An adolescent boy stands on a downtown street corner. The white tip of a pocket peeks out below the frayed fabric of his cut-off jean shorts. A white t-shirt clings to his thin chest. A baseball cap sits cockeyed on his head. He quietly hums a song, familiar but odd in this setting. Then the boy sings a few lines. Above the noise of exiting traffic, if close enough, one can hear the words. “Amazing grace how sweet the sound …”
A car pulls up to the boy, and the driver rolls down a window. A quick exchange of words then the window goes back up and the car pulls away. The boy sings the familiar words once more.
A beautiful, dark luxury car also pulls over at the boy’s street corner. The window goes down and a conversation ensues. This time the boy grabs the handle, opens the door, and plops down in the leather seat.
The driver reaches a hand over and squeezes the boy’s thigh. He says, “How much?”
I’m recounting a story found in Close Enough to Hear God Breathe by Greg Paul. It’s found in the chapter about the redemption of what others might label irredeemable, one titled “Plastic Pop Bottles.”
As Greg enumerated the people in Scripture that God redeemed—“the crook” who “spawned a brood of vicious, petty lunkheads who sell their younger brother, Joseph, into slavery out of mere spite;” “David (a murderer and adulterer);” Solomon the lustful; the arrogant religious leaders; tax collectors; sinners; etc.—a deep sadness descended on me, a soul heaviness.
To be honest, I was beyond tired when I read that chapter, so I was primed for melancholy. And it arrived without any resistance on my part.
But the moment chiseled a known truth deeper into my heart. I know people are bad. I know, left on my own, I’m rotten to the core. But as I read the list of failures in Scripture, people God loved in spite of themselves, I held a sense of despair in my heart (and I’m not the despairing kind, not typically).
Now I know there’s good news in that bad reality. God loves us. He knows all the rot in our souls and He still delights in us. This is truly good news.
But here’s where I feel a sense of despair. No matter what Herculean efforts we attempt to change our world for the better, there will still be adolescent boys standing on big city street corners or preteen girls trapped in pornography or starving African children or terrorist acts or killed-by-a-drunk-driver stories or cancer or …
I want this post’s first four paragraphs to be only a story, a piece of fabricated fiction, but I know it’s a reality. That scene or something similar got played out on a Toronto street corner in the summer of 1988. It happened. It happens.
How does my faith in Christ inform my response to “it happens”?
I can’t close my eyes. I see the ads for a Jamaican getaway. Beautiful, pristine waters, swaying palm trees, smiling people, lively music. But the island paradise is also a mission target because of the abject poverty a street or two over from the resorts. Those who market tourism want me to close my eyes to the shacks and shanties. They want to airbrush my perceptions and color over the ugly. But Jesus? He wants to walk among the slums and elevate impoverished souls. He wants to do that through His people, people like you and me. I must keep my eyes open to those opportunities to make a difference.
I can’t close my heart. When those ugly places appear, they may repulse me (kind of like poopy diapers; gag). My emotional gag response makes my heart compress. In all honesty, I don’t want to hurt and, seeing others hurt, I hurt. I can numb the pain through a number of addictive behaviors. My current escapist behavior leans toward use-little-thought computer games. That’s more acceptable than some of my past addictive choices (like pornography), but it still serves to distract my heart from hurt. Chapters like “Plastic Pop Bottles” awaken my heart and invite me to join God in redemption.
I can pray. Prayer opens eyes and hearts to see God and to see as God sees. It’s the first active step I can take to make a difference. I have a basketball-playing friend who has shown up a couple of times with the strong smell of alcohol on his breath. We play at 6:30 AM. Who has alcohol on their breath at 6:30 in the morning? My friend for one. My first response hasn’t been to ignore that reality. I pray for him. I don’t know what problems plague my friend. I don’t know the depth of his pain. But God does.
I can take prayerful action. To be effective, prayer needs to be coupled with action. John Maxwell says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” How do people know I care? By visible actions. They see what I do. They hear what I say.
Questions: Where does God’s leading take you in a hurting world? What outreach ministry would you like to highlight and make others aware of?
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