“If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13:2)
I have heard the “missional” thing expressed in terms of the ways and strategies to outreach non-believers. But I think the starting point should be love. It should not be considered a cliche to consider whether you’re really missioning out of love.
I remember on one new year’s eye, we were having a dinner with a dear brother in Christ, when he shared with us how he reflected on the year and how much more he could do to reach people who still need to hear about Christ. He was almost in tears when he said, “Jesus is coming any time now, and there are so many more souls that need God’s salvation!” I will never forget that dinner when I experienced someone’s genuine compassion for the lost.
But more often than not, I experienced lack of compassion. Many years ago I was trying to get people to go to a short-term mission to India with us. I spent a lot of time talking to this guy that I wanted to recruit, telling him the kinds of persecutions that the India Christians were under. I also told him that we would be going to an area of the country that’s considered a little bit dangerous due to the (very occassional) potential racial skirmishes and terrorist acts. Eventually I was disappointed that he declined to go solely because of the perceived physical danger to himself and he did not even express any desire to really understand the local people more.
Long time ago I was helping a youth group who were discussing about reaching out to youths that might come from dysfunctional family backgrounds and might engage in risky behaviors. But the parents of the youth group members did not want us to do that. “What if they cuss at church and use foul language? … We can’t have people smoke on our premises?” I was shocked that they would not wish to welcome exactly the kind of people that Jesus would welcome with open arms.
In Matt 9:35-36, “Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”
In Greek, “Compassion” literally means “bowels.” I remember when I was first dating Wendy, I would feel butterflies in my stomach whenever I saw her. Those figurative butterflies were really things felt in my “bowels.” Jesus’ compassion for the distress of the people was like a feeling in his “bowels.” We have to ask ourselves: “Does the lostness of people resonate in my gut?”
C. S. Lewis once wrote (in “The Weight Of Glory”) that the problem with Christians is not that our desires are too strong, but too weak. Let us all attain an ever strong desire to have love and compassion. And that, to me, is the first essential step to being missional.