of the church. The passion and compassion of Jesus seldom passes through the church walls to the families across the street.
While we talk and sing a great deal about missions, the fact remains that all our missionary giving is peanuts when compared to what we spend for cosmetics, aspirins and recreation.
We have a soul without a sword. We have never vicariously entered into the sorrows and grief of the world. From our ivory tower of correct theology we tell sinners that Jesus loves them. It is all very professional, impassionate and impersonal. This is the explanation for our evangelistic impotency. This answers the question, "Why are sinners unimpressed by our lives and unmoved by our message?"
Of course we need the power of the Holy Spirit. But, remember, that power operates effectively only in the field of compassion.
Our hearts are not broken by the things that break the heart of God. Our eyes are never blinded by tender tears, tears of compassion. Our will detours around its
Gethsemane. We have a Moriah, but it is a mountain of creed without its Isaac bound to the altar. We emphasize the proclamation of the gospel, but it is a proclamation without a passion.
We need the old faith for the new frontiers. However, that old faith must be bonded to the old compassion, to meet the desperate fears and hungers of the new frontiers.
While traveling up the Kwilu River in the Congo Republic, our boat docked at a native village. Scores of women, arms and head laden with baskets of produce, crowded aboard the steamer to sell their produce to the crewmen. As one woman stepped across the gap separating the steamer from the oil barge lashed to its side, her foot slipped on the slick deck. Her baskets flew in all directions. And as she fell into the water she managed to grasp hold of the edge of the deck with her finger tips.
In sheer terror she screamed, "Help me! Save me!" Scores of her relatives and friends shouted, screamed, and almost trampled on her fingers, but not one person put their produce down to grasp her wrist and pull her to safety. Finally, her fingers slipped and she was drawn beneath the boat by the vicious currents. Far down the river I saw a black hand rise above the surface of the water and then disappear.
The furious captain demanded, "Why didn't you help her? She is your relative from your own village." As innocently as though no tragedy had been involved, they replied, "But we might have dropped and lost some of our produce had we tried to save her."
Heartless? Yes. But how much do we as Christian parents really care about the spiritual condition of our children? Does the unsaved condition of our Sunday school students so crush our hearts that we go home from our class to weep and fast rather than to feast? Do we as pastors, conscious of the need for revival in our churches and the lack of power in our evangelism, cry to God, "Give me children, or else I die." (Gen. 30:1)?
Late one Saturday evening a pastor was
working and praying in preparation for the morrow. He answered his phone and could hear only the sound of a woman sobbing. Then he recognized the voice of one of his finest Sunday school teachers. "Pastor, forgive me for calling you at this late hour. But my heart is so burdened for the boys in my class that I feel I can't live unless God saves them. Please, pastor, please pray for them."
And God did save them! Her lesson, tempered with tears and born in a heart pierced by the sword of compassion, brought eight boys, every member of her class, to the Lord the following morning!
Never was the evangelical church so efficiently organized. Our brains are filled with the finest methods and techniques. We have at our disposal superb equipment and mechanics. In the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ we have a dynamic message. The Holy Spirit is ready to operate in supernatural force through the body of Christ. Time is running out on us as the coming of Christ approaches. Combine all these assets and factors with the essential ingredient, the compassion of the love of God, and once again the forces of sin will cry out in consternation, "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also" (Acts 17:6).