God uses crisis to bring people to Christ.
Looking out over the 600,000 people living in the poorest part of Lima, Peru, you can almost feel the oppression. Many of these people came out of the jungles with absolutely nothing and settled in “squatter” shacks on the outskirts of the massive city of 7 million. For the longest time, there was no running water or electricity — just a dust-covered sea of humanity crying for help.
Pastor Walter sees these hurting people as his flock. He tirelessly cares for the hurting, helps provide medical attention to the sick and preaches the Gospel multiple times every week. He started a church planting movement that is quickly growing; bringing light to a very dark part of the world.
Pastor Walter also knows what it feels like to be desperate. His middle son, Aaron, was born with a severe case of cerebral palsy, a condition that left the teenager unable to walk, talk or communicate. Aaron is confined all day in a small wheelchair and struggles with chronic pain every moment of every day. In these neighborhoods, there are no physical therapy clinics or special equipment that can help Aaron. So Pastor Walter decided to take his pain and make it a platform to help people. His church founded a physical therapy clinic for children with disabilities. Through donations, they are able to provide a much-needed ray of hope to those who have been all but forgotten.
As Pastor Walter showed me the clinic and shared his vision, he acknowledged; “I probably would not have been so concerned for these children if I had not had Aaron. But now that I know their pain, my heart is full of compassion.”
Compassion has a way of moving people to action. Seven times in the Gospels, we read that Jesus was “filled with compassion.” On one occasion, Jesus was ministering to a hurting crowd. Everywhere He turned, there were desperate people. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” (Matthew 9.36 ESV).
The term “compassion” comes from the Greek word splagchnizomai meaning “inward parts”. Greeks believed that the bowels were the center of affection. We typically think of the heart as the center of affection today. We say “I love you with all my heart,” but the idea is that compassion comes from deep within, the core of our being.
When Jesus saw the hurting around Him, He was moved on the inside. His gut ached as He saw the condition of people who were far from God. Let’s just stop right there. Are you moved like that? Do you ache over a friend who is far from God? Are you up late praying for a family member who doesn’t know Jesus? Is there a deep compassion in you for people?
It’s easy in our fast-paced world to become hardened to the pain around us. It’s easy to slip into a mindset that says, “Well, they made bad choices so now they have to live with it,” or, “They have rejected God, so they are going to get what’s coming.”
Sometimes we even start to see people far from God as the enemy. This is how the religious leaders of Jesus’ day saw hurting people — but not Jesus. He saw them as harassed (“to be skinned,” torn apart by the troubles of life), and helpless (thrown down, cast aside). Literally, this world tore them up and threw them away!
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest,” (Matthew 9.37-3 ESV). In the face of so much pain, Jesus told His men to see the opportunity to bring hope to those who had lost all hope and to pray that God would send workers into this field of humanity.
God sees every hurt. God hears every cry for help. God always sends someone in response to those prayers. The truth is, there is someone in your neighborhood, office or school who will go to bed tonight crying out for God to send someone to help them. And you are the answer to their prayers.
The more I study the life of Jesus, the more I realize that Jesus often responded to the crisis of others. The passage you just read comes at the end of a list of successive crises where Jesus was pulled from one urgent situation to the next. Having studied this passage for years, I have become convinced that most often people come to a crisis before they come to Christ. God uses crises, difficulties and tragedies as “wake-up calls” to jolt people out of their own self-sufficiency and awaken them to their desperate need for Him.
There are four kinds of crises that tend to open people up to Jesus:
1. The crisis of circumstances. This could be any crisis that brings immediate pain; the loss of a job, a troubled marriage, a sudden tragedy, a bad doctor’s report. All these things leave people reeling and looking for hope.
2. The crisis of belief. This is the person who begins to ask the ultimate questions in life like, “What do I really believe about God and the Bible? Is what I was told as a child really true?”
3. The crisis of identity. This person is asking questions like, “Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose?”
4. The crisis of mortality. When faced with a tragic loss or sudden death, people begin to wonder about their own mortality and what will happen to them after they die. A good friend once told me, “God never wastes pain,” and I believe that is true. Often, God will use these crises to move us toward Himself. It’s as if these troubles open a window where, for just a moment, people are open to the Gospel. But that window won’t stay open forever.
As you identify and build friendships with people around you who do not know Christ, begin to look for those who are facing crisis. Ask God to give you the eyes of Jesus to see the hurting people around you and to be moved by their situations. Those who are hurting are often the most receptive to the Gospel as the Holy Spirit prepares their hearts. So be alert and watchful. Remember, you just might be the answer to their prayers.
Photo Credit: Jordan Opel