One of the special groups within the US Coast Guard is what’s called “Rescue Swimmers.” These are the courageous men and women who jump from helicopters into dangerous seas to rescue those who are in danger of drowning. The 18-week training program is so intense that nearly 50% drop out. The intense challenges they face in their jobs include hypothermia and death by drowning. The answer to the question, “Why do people risk so much to rescue total strangers?” is found in the rescue swimmer’s motto, “So Others May Live.”
In this post, I would like to urge us to have this same mindset in our daily life: So Others May Live—not just in the physical sense, but mainly in the spiritual sense. Put it another way, I want to stress the importance of HAVING A HEART FOR THE LOST PEOPLE ON A DAILY BASIS SO THAT THEY CAN GET SPIRITUAL LIFE. And I would like to do this by looking at none other than the apostle Paul who sets a fantastic example of what it means to have a heart for the lost in an ongoing basis.
In Romans 9:2-4a, we read these words of Paul, “2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel.” Paul’s heart was filled with non-stop pain—pain concerning the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah by the vast number of Jews—who were his own people [v. 2]. His heart was constantly aching as he saw them refusing to accept the gospel invitation. In fact, his sorrow was so overwhelming that according to verse 3, he was even willing to be cut off from Christ and go to hell if that means salvation for his people!
Of course, Paul knew very well that he could not be separated from the love of God in Christ—he just finished an entire chapter explaining that truth [Romans 8]. However, one should not conclude Paul’s words were not genuine here. They came from a sincere heart. He did invoke the Holy Spirit as a witness [Rom 9:1]. There was a genuine love for the lost. And as we see his words, we also see an image of Christ here, don’t we? Christ did become cursed on our behalf, was cut off in fellowship from the Father on that cross—all for our sake! So That We Might Live! That’s love for the lost!
All that Paul is doing here is just imitating Christ. In fact, he is imitating Christ to the point where he was willing to give up his life for those who persecuted him; for those who were his enemies—like Christ did! When we read Acts and certain letters of Paul, we see clearly how much the Jews stirred up trouble against him [see Acts 14:19; 23:12-13, 2 Cor 11:24]. From town to town they were hunting him intending to cause trouble. And in some cases, they did cause much suffering for Paul. Despite all the verbal and physical abuse, the Jews heaped on Paul, his response: “I have great sorrow in my heart for them and I am willing to go even to hell if possible so that they can be saved.” He put in practice Jesus’s example of loving those who hated him, didn’t he?
A lesson for us to learn here. Our hearts too must bleed in love for the lost as we imagine their eternal destiny without Christ. Rarely do we shed tears for the lost condition of our people very close to us who are still far away from Christ. And yet, here was a man who was filled with grief over the eternal condition of those who treated him bad! Love for the Lord led him to love and weep for the lost.
Years ago some servants of the Salvation Army went into an extremely tough American city and after working there for several years, they said, “It just won’t work. We’ve tried everything. The gospel is just not being received here.” They telegraphed that to General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, and he telegraphed back a two-word message: “Try tears.”
Do you have a family member, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor, or a classmate who doesn’t know Jesus Christ and you think you have tried everything? Well, have you tried tears? Have you asked God to break your heart for the lost? We often get upset for little things because we can’t let go of our pride and ego and thus fail to reach out to the very ones whom God has put in our path! People are on their way to eternal damnation and yet we lose sight of that reality. We get into silly arguments in trying to look smart and thereby lose the opportunity to further share about Jesus. Even when it comes to our enemies we seem reluctant to show love in sharing the gospel. Wrong attitude. Perhaps the words of John Piper will stir us up when it comes to stepping out in evangelism:
“Don’t wait for a feeling or love in order to share Christ with a stranger. You already love your heavenly Father, and you know that this stranger is created by Him, but separated from Him, so take those first steps in evangelism because you love God. It is not primarily out of compassion for humanity that we share our faith or pray for the lost; it is first of all, love for God.”
As we keep increasing in our love for God by reading his words, his love controls us and the result: we will want to share the gospel more and more. Why? Because as we grow in our love for God, we will grow in our obedience. Jesus himself said, “If you love me you will obey my commands!” [John 14:15]. And one of his main commands is to love the lost by sharing the gospel with them!
In addition, we also need to keep asking God through prayer to give us an unquenchable burden and zeal for the lost. The apostle James reminds us, “You do not have because you do not ask God” [Jas 4:2]. That’s why we need to keep asking God to give us a heart for the lost. Unless God through his Spirit works in us, we cannot have a heart for the lost nor can be effective witnesses for him! God will hear such a prayer! He will give us loving hearts for the lost. He will give us the mindset like the rescue swimmers: So That Others May Live!
A practical suggestion to consider: Why not make a list of people you would like to reach with the good news about Christ and start praying for them from this day forward? Divide people into categories such as Family, Friends, Co-workers, Marketplace, etc. Put 1-2 names under each category for starters [see image below].
Start praying that God will open a door to talk to at least one person about Christ this week itself. Who knows what God can do as we ask him and faithfully reach out in love toward the lost? [Note: For a PDF of this image to print, click HERE].