In my travels with World Vision, I see small, hungry children like those living in tunnels under the streets of Ulaanbaatar. I am certain that I’ll never forget their thin little bodies or the look of hopelessness in their eyes. I’m determined to remember the stories of how, homeless and abandoned, they seek shelter from the freezing temperatures of the harsh Mongolian winters by living underground in tunnels dug to house the city’s steam pipes. I’ve promised myself that when I get home I’ll tell others what I’ve seen and persuade them to join me in advocating on behalf of those little children.
But the truth is, as often as not, other things get in the way. As I return home from my travels and life resumes its normally hectic pace, I find it harder and harder to remember the faces of the children I’ve seen or recall the details of their stories. Just like a meteor shower hidden by bright city lights, those precious children become obscured by my busy life, filled with daily demands and activities. These things suddenly seem so important, but in the larger scheme of things, their significance is dwarfed by what I could be doing to advocate for children in need. My heart stops being broken when I’m away from the suffering I’ve seen.
The Prayer on the Flyleaf
Of course, that’s not the way I want to live, but what can I do? How can I keep myself from forgetting the very things I want most to remember? How do I go about creating space in my life for those hurting children?
I know I’m not unique in wrestling with this problem. Even Bob Pierce, World Vision’s founder, was concerned he’d forget what he’d experienced in his travels. He feared that somewhere down the line, amidst the busyness of life, the very things that once touched and troubled him would become routine. So, in the flyleaf of his Bible, he wrote that now-famous prayer, “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” For the next 30 years, Bob Pierce devoted his actions and words to reflecting God’s compassion for the world.
Do you want your heart to be tender to the same things that break God’s heart? To live a life absolutely head-over-heels, outrageously passionate about the things that stir God’s heart of compassion?
What Does Passion Have to Do With It?
Passion is a funny thing. On the one hand, it’s all about me, what I love, and what I care about. But it’s also one of those things that gets thrown into the mix when people talk about calling, which is, or perhaps should be, all about God.
When a woman asks me to help her identify God’s call on her life, I typically begin by inquiring about her passions. What gets her excited, what gets her juices flowing, what gets her out of bed in the morning? Is she passionate about her family, her work, her friends, or even her stuff?
Whatever her passions might be, I suggest she consider how God might use them for his glory. But I wonder if I have that backwards—if I might be asking her to start in the wrong place. Maybe a better place to begin to resolve the dilemma of finding one’s calling would be to focus not on our passions, but on God’s. What would happen if we started asking what God was passionate about and aligned our passions accordingly?
From Passion to Compassion
God’s Word reveals that he is passionate about people in spiritual and physical need. Just as the heavens declare the glory of God, every page declares God’s passion to seek out and save the lost and to bring healing and restoration to the poor and needy. When one of the teachers of the law asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment, Jesus answered,
“And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” The second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” No other commandment is greater than these. (Mark 12:30–31)
This is where our calling begins. It’s as simple (or as difficult) as that. Love God and try to live as Jesus lived. Follow his example to care for the poor, the sick, the hungry, the oppressed, those “in this world without God and without hope” (Ephesians 2:12).
Think of the woman who suffered from a constant flow of blood (for 12 years!). In a crowd so large it almost crushed him, Jesus noticed her and made her well (Luke 8:42–48). A blind beggar felt his healing touch (Luke 19:35–43), and a convicted thief heard his promise of eternal life (Luke 23:32–43).
Who do you know who needs the compassion of Jesus? Do you notice them—even when you have a long to-do list? Do your passions—the things, both good and bad, that preoccupy your time and attention—prevent you from seeing the world the way God does? If so, how can you make a change?
A Work in Progress
Amazingly, God gives us everything we need to make change happen. In , David tells us that when we delight in the Lord, he will give us the desires of our hearts. Now, anyone who’s ever read that verse to children knows how excited they are when they discover what they believe to be a promise that God will give them anything they want. A pony—coming up! A brand new bicycle—just ask and it’s yours!
The truth is many adults are tempted to claim that verse in much the same way: “Lord, sign off on my lifestyle. Assure me that the things I care about are okay with you.” But God is not some magic genie we can summon in order to feel better about ourselves and to validate our passions. Rather, when we delight in the Lord, his desires and ours will become one and the same. What he cares about will become the things we care about as well.
The apostle Paul said in Philippians 1:6 that he was “certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” So don’t be discouraged if your passions don’t always perfectly align with God’s compassion for the world.
You and I are a work in progress. And as we step out in faith and daily put God’s Word into practice, he will change us. He will remove from us our hearts of stone and give us a heart of flesh, a heart that beats as one with the Father’s because the Holy Spirit resides there (Ezekiel 36:26).
As we move toward our heavenly Father, we’ll find that our passions are more and more at one with his, until that day when, like Bob Pierce, our hearts are truly broken with the things that break the heart of God.
Reneé Stearns is a former attorney, mother of five, and grandmother of three. She is active in church ministries, leading Bible studies, and speaking at conferences and retreats. Reneé is passionate about helping others broaden their worldview to include the great needs she sees in her travels with World Vision.