By Tim Harlow
If you think about it, the whole idea of getting to live in Heaven with God one day, based totally and completely on the grace of Jesus, is a remarkable concept. Most of us have lived in the world of Christianity long enough that we just don’t appreciate it enough.
One day a Christian kid was talking to his friend about the concept of Jesus and Heaven. The other kid was blown away. He said, “Are you telling me that all I have to do is follow Jesus and I can go to Heaven?”
“Yes, it’s that simple.”
The friend then asked, “And if my mom wants to go, all she has to do is follow Jesus?”
And the Christian kid answered, “Yeah, and if you don’t want her there—just don’t tell her.”
Could that be the problem? Will Hell be full of people who chose to rebel against God and reject the message of Jesus? Or will it just be people we didn’t really want hanging out with us in Heaven?
I don’t believe I’m personally responsible for the salvation of every lost person with whom I come into contact. God is big enough not to need me. But if I am honest, indifference is a problem for me. Whenever I hear one of those hyper-evangelist preachers talk about sitting next to someone on a plane and leading them to Christ, I feel guilty. When I get on a plane, I rarely pray for God to put someone next to me that I can spend my whole trip talking to about Jesus. I pray for an empty seat, or a racehorse jockey who doesn’t speak English.
It’s not just indifference, I guess, it’s selfishness. It’s a complete lack of compassion. I think having a relationship is a better way to share my faith anyway. But I’m not sure I even care enough about my relationships either.
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:35-38, author emphasis).
This is so important! I score a zero on most spiritual gift tests when it comes to the gift of mercy.
“Let me call the waa-mbulance.” “Should I get out my tiny violin?” (Our church members request that I NOT visit them in the hospital!)
When I see the crowds, I see them as annoying and in my way. Stupid sheep.
God’s been teaching me I have the gift of evangelism, but not compassion. Usually that’s because I just don’t understand how sheep can be so messed up. Lately God has brought some people into my life who have really helped me understand the background of why they are so “helpless.” Sometimes they are harassed and helpless because of bad decisions, but in a lot of cases—I dare say most cases—they are messed up because something or someone messed them up.
My Jonah Issues
I’ve really wrestled with my Jonah issues lately. We tend to think of Jonah as the guy who ran from God’s assignment because he was afraid to go to Nineveh. But the truth is, he actually had SCD (Sheep Compassion Deficiency).
When Jonah resurrects from the fish and finally goes to Nineveh, surprisingly, the king repents and says: “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (Jonah 3:9).
God might have what? Compassion! Why would God have compassion on what may have been the most horribly evil civilization since before the flood? No way that’s happening!
God had compassion “and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened” (Jonah 3:10, author emphasis).
Wait! I thought God was a God of justice? Well, evidently he’s a God of compassion first.
The weird part is that Jonah actually knew that. The real reason he didn’t want to go to Nineveh was because he had SCD and he was afraid God didn’t!
“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord. ‘. . . I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:1-3).
You see, Jonah knew that God was a God of second chances. God sent Jonah a big fish to give him a second chance. But Jonah didn’t want Nineveh to get one.
God asks Jonah an interesting question that really helps me with my SCD.
“Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh?” (Jonah 4:11).
Basically God says, “Nineveh has 120,000 children that live there and even innocent animals.” (See how The Message renders the verse: “Nineveh . . . , this big city of more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong.”)
Sometimes when I see the hurt and helpless sheep, I have SCD because of the way they are acting or the addictions or behaviors they have that are destroying them. I don’t necessarily want God to rain down fire and brimstone on them, but I’m not going to be bothered with their junk. But when I realize that, as they say, “hurt people, hurt people,” it gives me a different perspective.
This messed-up sheep was probably a little lamb that someone neglected, or worse. If they don’t get help, they are going to royally screw up their own children and maybe other people in the world. This helps me with my SCD. It gives me more patience and a greater desire to help them.
I heard a former Third World missionary describe his confusion over the way First World preachers talk about the Samaritan woman in John 4. She was married five times and living with a guy. We assume she was immoral. Hopping from one bed to another without any regard for morality. But as he read that passage in a place where women had no rights, a place where women are property and can’t have a job or any independence (as was the case in first-century Samaria), he didn’t read her situation as immoral, but tragic.
What if her first five husbands just dumped her? What if she was barren and no one wanted her because she couldn’t do the one thing that was important for a woman to do? What if she was living with a guy because she was going to starve otherwise? It wasn’t right, but if you’ve met prostitutes in those cultures, you know that not many of them chose that life for themselves.
That’s a little different perspective, isn’t it? We already know this woman at the well was blown away by the fact that Jesus had enough compassion to talk to her in the first place. She certainly didn’t feel judged by Jesus. No lost sheep ever did.
If God was concerned about Nineveh, he’s also concerned about your city. If you are suffering from SCD today, I understand. But what about the children? What about the innocent? Do you understand what happened in that Ninevite person’s life that caused him or her to be so harassed and helpless in the first place?
I know such individuals are difficult and needy and make bad decisions that make you crazy. But I’m praying for an extra dose of compassion for you today. And for me. It doesn’t do any good to pray for the Lord of the harvest to send workers into the field if we all have SCD.
Tim Harlow serves as senior pastor with Parkview Christian Church, Orland Park, Illinois. Read the first chapter of his book, Life on Mission, free in the Christian Standard app.