Six weeks ago, the earth broke under Haiti. This past weekend, it broke again under Chile. The Western Church had an awakening of sorts during the intervening time—perhaps not a deep, spiritual awakening, but surely one of compassion. People who had just celebrated a Christmas and New Year in a time of relative comfort and prosperity were suddenly moved to give, go, pray, weep, and yearn for understanding during a time without many answers.
Some of us may find ourselves with more questions after this second quake. We may consider the first event to have simply been something that happens from time to time. But we may look at the second and wonder what is really going on. Is God truly sovereign? Is He punishing nations? Is He permitting tragedies for an ultimate good?
These questions should not cause us to withdraw—we should now give, go, pray, and weep for Chile as we continue to do for Haiti—but it should give us a broader sense of perspective. There was a period of great mobilization after Haiti’s quake where hearts were torn and pockets opened and planes boarded and prayers lifted up. And there was a sense of great urgency, that the needs were real and present.
But Haiti’s needs have not gone away, and Chile’s needs are now real and present. So as we mobilize once more, we may find more of a sense of calm than before. We may feel these new needs are urgent, but they are perhaps a different kind of urgent. There may no longer be the great burst of excitement that comes when first setting foot on a new mission field; this may feel more like the toil of ministry.
The excitement is good, but the toil can be better. The reason I say this is that new excitement in a life of faith is never static. The enthusiasm or agitation that we feel deep within our spirits always moves somewhere else after a time. And these soul-deep feelings tend to move within a framework of worldview.
We often start with a local worldview; our focus is primarily on ourselves and the world immediately around us. We care most about our families, and our jobs, and our to-do lists; we rarely think of others on a broader scale, or even at all in many cases.
But then tragedy strikes, and our hearts are awakened from a state of slumber to a global worldview. Those involved in the tragedy at hand are first and foremost on our minds, but we slowly begin to consider the billions in the world today, many of who are in great need. Our hearts go out to them, as do our prayers and our money. But over time, the initial burst of compassion tends to fall away and is replaced by one of two things: either descent toward a local worldview once more, or an ascent to a universal one.
We descend to a local worldview because our burst of compassion often comes as a superficial reaction. I say superficial not because the feelings are not genuine, but simply because they don’t last. There’s no root. We begin to feel as if there’s too much need, that we’re helpless to make any significant impact, and this leads us to a sense of despair. When our roots go only to the shallow depth of our own hearts, our compassion will wither because we are ultimately trusting in ourselves. But when these roots go into a heart that has been cultivated by the Spirit, the despair we feel is replaced by a dependence on God because we recognize we truly are helpless. This is the path of ascent that comes from a universal worldview.
There’s nothing specific about a universal worldview that is inherently better in terms of the material world. The universe is not geocentric, but God’s redemptive story is. The stage of Earth has hosted the Star of this story, and the vastness of the heavens serve as the grand auditorium to make this stage all the more magnificent. But a universal worldview accomplishes its objective, not because it is simply larger, but because it raises our thoughts beyond ourselves, and all of global humanity, to God Himself. And when the eyes of our hearts and minds and spirits are open to God rather than focused on man, we are empowered to persist in compassion for the hurting and the lost.
In fact, this is the only way to sustain this kind of God-empowered compassion. A universal worldview doesn’t leave us with our heads in the heavens, after all. It brings us to the most local level of all—our own hearts—as we see our need to abide in Jesus, and that abiding is what empowers us to love both locally and globally. This is why we pray more and trust more when we feel helpless, because we recognize our ongoing need for God.
So when we feel the sway of despair, or the toil of ministry, may God strengthen us to continue in love for the Church, the needy, and the lost. May the sense of our own weakness not draw us back to focus on ourselves, but may it push us onward and upwards to the heart of God, where He will work in and through us in the most intimate way, empowering us to live and love, both locally and globally, for His glory and our joy.
Question: What do you do when you begin feeling you are helpless to help the world’s tragedies?