The Labor of Love

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“The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38)

I’m coming to the conclusion that there is absolutely no way to understand or demonstrate God’s compassion without You, God doing it in me.  I am absolutely insufficient in compassion on my own though my heart go out to another.  The more I think about the depth of Your compassion, the more I love you and the more I want to have You show that compassion through me to others. 

Your compassion is so full of the utmost passion.  It’s filled with grace and so much more.  It’s unlike any compassion ever shown.  It’s so undeserved.  But there it is, just as full.  Psalm 78:38 reminds me that “…He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yes, many a time turned He His anger away, and did not stir up His wrath.”  You didn’t just spare the Israelites.  You continually spare me.  I would be fooling myself if I were to think that my iniquity, my sin, my rebellion wasn’t just as bad and that I have never made You angry at me like that.  And it’s not just that once I was the prodigal child, even now sometimes I still find myself astray before I know it and sometimes knowingly.

You could pay me with Your wrath, but instead, You show me the greatest compassion I have ever and will ever experience. Again I am reminded in Psalm 86:15, “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.”  It’s not just that sometimes You show compassion.  You are full of it.  And it’s not just a part of Your character that stays inside.  It’s this totallity of all of You that You demonstrate on our behalf and for Your glory.  Your compassion overflows passionately in all You do and how You respond and is accompanied by grace, and this ongoing patience beyond every expectation, and abundant in mercy and truth.  Truly You are Master of mercy and truth and totally sufficient in mercy and truth.  I can look at Your Word and see that.  I can look at history and see that.  I can look at my own life and see that.  I don’t deserve Your salvation yet You pursue me, You cling to me, You lift me every time I fall, and falling is so easy.  If it wasn’t for Your longsuffering, the patientness and withholding of Your anger while You wait for me to return and while You place things in my life to redirect me, I would be lost.

Yes, I remember the grace and compassion You have shown me and that You have shown since the beginning of time.  I don’t know every instance.  But like Psalm 111:4 brings to mind, “He has made His wonderful works to be remembered: the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.”  You give us what we don’t deserve and You give beyond every expectation.  You see and You act and Your actions bring me to tears because of their beauty in greatness and love.  You told Moses who You were.  Here it is in Exodus 34:6,  “Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth”.  In Your own words, this is who You are.  The first word You use to describe Yourself is compassionate.   And this word, “rachum”, is only ever used of You in Scripture, and of Your compassion.  It’s all about Your grace and forgiveness.  It’s not about feeling sorry.  It’s about seeing our need and acting upon that.  You see my lostness and You act by finding me and making me Yours so I am no longer lost.  You don’t just see these straying sheep with no shepherd and no purpose and feel sorry for them.  You forgive them and You go to them and You call them to Yourself and You make them Yours and You care for them as though they had always been Yours.  This is who You are and therefore it is what You do.  And if I take the time to look, You’ve placed these wonderful works in Your Word and in the world and in my life for me to look around at and continually be reminded who You really are and the fullness of Your compassion.

“Good and upright is the LORD.  Therefore He guides offenders on the way.” Psalm 25:8  I must understand the magnitude of this truth.  Psalm 112:4 tells me, “Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness: He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.”  And I have to ask myself, who is upright.  No person in and of themselves is upright.  It doesn’t matter if I’ve put my trust in the Lord for 30 years or not at all, I’m not upright on my own.  Uprightness is only of the Lord.  He alone is good and upright.  This uprightness is all about Your reign God, Your ways, Your words, Your judgments.  It’s about the straight path; it’s about the blameless way which is Your way.  Skip Moen says, “the Hebrew idiom, ‘straight,’ ‘upright,’ is the expression of this blameless manner of life, applied first to God and then to all who meet the standard.”  So how do I meet this standard, Your standard?  I have to be like You and act according to Your standard, Your example.  If You are a Godly verb, then I need to be a godly verb too.  And I can’t do that unless I let You do the verbing in me.

Yet this being a “verb” after Your own heart, from Your own heart has tremendous implications.  If sinless and perfect and holy God, reached down and touched man and changed him, which means You did that for me, and You remained unchanged by my sin, what does that mean for the way I respond to others?  See, You Lord, have every right to turn Your back on us, on me.  But because You are good and upright, You don’t.  You guide me instead, even though I am an offender.  Imagine You having anything to do with a sinner!  Imagine that!  Isn’t that what the Pharisees had trouble seeing?  Don’t we see that in the story of the good Samaritan?  But You aren’t like that.  Therefore, those who know You, well, we can’t be like that either, sheltering ourselves from sinners as though they would stain us.  You are not umpugned by contacting sinners.  Jesus didn’t become impugned by living and walking and loving in a sinful world.  Your goodness comes from Your involvement with us.  Without Your involvement with us, we are without hope and lost.   So what does that mean for me?

A life of purity, uprightness, and moral goodness is not attained by isolation and withdrawal from the world or from sinners.  It’s not sin that is the most powerful infection.  Sin is a choice.  You don’t catch it because you are around it.  What if the truth is that God’s love and compassion and power is stronger than sin?  What if the truth is that contact with God trumps contact with sin?  What if when people feel God drawing near, because He is and He does, and they see Him coming close and touching them, what if that draws them to choose His love and His compassion and to see and taste how much better it is than sin?  And what if You, Lord, designed that Your children should be the ones to extend Your love to sinners because we’ve been there and we’ve experienced Your touch, Your closeness, Your redemption, Your love and compassion and grace, and we know it’s reality?

Life isn’t perfect.  Sometimes it hurts.  Sometimes it’s confusing.  Sometimes I don’t know how to put You and Your love, Your immense love into the right perspective because it’s so much more than anything I know and there’s more and more and more of it every moment.  “The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion: slow to anger, and of great mercy.”  (Psalm 145:8)  Things go wrong.  I find myself doing wrong or others doing wrong.  Sometimes You bring hard things and hard choices into my life. “But though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies.” (Lamentations 3:32)  Why?  Because You are upright and good and guide me, this sinner saved and held and kept by Your amazing love and compassion.

“But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.”  (Matthew 9:36)  You see us exactly as we are.  Most people and angels and demons would look and see something not worth it.  But not You.  You see the multitudes and You look with love and compassion unlike any other.  You are moved to action from the depth of Your being.  You move with action for us and toward us.  Why?  You looked at us and You saw people who were realizing they weren’t sufficient, there wasn’t enough of whatever they needed to be good, or upright.  They were wearing themselves out trying.  They were empty and tired and worn.  They couldn’t hit the mark no matter how they tried.  It was like someone had taken them and just flung them every which way so they couldn’t get their bearings, they couldn’t come together as a flock, they didn’t know their shepherd.  Your first thought could have been to be angry.  You could have lifted up Your righteous anger, but You didn’t.  You looked with compassion and You acted toward them out of that compassion.  Which led You to these words, this prayer, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

When Jesus acts He doesn’t ask for laborers to go into the harvest to just preach.  He is asking the Lord of the harvest to send out His children to labor like Jesus in the fields.  He’s asking for God to send out people who will see others with His compassion.  He is asking God to send out people who will not be afraid to touch the sinners and show the truth, just like He wasn’t afraid to touch lepers, the blind, the crippled, the tax collectors, the women.  The word for laborer is a toiler, like a teacher.  Think of the kind of teacher that Jesus is.  He draws His disciples to Him, even while they’re yet sinners.  He walks with them, sleeps with them, eats with them, all the time teaching them and always loving them and shedding His compassion upon them, and not them only.  What He does for them, He does for those outside their realm in His path.  This is the teaching they recieve, that they see and experience, not only how He responds to them, but how He responds to the ignored, to the outcast, to the “less than holy” like the sick, the demoniac, the woman, the prostitute, the tax collector, the robber, you know, the sinners.  This is the kind of labor we are called to.  This is the labor of love and compassion.  This is the love of Christ shed abroad for us.  This is the calling of every Christian.  The question is, will I really answer that calling?  Will I risk everything to abide in this, Your will for me, Lord?  I want to more than anything.

This is the proof that You truly dwell in me.  This is it.  “But whoso has this world’s good, and sees his brother [saved or unsaved] have need, and shuts up his bowels of compassion from him, how does the love of God dwell in him?” (1 John 3:17)  Does the love of God dwell in me? What kind of compassion do I really have for others?  Who dwells in me?  The labor of love, is that what my life is truly about?

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