A couple of weeks ago, there was an uproar over a poster used by a local church to incentivize the youth to attend its services and learn from God on various aspects of their sexuality. This uproar got a group of friends of mine talking about how our society seems to have become numb to the lost. We seem not to have a heart for the lost, almost like the lost are the lost; we are the good ones so their loss does not affect us. One of the people in this discussion said something profound that has been in my head since, that if we are not surrounded by the lost, if we do not have around us people who we know desperately need the Lord, then we will also lose our heart for the lost.
I got thinking how true this is. You see if you are used to fishing in a clean, fresh river, you very fast dislike the smell of fish from sewage. You will therefore do everything within your power to keep off fish from the sewage and will instead always go for the better smelling fish from the fresh river.
Why would anyone want to fish from a smelly sewage anyway? The answer is simply because this is the heart of our calling, to fish at the sewage, smelly as they may be. It is the reason Jesus says “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Jesus gives this response when the Pharisees find Him having dinner with tax collectors and they ask, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” I find that question humorous; these guys are saying if Jesus was a good teacher then he would have nothing to do with bad people. But Jesus reminded His disciples that He had come like a doctor, not to reassure the healthy but to heal people who were morally sick. Jesus came for the fish in that smelly sewage.
It always is encouraging to meet with a guy in the bible who struggles with the things we do. Jonah struggled with fishing in the smelly rivers. When God sends Him with a message of repentance to Nineveh, He does not get it and so chose to run from God.
Yet in between the struggle, I hear Christ saying “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?
I am one of the 99 sheep most of the time and so often I don’t get why the Shepherd would leave the 99 of us for the lost 1, mathematically it isn’t right! What about the rest of us, we need you too. Yet God has been convicting me that the reason He will leave the rest 99 of us is because we can tend for ourselves. He has walked with us long enough and given us all we need to tend for ourselves. Yet out there is a lost sheep, one without a Father. This sheep probably thinks they are better off alone, yet God knows better. He knows the dangers that this sheep faces. He knows that if He stays with the 99 there is no hope for this 1.
He has been reminding me I was once this 1. And He left the 99 for me! As He reminds me this, I say Shepherd of my soul, go find that other 1, that He may know the joy of being one of the 99, that He may know you as His Shepherd. Go walk with Him. And Lord, if I can do anything, if I can go with you to that smelly sewage where this lost 1 is in, with your help I will. I will walk with this lost 1 from the sewage, much as I hate the smell of the sewage, till they find their way back to the freshest river I know.
And so the question is….
How do I guard my heart from becoming cold towards the smelly fish? How do I ensure that I never get tempted to only fish in the fresh nice smelling rivers? The reality is I have to be intentional with this calling because it really is not the default of any of us. Like the Pharisees, we will find ourselves asking why any Christian would be eating with tax collectors and sinners.
I have been thinking of the times I have had a heart for the lost, the times when my heart has broken for a person in need of healing, and I am realizing it is when I have exposed my heart to them. It never is when I watch from far, it always is when I have shared a meal with them. It is when I have a meal with a lady whose marriage is in tatters and is in desperate need of healing that I can cry with them; it is when I have had a meal with the person who is looking for acceptance in all the wrong places that I can lead them to the Healer. I do not automatically have a heart for the lost; yet as I have a meal with them, as I ask the Lord to break me with the things that break His heart, He makes fishing at the smelly sewage the best thing I could ever do.
Do I still have a heart for the lost? Truly. Does your heart-break for the things that break our Saviour’s heart? Do you hear the pain in His children’s cry? My prayer is that the Lord would teach us to follow after the one lost sheep, that He would break our heart for what breaks His. That we may never be afraid to go to fish in the sewage; that we may never be Jonah, more comfortable watching Nineveh burn than preach the good news to them.