Hello! Here is this week’s Living Water! Please listen to a special best of Walk With Me tonight, 5 pm to 9 pm (4 episodes) on www.yfnradio.com. Also, it’s Jenny’s birthday today! Blessings, Christopher
You know how a song or a line from a book or movie can capture how we feel about people or things?
Well, I found a couple of verses in the Bible recently that do that. It’s funny because I had never noticed them before. They’re in Romans 9 and I am so used to reading most of and certainly the end of Romans 8 and stopping. The end of Romans 8 talks about how nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God in Christ. So then Paul says this…
“At the same time, you need to know that I carry with me at all times a huge sorrow. It’s an enormous pain deep within me, and I’m never free of it. I’m not exaggerating – Christ and the Holy Spirit are my witnesses. It’s the Israelites…If there was any way I could be cursed by the Messiah so they could be blessed by him, I’d do it in a minute (Romans 9:1-3 MSG).”
Essentially, Paul is saying that he has great compassion and a burden for “his” people who are disconnected from God. For me, this is how I feel about people who feel disconnected from God, in particular, people I grew up with – those are “my” people. He captures how I feel when it says, “a huge sorrow…enormous deep pain…never free of it.” That’s how it feels many times. And I know that comes from God. Certainly I would care on my own – but it’s much deeper than that. It’s the Holy Spirit that deepens and sharpens the “sorrow” so that it drives me; I spend a lot of time in prayer about them. And like Paul says, I would trade places with them if I could.
It’s hard to explain in words, but it’s there. I guess a lot of it is I want people to know and experience what I have with God – the joy, the purpose, strength and healing. I am very moved by stories of people who feel like God abandoned them or wasn’t there for them or just feel like they can’t get close to Him for many reasons – like feeling unworthy or not perfect enough. In part because these are some of the worst feelings in the world; and in part because these feelings are real; but they’re not true. In general, I am so driven to try to show people how much God loves them.
Just a few months ago, I was talking to someone and I mentioned that I was so blessed to be where I am right now because it gives me the opportunity to reach out to people I grew up with. And the person with whom I was speaking said that he had never heard of a pastor concerned about that before. I laughed; I had never thought of it as unique – I just thought it was what I was supposed to do.
I also take it very seriously when God puts people in my life – He puts them there for a purpose – whether today or 30 years ago. It’s an amazing experience to comprehend that God “gives” me people to care for. I feel that way about my congregation members as well as family, friends and others that God seems to point me to. As a pastor and even as a friend, I feel like people are “mine” to care for – and I mean that in the healthiest of terms; it’s the shepherd quality in me. There’s a unique sense of belonging and attachment that comes from the Holy Spirit.
That’s why I have always identified with the first part of Luke 15 – when Jesus describes the love of God as the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to find the one. It doesn’t make sense on many human and worldly levels – but in God’s Kingdom there is a different economy. In other words, each one counts; each one is precious; each one is worth seeking after and risking for.
And I think that when you have this mindset coming from God and you’ve had it long enough, that’s where the sorrow and the pain that Paul describes comes from; but it’s also where the passion, joy and drive to keep seeking comes from too.
But I want you to know that I thank God for it. It’s not easy or comfortable. It requires a lot of strength, patience and faith (much more than I have on my own) – in other words, dependence on God. Would my life be simpler without it? Probably. But it wouldn’t be as fulfilling or meaningful either. And it’s to the point where I wouldn’t be Christopher without it; it’s become part of my nature.
As Paul said, “The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that (Galatians 2:20 MSG).”
Rev. Christopher B. Wolf
Christopher B. Wolf is pastor of First Reformed Church of Saddle Brook and is the author of Giving Faith a Second Chance: Restarts, Mulligans and Do-Overs (2007) and With You Every Step of the Way; and the host of Walk With Me, Wednesdays 8 pm on WYFN 94.9 FM-NY and on www.yfnradio.com.
“It is a matter of sharing and bearing the pain and puzzlement of the world so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point. N.T. Wright