A Heart for the Lost
by Jack Wald | January 11th, 2009

Romans 9:1-3

I did a websearch for having “a burden for the lost” and was taken to a number of blogs where people expressed their opinion. Here is one I found:

People say they have a burden for the lost, a burden for those who do not know Christ. Hmm. I wonder. Here’s a quick checklist to see if you put your spiritual money where your spiritual mouth is.

  1. 1 . Do you pray for people you know who are lost?
  2. 2 . Do you pray for lost people in general?
  3. 3. How many times a week do you talk to someone about Christ?
  4. 4. Do you assist your church, or Pastor, in reaching out to your community?
  5. 5. Do you hand out tracts?
  6. 6. Do you get involved with church outreach events?
  7. 7. Do you have a “plan” in your mind about how to talk to someone about Christ and lead them to salvation?

The blogger goes on to say that if you don’t do these things, then you do not have a burden for the lost and if you do not have a burden for the lost, then you are not a Christian.

I also found a quote of Charles Spurgeon who would have been a blogger  – if the internet had been active in the eighteen hundreds. He began preaching at the age of 19 and by the time of his death in 1892, he had preached almost 3,600 sermons and published forty-nine volumes of commentaries, sayings, anecdotes, illustrations, and devotions.

I put this quote of Spurgeon in the bulletin:

Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you are not saved yourself. Be sure of that. The saving of souls, if a man has once gained love to perishing sinners and his blessed Master, will be an all-absorbing passion to him. It will so carry him away, that he will almost forget himself in the saving of others. He will be like the brave fireman, who cares not for the scorch or the heat, so that he may rescue the poor creature on whom true humanity has set its heart. If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.

Are you saved? Do you have a burden for the lost?

Last week in introducing our study of Romans for this first part of the year, we read from the opening verses of chapter 9.

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel.

These strong, heartfelt sentiments of Paul open up his discussion of what will happen to the Jews, Paul’s fellow Jews, his own people. In light of all the marvelous theology of the first eight chapters, Paul reflected on what will happen to his fellow Jews who were, for the most part, not accepting Jesus as their Messiah.

In talking about Paul’s great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart because his fellow Jews were not accepting Jesus as their Messiah, I said in the sermon last week:

Who is there that I love so much I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for their sake?

I have to confess that the answer is, unfortunately, pretty easy for me – no one. I tend to have a take it or leave it attitude. I will preach the Gospel. I will sit down with someone and explain the Gospel. I will pray for someone to respond to the good news of Jesus but if they don’t that is their problem. There are some who have a heartfelt burden for the lost, those who do not have a relationship with Jesus as their Savior and Lord – but this has never motivated me.

I do care about people and I care about people deeply. I pray for people regularly who are not interested in a relationship with Jesus or who for one reason or another are unable to commit to a relationship with Jesus. But I find this motivation to go out into the world to share the gospel with the lost too abstract and not particularly motivating for me. And at some point I release the people for whom I am praying. Although I might continue to pray for them, I realize that they are making their own choices and will have to live with those choices. I cannot, on an emotional level, continue to carry the burden of their bad choices.

As I have thought about this, I have speculated about a number of reasons why we might not feel motivated to carry a burden for the lost.

It might be that fatigue prevents us from caring for the lost. In the day-to-day working out of the responsibilities we carry, it may be that we are simply too tired to care about the lost.

When we get tired, our tiredness strips us of our ability to engage with the world. We barely have enough energy to deal with ourselves, let alone anyone else. We might care for the salvation of someone, if we weren’t so tired.

When is the last time you took a day off? God instructed Moses to (Exodus 20)

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Taking a day off a week is not a man invented excuse for not working. This instruction is one of the ten commandments engraved on stone. It is not a suggestion; it is a command.

You can push yourself day after day without a break but you pay a price and begin to lose your ability to hear from God or to grow in your relationship with God. As time goes on you will become increasingly task oriented and neglect the heart relationship with God you are supposed to have.

It may be that you are too tired to have a heart for the lost and if that is the case, then the spiritual thing you need to do is to make sure you take a day each week when you rest from the things you do the other six days of the week.

A second reason you might not have a heart for the lost is that you are overwhelmed by the number of people who need to hear. I jog or sometimes walk along the road from our house that runs through the Youssefia market area up to the Mini-park. As I walk I pray for people but I quickly shut down. There are so many people. How can they possibly hear the good news of the Gospel? I cannot communicate in Arabic. I do not know of any believers living in this area. Maybe someone will listen to one of the TV channels broadcasting the good news of Jesus. But what can I do?

So I walk along and pray and realize that if anything is going to happen, God will have to do it.

There are a large number of people who have not heard the good news of Jesus but God knows who he will bring into his kingdom and it is my responsibility to learn to listen to him so he can use me when he wants to use me. There are too many people who have not heard the good news but what is important is to pay attention to the people God brings to me and love them as Jesus loves them.

I heard the story of a man who recently became a Christian. When someone explained to him about Jesus he said he wanted to be a follower of Jesus. Part of what motivated him to make this change was that forty years earlier, a Christian woman had stopped him when he was a boy and given him some clothes. A simple act, but this woman was obedient to Jesus and God used this act of obedience to influence this man. Forty years later, the seed that was sowed by an act of kindness burst into life.

There are too many people but we only need to be obedient to what God asks us to do and we can trust him to do his work.

A third reason you might not have a heart for the lost is that you are too distracted by the affairs of this world. My job demands my energy and time. My family demands my energy and time. My friends demand my energy and time. My home and possessions demand my energy and time. Buy me! Repair me! Feed me! Satisfy me! Play with me! Pay attention to me! and this constant noise drowns out God’s call to have his heart for the world.

We need to take time to step aside from all this noise and think and reflect. This is one of the reasons a devotional life is so important. It is not simply that you need to fill your head with more knowledge of the Bible. It is taking time to shut out the noise of the world that so insistently demands our attention. When we step aside we can begin to hear God’s voice and begin to care for the things on the heart of God.

A fourth reason you might not have a heart for the lost is you are so irritated at their sinful behavior, you don’t want to share the good news with them.

My daughter Caitlin and her husband John just returned to Congo Brazzaville. The flight they took was supposed to leave at 11 PM but left at 1:15 AM. When the plane boarded, everyone rushed to fill the seats and although they had a small baby and were supposed to be the first to board, they ended up being the last. This led to their carry on bags having to be stored in the cargo area which meant they did not have the things they needed for their son Sam during the flight.

When they arrived in Congo in the morning, the customs officer held them there for thirty-five minutes arguing that Caitlin and Sam’s passports had the same number, which they clearly did not. He was looking for some bribe money which they did not give so he held them there. Then outside the taxi drivers got into an argument about who would take them. The one who won the argument demanded five times the normal rate so they decided to go and get their car which was in the garage to be repaired while they were gone.

The brakes of the car still did not work but John managed to get them home where the generator which has been repaired several times stopped working and the electricity to their house shut off two times in the first day.

I am so offended by the culture of corruption and bribes and garages and repair shops cheating and taking shortcuts in the work they do that I say, “To hell with them!”

If people insist on being so corrupt, then let them go where they deserve. (I realize this contradicts the teaching of Paul in the opening chapters of Romans that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God but the feeling is there anyway.)

A fifth reason you might not have a heart for the lost is that you have a prejudice against them. This was the problem of Jonah. God asked him to go to the people of Nineveh, the enemies of Israel, and so Jonah went in the opposite direction. A few days in the belly of a whale changed his mind but it was his prejudice against the Assyrians that prevented him from sharing God’s word as he had been directed.

I have my own prejudices and there are places in the world that if God told me to go there, it would be difficult for me because of my prejudices. Perhaps you also have prejudices that prevent you from having a heart for the lost.

A sixth reason you might not have a heart for the lost is that salvation is so much a mystery, it is impossible to figure out. Why was I saved and not other members of my family? Why was I saved and not my roommate in university who was a much better person than I was? Why is it that two people can sit and hear the same presentation and one will say yes and the other say no?

Because it is so mysterious it is too confusing. Won’t God bring who he wants into his kingdom regardless of what I do? So what difference does it make whether I care or not? If I don’t have a burden for the lost, will God’s purposes be thwarted and less people will come into his kingdom? That seems absurd.

So I sit in the muddle of my not understanding and direct my energies to things that are more understandable such as earning a living so I can pay my bills and treat myself to a little vacation from time to time.

A seventh reason you might not have a heart for the lost is that what you believe is not real enough. The Bible teaches us and Jesus taught us that there is coming a Judgment Day when we will be divided like sheep and goats, wheat and weeds and some will go to an eternal heaven and others will go to an eternal hell.

Is that really true? Or maybe you think that the Bible is merely threatening us to motivate us but in the end, in some way, everyone will make it to heaven. If we do not believe in the reality of a coming judgment, then it does not make much difference if we care for the lost or not.

Spurgeon said:

The saving of souls, if a man has once gained love to perishing sinners and his blessed Master, will be an all-absorbing passion to him. It will so carry him away, that he will almost forget himself in the saving of others.

Where is my all-absorbing passion for the saving of souls? Where is your all-absorbing passion? What is holding you back from having an all-absorbing passion for the saving of souls? Which of the seven reasons we might not have this passion resonate with you?

Do you carry a deep-seated prejudice against people that prevents you from caring for them?

Consider Philip. When the Jews fled Jerusalem because of the persecution led by Saul, Philip went to Samaria. Remember that there was a century’s old conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans. When John told the story of Jesus and the Samaritan women at the well, part of what made this so remarkable is that she was a Samaritan for as John pointed out in his Gospel:

(For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

So Philip, with this Jewish bias against the Samaritans went to Samaria, and what did he do? (Acts 8)

Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.

Philip was so filled with the Spirit of God that he ignored his prejudice and preached with passion the life with Christ he had received.

Are you irritated by the sinful behavior of others and so unmotivated to care about their salvation?

Elias Chacour grew up in Galilee in Palestine. As Christians, he and his family traced their origin back to the first century. In 1947, at the age of eight, he and his family who had lived on their land for centuries, cultivating their orchards and passing the land from father to son to grandson to great-grandson and on and on – were forcibly evicted by the Israeli army and sent to a refugee camp. In all, tens of thousands of Palestinians were killed and despite a ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court saying this action was illegal, nearly one million Palestinians were evicted from their land and sent to the refugee camps.

With this as his background, what do you think he did with his life? Did he become a leader in the PLO? Did he spend his life fighting back at the Israelis who had so cruelly treated his family and people?

Elias Chacour has spent his life in a ministry of reconciliation between Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Middle East.

In 2001, Chacour gave an address at commencement at Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia where he accepted an honorary degree. In his speech he said:

You who live in the United States, if you are pro-Israel, on behalf of the Palestinian children I call unto you: give further friendship to Israel. They need your friendship. But stop interpreting that friendship as an automatic antipathy against me, the Palestinian who is paying the bill for what others have done against my beloved Jewish brothers and sisters in the Holocaust and Auschwitz and elsewhere.

And if you have been enlightened enough to take the side of the Palestinians — oh, bless your hearts — take our sides, because for once you will be on the right side, right? But if taking our side would mean to become one-sided against my Jewish brothers and sisters, back up. We do not need such friendship. We need one more common friend. We do not need one more enemy, for God’s sake.

He is a remarkable man. But what enabled him to set off on this peacemaking course rather than one of retaliation for a terrible injustice?

Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch woman who was arrested by the Nazis in WWII for helping Jews to escape from the Holocaust. She and her sister and father were sent to German concentration camps where both her sister and father died. Through a bureaucratic error she was released before the end of the war and survived.

And then after the war she set out on a ministry of reconciliation in Germany and spoke of the power of God to save and to forgive. At one of these meetings a former prison guard at Ravensbrück where her sister had died, came up to her asking for forgiveness. She wrote about this meeting.

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.

What allowed Elias Chacour and Corrie Ten Boom to reach out in Christian love to people who had so brutally treated them?

I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.

What Elias Chacour and Corrie Ten Boom and Philip have in common is that they had the heart of Christ for the world. And Elias Chacour, as Archbishop of Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, still has the heart of Christ for the world.

Do you remember the story Jesus told of the lost lamb? (Luke 15)

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’

The heart of God for the lost was revealed in this teaching of Jesus but it was also revealed in the actions of Jesus. Jesus wept for the coming suffering of Jerusalem. He did not simply make an observation, he wept. It is clear by the teaching and the example of Jesus that his heart was for the salvation of the lost.

When his disciple Peter was writing to explain why it was that Jesus had not yet returned, he said: (II Peter 3)

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

The heart of God is for salvation. The heart of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is for our salvation. This is why Jesus was made human and died, for our salvation.

This is the single most important aspect of our lives. If you think anything else has similar or nearly similar importance than you are deluded. It is all about our salvation.

It is not about our living well or successfully, however the world defines that at the moment. It is about when we die, how will we face our judgment.

When you sit down in a class at university, the professor and the students in your class will one day face the same judgment you will face. It is important to pay attention to the lecture and it is important to study to do well on the exam, but what you learn and what you achieve by learning will pass away. You and all in the class will come to an eternal judgment. Do you care what will happen to them in that judgment?

When you go to a diplomatic reception and chat with people about life in Rabat and what is happening in Morocco, the people with whom you are chatting will one day face the same judgment you will face. Do you care about them? Do you care how they will fare in that judgment?

When you sit in a café or restaurant or interact with the local butcher or bureaucrat, do you think about how they will fare in the coming judgment?

I am not suggesting in this Muslim country that you hand out tracts and Bibles indiscriminately. That is foolhardy unless it is your intention to leave the country in the next few days. What I am asking is, “Do you care?”

If you have difficulty caring but want to care, then I suggest you pay more attention to your relationship with God. It is the love relationship with Jesus that allowed Philip, Corrie Ten Boom and Elias Chacour to care as they did.

Don’t allow your preoccupations with this temporary world overrule your passion for the eternal world that is to come. Take time to rest. Take time to step away from the noise of the world and listen to the heart of God.

It is a heart relationship with Jesus that will allow you to overcome your prejudices and irritations and preoccupations and care for the lost.