God works in us, however, to help us live this way, though it takes sacrifice and endurance.
We were friends, but I was surprised as Jan told me about some difficult struggles she had been experiencing spiritually.
“Jan, I didn’t realize this,” I said. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“Because,” she answered, “I didn’t think you would understand.” And she was right. I probably wouldn’t have. I had too much to learn about the importance and value of people to really comfort her and empathize with her in these struggles.
That incident years ago with Jan taught me a lesson. I began to pray that it would never happen to me again—that no one else would say to me, “You wouldn’t understand.”
People are important, and they like to be important. They like to feel important. They like to know somebody cares.
Having a heart for people doesn’t come naturally. It’s something we must allow God to develop in our lives, and I believe it’s the biggest lesson God has been trying to teach my wife and me over the years as we have lived in different places around the world.
It has been my experience, and I have seen it also in others, that the most challenging, rewarding, fulfilling, and fruitful objective we can have is to give our lives away to others. Yet because this is so important, it is also the most difficult and potentially discouraging thing we can ever do, and the most tested thing. It is not an easy task, and it costs us our life.
While he was on earth, Jesus could have gone back to heaven before the cross. But if he had, he would have taken no one with him. To take others with him, he had to face the cross. Without his death there would be no fruit. “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies,” Jesus said beforehand, “it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).
Jesus possesses the greatest heart for people, and he wants us to feel as he feels, convinced of the paramount importance of giving our lives for others.
We will be tested in this continually. We will think, Is it worth it to give my life for people? The cost is just too high. But if we have committed ourselves to this, he will allow us to go through the necessary experiences to build our endurance. He wants to make us the most fruitful vessel possible, so he allows us to go through all kinds of struggles in order to mature us.
Only when we’ve gone through these trials and endured the suffering can we be fully alert and sensitive to others’ needs. We can often spend much time going out to others to try to minister to them, but I’ve found that when we’ve experienced the struggles that cause us to really understand people, then they begin coming to us. God brings us a ministry.
If God has placed on your heart this desire to help others, he will fulfill the desire for you. It’s a continual process, one that you can expect him to carry out through your entire sojourn here. Expect a lifetime of God building his love for others into you, and learn to identify what he is doing and what he is after.
Find Scripture passages that relate to this and pray over them often. One verse that has helped and encouraged me is Isaiah 32:2.
Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.
I have prayed that God would make me like a refuge from the storm for other people, someone who can be to them like a cool shade from the desert heat of life, someone they are refreshed by and enjoy being with.
People will come to us in the grips of various kinds of sin. What impression do we give them? Is our attitude judgmental? If so, they will not share their struggles with us. They will ask indirect questions to check our attitude, or they will watch how we respond to other people who have problems. They want to see if we will really understand and accept them, so they can tell us what’s on their hearts without being rejected.
Demonstrating this acceptance will take patience and hard work. You’ll also have to be willing to be misunderstood, especially by other Christians. That’s difficult, because we like to have other believers agree with us, but it won’t always be that way. You have to be sure you’re doing God’s will, and then stick with it.
When I first went to Finland as a missionary and began building relationships with a small group of boys, many Christians thought we should instead be preaching to and teaching large groups. Because they did not understand and were not happy with what we were doing, we had to be sure it was the will of God, and to endure in it.
It’s okay to become tired in our ministry to others, but not to become tired of it. The difference comes in having our hope set on the living God. “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God” (1 Timothy 4:9-10).
With this hope, we’ll endure when others misunderstand, and when we’re alone and there is no one around to encourage us.
All the world needs the kind of love God offers in Christ, and he intends to communicate this love to the world through our lives. That’s why we need a heart for people. In your life, do people matter? I’m sure they do, or you wouldn’t be reading this.
So realize that God will test us to make sure we develop strongly in this area before he entrusts to us the privilege of multiplying our lives into the lives of others.
Lesson: We seldom act as if other people are as important as they really are.