Keeping a Soft Heart
Living a life of following Jesus among people on the margins has been rewarding yet costly, life giving and life taking. I have seen the miraculous and I have seen the horrendous. As I continue to be led by Jesus I find that one of the most important things in the pursuit of him in mission is keeping a soft heart. I can still remember a friend of mine almost 20 years ago telling me that one of the things you are promised as you follow Jesus among the least and the lost will be a broken heart. That has been relentlessly true. My heart has been broken time and again as I walk with people through suffering and injustice. My heart has been broken as well pleading for people dear to me to repent as they turn their backs on Jesus and pursue things far less worthy than Him. My heart has been broken when some of the very people I have served and loved have betrayed and deeply wounded me. For me the challenge is how do I keep my heart soft in the midst of it all? How do I not let my heart grow hard from disappointment and bitterness? How do I deal with compassion fatigue? How do I keep on serving and loving when it at times feels as though it matters so little? These are all questions that I have asked at times with tears and anger.
A few months ago, I was meeting with a friend who has lived in some of the most difficult places in the world for a person who follows Jesus and invites others to do the same. He was weary and dealing with a lot…mourning the death of friends having been killed for their faith along with difficulties in his family among other things. Over coffee, I simply asked him, “How are you doing?” And his answer is one that, given all that He has seen and dealt with was burned into my heart. He simply said slowly and deliberately, “Jason, I am just trying to keep myself in the love of God”. I remember thinking two things in that moment. First, I had never heard anyone answer that way and secondly, it was a deeply profound answer. An answer that has been birthed out of living as one sent out by Jesus and enduring suffering. The truth is my friend was quoting and trying to live out a passage in Jude.
Jude 1:20–21 (NIV) 20But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
Jude wrote these words to people dealing with being wounded by others, particularly those in their own community. Jude was addressing the need to keep a soft heart in the midst of suffering. I believe that this is the greatest challenge of those who follow Jesus in hard places and in hard circumstances. It is the need to keep yourself in the love of God, the need to keep a soft heart.
Of course, the question becomes, how do I do that? How do I keep my heart soft? Perhaps a better question might be, How did Jesus, the ultimate Sent One who beheld and endured great suffering keep his heart soft? I think one place the answer is found is in the action packed gospel of Mark. The gospel of Mark begins, ends and runs through with a fever pitch of mission. Yet, within that gospel we can find 9 different occasions where Jesus, either alone or with his disciples pursued retreat from the fray of mission. It was in prayer and solitude, sitting at his Father’s feet that Jesus kept a soft heart. As you read through Mark you will find Jesus pursuing a soft heart alone with his Father after intense mission, mourning the loss of a loved one (John the Baptist) and in preparation for intense suffering to name but a few reasons. I would plead with anyone reading this who labors in compassion draining ministry of any sort to make the pursuit of keeping yourself in the love of God, the pursuit of a soft heart an absolute priority. It is in the regular pursuit of solitude with the Father that we are reminded to love because we are loved, to forgive because we have been forgiven, to serve, because we have been served. It is alone with Him that our hearts are made soft once again.
Sadly at times, I meet people who are still in ministry and simply have nothing to offer those they serve or love because of their lack of pursuing and keeping themselves in the love of God. It is no coincidence that the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13 that you could be the most missional person in the world but if you don’t have love it is meaningless. Ultimately, what you and I have to offer anyone that will bear fruit is a heart that is tender and kept in the love of God. The Proverbs wisely put it this way,
Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
So live for Jesus. Give all you have for His cause in the earth. Preach the gospel of the kingdom of God, heal the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, care for widows and orphans, fight for justice, set captives free, welcome the refugee but do it all with a heart that is soft having been kept in the love of God.