A Heart to Heart Ministry

Romans 1:8-15

January 12, 1992 | Ray Pritchard

“No one cares how much you know, ‘til they know how much you care.”

This week those words have been echoing through my mind. It seems as if this week, more than in a long, long time, I’ve spent all my waking hours talking to people about heartache, trouble and difficulty. Every week in a pastor’s life you meet someone who has problems, but it seems as if this week that’s all I’ve done. As I look back over the past 168 hours, it seems as if I’ve done nothing but talk to people about their problems—from the time I’ve gotten up till the time I’ve gone to bed. Sometimes in the office, sometimes in the hallway and sometimes on the phone. I’ve had people sit around our Dining Room table and tell us some incredible stories of pain and heartache. I’ve had people stop me as I was walking through the church and tell me how their lives are falling apart. I’ve had people come in to see me who started out talking about one thing and ended up talking about something else much more personal.

Why this week should be any different from any other week, I’m not sure, but that’s the way it’s been. And I confess to a certain amount of mental exhaustion as I deliver this sermon because nothing is more draining than dealing with the real problems of real people.

“It Doesn’t Matter What You Say”

This week I received a phone call from a friend in our congregation. She called with a difficult question. She said she was going for a visit with a couple who lost a child not long ago. She’s not sure where they stand with the Lord, but she knows they are confused and hurting and angry at God. Her question was simple: What do I say to them?

You can imagine that I didn’t have a quick answer. Some questions are easy, others are almost impossibly difficult. What do you say in the face of such searing pain? We spent 10-15 minutes talking about various possibilities. We talked about the Bible, we talked about the doctrine of predestination and election, we talked about Romans 8:28 and how it might apply. Our discussion was rather academic until we got to the end. Finally the woman said something like this: “I guess it doesn’t really matter what I say, as long as I’m there.” I told her I thought she was right. Then I added, “Just remember that the only mistake you can make is trying to give an answer you have no right to give.” In times of great pain and unspeakable sorrow, the most important thing is just being there.

Why? Because no one cares how much you know,‘til they know how much you care.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

Last night at the Crossroads service, the theme was “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” The service started off in an unusual manner. Without any warning, people in the audience began to stand up and tell about some terrible things that had happened to them. One man spoke about losing his job with less than one week to go before his pension kicked in. Someone else told about their business burning to the ground. A woman said that her father had broken his elbow in an accident, gone to the doctor for an X-Ray and discovered he had bone cancer. Someone told about being cheated out of a job. Someone spoke of losing a child. One by one they shared their stories of pain.

At first I thought the whole thing was fictional because the people were obviously giving rehearsed lines. But when Brian Bill got up to speak, he said, “Every story you heard was true. None of them were made up. They all really happened.” Then he said, “We didn’t have to look very far to find those stories. It was easy to find bad things that had happened to good people.”

Behind the Smiling Faces

Sometimes when I stand before the congregation on Sunday morning, I wonder to myself, “What’s really going on behind all those smiling faces?” We look so good on Sunday morning. We’re all dressed up in our nice suits, neatly polished shoes, carefully manicured nails. Before we come to church we comb our hair, brush our teeth, and make sure our makeup is on just right. We put on our “Sunday Best” because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you go to church.

The last thing you put on before you come to church is a big smile. You have to look happy even if you don’t feel that way. You smile when you see people in the hallway—”How are you doing? Great, just great, everything’s wonderful.” You smile, they smile, and both of you scurry along. It’s all very nice and very proper and very surface.

But if the truth were told, behind every smiling face is a story, a little human drama of victory and defeat, of joy and sorrow, of pain mixed with pleasure, of sadness and happiness played out over the years. Most of us never reveal that part of ourselves except to a few close friends. If you get close enough to someone else, that little human drama begins to spill out, because it is there, behind the scenes, that the stuff of real life happens.

Where the Ministry Begins

That leads me to a conclusion I reached a few years ago. The longer I pastor, the more I am convinced that all true ministry flows from relationships. In fact, that has become one of my deepest personal convictions. Ministry flows from relationships. Without a personal relationship, you have no lasting ministry.

They didn’t teach us that at seminary, or maybe they said it but I didn’t pay any attention to it. We learned all about exegesis and hermeneutics and systematic theology, but I don’t remember much about the truth that ministry flows from relationships. In any case, I didn’t learn this truth for quite a long time. When you come out of seminary, you have certain preconceptions about how things are supposed to work. And you especially feel a lot of confidence in yourself because you’ve spent so many years sweating to receive an excellent education. Surely that’s enough, isn’t it?

Not hardly. But it takes a few years to figure that out. You eventually learn that behind every smiling face in the local church there is a story, and many of the stories are about heartache, pain, sadness, despair and difficulty. If the truth were told, many people who come to church on Sunday are just barely hanging on by their fingernails. They’re right to the edge, but they are hanging on for dear life. And they come to church hoping and praying for some word of encouragement.

If it doesn’t come from the heart, it’s not real ministry. Why? Because no one cares how much you know,‘til they know how much you care.

Three Myths About the Ministry

But many of us never discover that truth, because we have believed the prevailing myths about the ministry. Three of them are particularly pernicious.

Myth # 1: Ministry Requires Money and Education.

That’s the myth that says if you want to make an impact you’ve got to have money and you’ve got to have an education. It suggests that the measure of your effectiveness will be the size of your budget and the degrees you string after your name.

The danger here is Professionalism. That’s the attitude that says, “Let the man behind the pulpit do the ministry.” When the people of the church buy into this myth, a “gap” is created between the pulpit and the pew. It leads to a devitalized church because the “laity” expects the “clergy” to do all the ministry.

Unfortunately, we place such a premium on money, and the things money can buy—like nice buildings and a big staff—that it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that you can literally “buy” ministry with the right budget and the right staff.

Please understand. I’m all for education and I’m certainly in favor of money. But the ministry is more than education and it’s also more than money.

Myth # 2: Ministry is Primarily the Impartation of Knowledge.

For many years evangelicals bought into this myth hook, line and sinker. We acted as if knowledge alone would save the world. But that kind of thinking produces a sterile Intellectualism.

This is the view that says that our whole goal is simply to get a person, unscrew the top of his head, and pour in all kinds of Bible knowledge. So we pour in the outline of Daniel, we pour in the proof for the Trinity, we pour in the Pre-tribulational rapture of the church, we pour in the five points of Calvinism, and we think we’ve done our job.

Again, I’m all for knowledge, and you can’t grow as a Christian without growing in knowledge. But if that’s all you get, you’ll never mature as a Christian. What happens when you substitute the impartation of knowledge for the development of true ministry? You produce a group of spiritual eggheads with empty hearts. They can quote the book of Romans—in Greek or English—but they have no notion of how it affects daily life.

Myth # 3: Ministry Only Happens on Sunday Morning.

This is the danger of Ritualism. It’s the mistake of believing that the heart of the ministry takes place during a three-hour span from 9 A.M. to 12 Noon on Sunday morning.

Make no mistake. What happens on Sunday morning is important. A lot of true ministry does take place during that three-hour period. But we make a terrible mistake if we connect the fact of ministry with the place of ministry or the time of ministry.

If true ministry happens on Sunday morning, it happens because it flows out of relationships, not because it happens on Sunday morning. And if you don’t grasp that truth, another kind of “gap” will develop, a “gap” between Sunday (which you think is for ministry) and the other six days of the week (which you think are not for ministry).

The Secret of Paul’s Success

That is not the approach to ministry you find in the New Testament. In fact, you won’t find any of those myths in the New Testament, because the early church wasn’t built on professionalism, intellectualism or ritualism. Ministry is never stated in terms of money or education or buildings or outward ritual.

What you do find is a heart to heart approach to the ministry. Real ministry takes places as the truth flows out from one heart to another. It doesn’t start in the head. Ministry starts in the heart.

Real ministry is heart to heart, or it is not real ministry at all.

A case in point is the Apostle Paul. When you read his letters, you soon discover the secret of his success: He had a heart for people. People came first with Paul. That may sound unusual to some people who have this vision of Paul as the great doctrinal teacher of the Christian church. Sometimes you can read his writings and get lost in what he is saying. Paul was no shallow sentimentalist. The deepest theology ever written flows from his pen. But don’t ever think Paul didn’t care about people. Everything he did, he did for people. He never wrote one word that was theological speculation. He never pandered to the intellectual elite.

Paul never forgot that Christ came to save people, men and women just like himself, filled with doubts, questions, uncertainties, hesitations and frustrations. That’s the secret of his phenomenal success. It wasn’t just the depth of his theology—deep though it is. His theology changed the world because it first touched the human heart.

“You Don’t Know Me But …”

Our passage for today is Romans 1:8-15, Paul’s very personal statement about his own deep interest in the believers at Rome. As a historical sidelight, it’s worth noting why Paul felt it necessary to begin his epistle in such an intimate way. Paul had never been to Rome when he wrote this letter. That’s atypical for Paul, because he usually visited a city (like Thessalonica or Corinth), then left to continue his travels, and later wrote a letter back to the believers in that city (i.e., I Thessalonians, I Corinthians). But that’s not what Paul is doing here. Since Paul had never been to Rome, he felt a special obligation to introduce himself to the Roman believers.

How else would they know about him? How could they decide whether or not to trust him? To say it another way, how do you convince people you really care about them when you’ve never met them face to face?

So Paul writes about his deep feelings for the Roman Christians, in order to win their confidence and to help them know how much he cared for them.

That brings us at last to our key passage—Romans 1:8-15. It is here that we see Paul’s heart unveiled. Before he jumps into the heavy theology, he writes a few lines sharing his personal concern for the church at Rome. And in so doing, we learn not only what Paul’s heart was like but also the secret of a heart to heart ministry.

What kind of heart did Paul have? These verses provide five answers.

A Grateful Heart

He begins with a compliment. That’s not a small point. The very first words out of his mouth are positive words of affirmation. The text says, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.” What a positive, hopeful and uplifting way to begin. Don’t you know that the Romans felt encouraged when the Apostle Paul said that he had heard about their faith. Maybe they hadn’t heard about him, but he had heard about them.

It’s always easier to criticize. It’s always easier to begin by just letting people have it. After all, we live in a fallen, imperfect world, and if you want to, you can always find something to criticize. I know people like that, and so do you. You just know that when you see them, the first thing out their mouths will be the verbal vomit of criticism. It was said of Thomas Hardy that when he walked into a flower garden, he couldn’t see the flowers for the dung-heap in the corner. Unfortunately, the world is full of people like that.

But not Paul. He begins by expressing his heartfelt gratitude for the church at Rome. And when he says, “Your faith is being reported all over the world,” do you suppose he is exaggerating slightly? Yes, I’m sure he’s exaggerating, but he’s doing it for a reason. He could have said, “A few people are talking about your faith here and there, but there are still a lot of people who don’t know who you are.” That would have been technically true, but what good would that have done? So Paul says, “Everywhere I go they are talking about the fantastic Christians in Rome.” No wonder the Romans were ready to hear his message.

People Become What You Believe Them to Be

There’s a very familiar principle at work here: People tend to become what you believe them to be. If you say to a child, “You’re stupid,” he’ll struggle forever in his classes. If you treat a man like a criminal, he’ll soon prove it by robbing you blind. But if a husband says to his wife, “You’re the most beautiful woman in the world to me,” his wife will be transformed before his very eyes.

And let a father try to teach his son how to play baseball. Before the young boy comes to bat, the father says, “Son, you can do it.” Thus assured, the young Babe Ruth swaggers to the plate, hunches down, cocks his elbow, eyes the pitcher, watches the ball, swings mightily … and misses everything. Out comes his father with words of reassurance. “Don’t worry, son. You’ll do better this time.” The little boy steps back up to the plate, puts the bat on his shoulder, squares around, nods at the pitcher, and swings away. And misses again. Out comes the father again. “You’re doing great, son. It’s only a matter of time. Just keep your eye on the ball.” So the little boy, more determined than ever, takes a huge swing, and this time barely grazes the ball. His father doesn’t even come out, but yells from the dugout, “Go get ‘em, tiger.” Finally, the young man, now a grizzled veteran, stares at the pitcher, daring him to throw it. In comes the pitch, around comes the bat and Whack!, up and away goes the ball. It’s a stand-up double for the young man, who rounds first to wild cheers from the dugout. “Way to go, son. You’ll be playing for the Cubs someday.”

What has happened? The young man has been transformed by his father’s encouragement. People tend to become what we believe them to be.

Crusade in Europe

In his book Crusade in Europe, Dwight Eisenhower talks about the many different generals he worked with during World War II. As he studied their leadership styles, he came to a simple conclusion. I am paraphrasing his words:

The methods leaders use to motivate their followers vary so widely as to defy exact categorization. However, it has been my experience that all great leaders share one thing in common. They are able to mix and mingle with their men on a common basis, and so to convince them that they have their best interests at heart.

He’s right. It works because people tend to become what you believe them to be. When you take the time to make them feel good about themselves, they’ll repay you a thousand times over.

Heart to Heart Ministry begins with a Grateful Heart—one that sees and notices the good that other people do.

A Praying Heart

This point will not surprise you, I am sure. Notice what Paul says:

God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

Paul prayed for the Romans. That fact is made all the more amazing when you consider that he had never met them. More than that, he prayed for them “constantly” and called God to be his witness of that fact.

How do you suppose that made the Romans feel? Don’t you think it made them feel tremendously honored to know that the Apostle Paul had prayed for them—even though he had never met them?

I can only give a personal reaction at this point. From time to time, people tell me, “Pastor Ray, I’m praying for you.” Someone told me yesterday that they had prayed for me every single day since I came to Calvary. I can’t even begin to explain how that makes me feel. It’s the most wonderful sensation in the world to know that someone loves you enough to pray for you.

Prayer Bridges the Gap

To be truthful, I would rather have someone say, “I’m praying for you” than “I love you.” Because if they are really praying for me, I already know they love me. Prayer is such an intimate exercise that if you pray for someone regularly, you will begin to love them, even in spite of yourself. In the deepest truest sense of prayer, you can’t love without praying or pray without loving. The one leads on to the other.

But that’s not all. Prayer also bridges the gap between people. You can be here … and they can be way over there, and through prayer you can bridge the gap that separates you.

Prayer spans the miles that separate us.

Prayer overcomes the misunderstanding that separates us.

Prayer leaps across the bad memories that pull us apart.

Prayer nullifies the estrangement that keeps us from speaking.

There can be bitterness and anger between you, even years of alienation. But that doesn’t matter when you pray because prayer bridges the gap between you and those you love. Your heart can touch their heart by the simple act of praying. What starts in your heart goes first to the Father’s heart, and purified by the sunlight of his love, your prayer falls like an arrow in the heart of the one you love. Prayer can do that! It enables you to touch people you can’t even speak to.

Jessie Sandberg

Twenty years ago Marlene and I were students in college together down in Chattanooga, Tennessee. One of our favorite teachers was Jessie Sandberg. We both took British Literature from her. After all these years, I don’t remember anything she taught us about British Literature, but I remember her vividly.

Mrs. Sandberg was one of those teachers who was great in the classroom and even greater out of the classroom. We’ve all had teachers like that—the kind of teacher you just wanted to be around because they were such wonderful people.

We both knew her well. During the time we were engaged Marlene went to her several times for advice. After graduation, we got married, moved to Texas, and lost contact with Mrs. Sandberg.

Several years passed, and then one year we received a Christmas card from Jessie Sandberg. She had enclosed a 3 by 5 card inside the Christmas card. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. At the top, the card said, “Ray and Marlene Pritchard—Dallas, Texas.” Underneath she had written in various dates: 1/5, 1/8, 1/15, 1/29, 2/4, 2/11, 2/22, 3/4, 3/8, and so on. There must have been nearly 80 dates on the card. But there was no explanation. Then we read the Christmas card. It said, “Every time I prayed for you this year, I wrote the date on the card.” She mailed it to us so we would know that she had faithfully prayed for us that year.

The lesson is simple: If you love someone, you’ll pray for them. If you don’t love them, you’ll stop praying eventually. Because when you pray, one of two things will happen: You will either start loving or you will stop praying.

The second mark of Heart to Heart ministry is that you pray for other people.

A Longing Heart

Notice what Paul says in verse 11. “I long to see you.” The Greek puts it in an even stronger way. I believe it’s J. B. Moffatt who translates—”I am homesick to see you.” Homesick? Paul had never been to Rome. How could he be homesick for a place he had never visited? The answer is, he prayed for them so much, and thought about them so much, that he felt as if he already knew them. Rome didn’t seem like a foreign country to Paul; it seemed like home to him.

“My heart aches to see you.” The word means to want something so bad it makes your heart hurt on the inside. Have you ever wanted something so badly it made your heart hurt when you thought about it? “I want to see you so badly that it makes my heart hurt when I think about it.”

The Ministry of Concurrent Encouragement

You read on, and Paul bares his heart even more:

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. (Romans 1:11-13)

Verse 11 considered by itself makes perfect sense. It simply says that Paul wants to come to Rome and minister to the saints by using his spiritual gifts in order to build them up and make them strong. That’s a noble calling, and if that’s all Paul did, that would be ample reason to make the trip. “I long to see you, my heart is hurting to see you, that I might preach to you and build you up.” That in itself is a noble purpose.

But that’s not all Paul says. It’s as if verse 12 corrects verse 11. It’s as if Paul is thinking to himself as he writes, so he adds something new in verse 12. Notice he says, “That you and I may be mutually encouraged.” That adds an entirely new dimension. How do you think that made them feel? Paul the great Apostle said, “I’m looking forward to seeing you, not just so that I can give you something but so that you can minister to me.” This is the ministry of concurrent encouragement. It’s what happens when I minister to you and you minister to me. It’s the heart of what the Christian ministry is all about. You give something to me and I give something back to you. Ministry is not a one-way street. It’s a two-way street, with blessings and encourage-ment constantly being shared both ways.

Every Man My Teacher

Paul is teaching that every man is my teacher because every man has something I need to learn. I must be a student of all—from the youngest child to the oldest person, from the richest to the poorest, from the most mature to the most immature, from the proud to the humble—because every person, no matter how unlikely, has something they can teach me. In Christ, I teach every person and every person is my teacher. I have something to give to each person and each person has something to give to me.

In the body of Christ there can be no big shots and little shots. Nobody can say, “I don’t have to listen to you but you have to listen to me.” No! Every man must be my teacher and I am a teacher of every man.”

That point was vividly driven home to me on Thursday afternoon this week. Some of you may know Michael Dahms who attends this church. Michael is a fine young man—I suppose he is 22 or 23 or 24 years old—who works on Sunday mornings with our 7-9 year-olds. My youngest son Nicholas is in his class. I’ve had occasion to get to know Michael very well over the past year.

God gave Michael some heavy burdens in life. He’s got some physical disabilities that he has struggled with since birth—speech difficulties and movement difficulties. But with a resolute, cheerful spirit, he has found ways to cope with his problems. He lives by himself in an apartment in Berwyn.

U.S. 99

He called me this week and said, “Pastor, would you come see me?” I said, “I’ll come see you on Thursday.” But when Thursday rolled around, I was so busy trying to get ready for Sunday, and for my trip to Russia, that I felt under tremendous pressure. I confess to you that I didn’t want to go see him. I knew it would take up most of the late afternoon, and I felt like I didn’t have the time. I’m not proud about feeling that way, but that’s the way I felt. As I drove down to see Michael, I was so tired that I just wanted to forget the whole thing. But I went anyway. I was only doing it because I couldn’t think of a way out of it.

When I got there, Michael opened the door and welcomed me with a big smile. The country station they call U.S. 99 was playing in the background. I spent the first 30 minutes helping Michael install a stereo system. (That’s not entirely accurate. He did most of the work. I just sat and watched him hook things up.) I played with his cat and got the cat mad at me.

At the end of the hour, we sat down and I said, “Michael, I know you wanted to talk to me about something. What is it?” He said, “Pastor Ray, you know I teach the young children.” “Do you enjoy it?” “Yes.” Then he started trying to tell me something but he couldn’t quite get the words out. His voice was muffled so I couldn’t understand him. He kept pointing to the Bible. So I said, “Oh, you teach the children the Bible?” He smiled and nodded. Then he pointed to the Bible, then to his heart, then straight into the air. He did it three or four times before I got it. “Are you saying that when you teach the children the Bible, it makes you feel closer to God?” His eyes lit up. Yes! That was exactly the message.

He Did More For Me Than I Did For Him

Then he brought over to me a Serendipity Bible Study Guide on relationships. I was amazed to see that he had already filled out most of it. We flipped through the pages and talked about some of his answers. He said that someone had helped him for a while but they couldn’t come over any more. His request was this: “Pastor Ray, do you know someone who could meet with me once a week and help me fill out this book?” Then he made an upward motion with his hands that I couldn’t figure out. Finally, it hit me. Michael wanted someone to meet with him to help lift him up spiritually.

When he said that, I was so deeply convicted that I didn’t know what to say. Here I am, the pastor of the church, and I had not even wanted to go see him. I was too busy, too preoccupied, under too much pressure.

After we prayed together, I got up to leave. He gave me a big hug and thanked me for coming. As I got back in my car and drove away, I suddenly saw the truth. He had helped me more than I had helped him.

That’s what Paul is talking about in verse 11. You help other people, and other people help you.

The Interruptions Are Your Work

In one of his books Henri Nouwen talks about the time pressure he felt when he was a university professor. Although he enjoyed teaching, he never felt he had the time to concentrate on his work because of all the inter-ruptions. Even when he put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on his door, the students interrupted him anyway. He said, “Everywhere I went, people wanted to talk to me.” By his own testimony, he was upset because he felt like all the interruptions were messing up his work. But that changed one day when God said to him, “My son, be at peace. Those interruptions are your work.”

What Will We Put On Your Tombstone?

That’s a key to Heart to Heart Ministry—understanding that the interruptions of life are part of the work God has given you to do.

But some of us are so driven, so work-focused, so goal-oriented, so workaholic that we resent people because people keep us from what we call “our work.” If only we could see that people are our work.

Let me say it this way. I have never known anyone who came to the end of life and said, “I wish I had spent more time at the office” or “I wish I had been away from my family more” or “I should have been more of a workaholic.” I’ve never met anyone like that. But I’ve known plenty of men and women who said, “I should have spent more time with the people who really mattered to me.” “I wish I hadn’t been so obsessed with working that I forgot to build some relationships.”

What would we say about you if you died today? “He was busy.” “She got her degree.” “He climbed the ladder.” “She made it in a man’s world.” “He was too busy for people.” “We’re glad she’s gone.”

May we come back to what the Bible talks about—Heart to Heart Ministry that places people first. God help us to understand that interruptions are the work of life.

An Indebted Heart

Verse 14 brings us to the fourth mark of Heart to Heart Ministry. “I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.” The King James says, “I am a debtor …” In the original language, the word speaks of a solemn moral obligation. It means that Paul did what he did because he felt a holy and sacred obligation. More than that, Paul felt indebted to the Gentiles to preach the gospel to them.

Paul is saying, “I am coming to Rome because I have a deep moral obligation to go there.” But in what sense did he mean that? Paul had never been to Rome, he knew very few people in the church. How could he be indebted to them? The answer is, Paul’s true indebtedness was to God. God had given the gospel. How could Paul ever hope to repay the Almighty? What could he offer that God would accept? There was nothing he could directly give back to God. But there was one thing he could do. He could take what God had given him and share it with someone else! In that sense, Paul was indebted to the people of Rome even though he had never met them.

When he says, “To the Greeks and the non-Greeks, to the wise and to the foolish,” he is indicating something about the scope of his ministry. So great is his obligation that he is ready to preach the gospel everywhere, without regard to racial, national or cultural distinctions.

How Else Do You Explain Fred Stettler?

How else to do you explain a Fred Stettler? Why would a man stay on the mission field at the age of 90? Why doesn’t he come back to America? He stays because he is indebted to the people of Europe. He can’t come back because he feels a holy obligation to stay in Switzerland, getting out the gospel.

How else do you explain a Beth Tanis going to the junglesof Peru? Or Beth Erickson going to Belize? Or the Downings in Zaire? Or the Lelands in Papua New Guinea? And how else do you explain Sharon Dix going to the other side of the world, giving up a lucrative career to be a missionary nurse in Nepal? Why would someone so talented do something like this?

And how else do you explain April Jahns going to Niger, to Galmi on the very edge of the Sahara Desert? Why would anyone so gifted live under such extreme conditions? Why? She is indebted to the men and women of Niger to bring them the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing else makes her go. She has a holy obligation to bring the gospel to the Muslims of Niger who do not know Jesus Christ. That—and that alone—explains April Jahns.

What an uplifting view of life! What a purpose-filled view of life! That goes far beyond the eight to five grind most of us struggle with every day. That goes far beyond the American ethic of Looking Out For Number One.

That’s the fourth mark of Heart to Heart Ministry—The Indebted Heart.

The Eager Heart

Verse 15 brings us to the final mark of Heart to Heart ministry—the eager heart. “That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel to you who are at Rome.” The King James says, “I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome.” It’s a strong word. It means something like “ready, willing and able.” Paul was so eager to come to Rome that he couldn’t wait to get there.

But wait a minute. Rome was the capital of the Empire, the seat of Emperor-worship, a city given over entirely to paganism. For Paul, Rome represented danger, opposition, persecution and death. But it also represented opportunity unlimited. To Paul, the opportunity far outweighed the potential danger. So he was chomping at the bit to get there.

As a sidelight, I should point out that his desires were eventually fulfilled. Only it didn’t work out like he had planned. He got to Rome all right—but as a prisoner in chains. And in the end he was beheaded by the Emperor Nero.

But Heart to Heart ministry doesn’t operate only in the safe areas of life. Heart to Heart ministry means you are eager to help other people even at great personal cost to yourself. It means a readiness to share Jesus Christ even when people don’t want to hear your message.

So Little Time, So Much to Do

When I read this verse, I think of my friend John Sergey. On Wednesday Marlene and I will travel with John and Helen to St. Petersburg, Russia. This will be John’s 38th or 39th trip to Russia. And you ask yourself why would a man who is nearly twice my age still be traveling to Russia? Why not just let us young bucks take care of it? Why put yourself in possible danger and certainly in difficulty? Why not just crank back the La-Z-Boy, relax, have a cup of coffee and read the newspaper? No one could blame him if he did that.

I think I know the answer. John Sergey feels a holy obligation to the people of Russia. That’s why he is so eager to keep going over to preach the gospel to them. He is ready to go whenever God gives him the opportunity.

After our last trip in May, we gave a report to the church one Sunday night. Some of you may recall that John sat down and played a medley of hymns on the piano. One of them was the old favorite—”When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” He sang the last verse:

Let us labor for the Master from the dawn to setting sun.

Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care.

Then when all of life is over and our work on earth is done,

When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

Then he went right into a wonderful old gospel chorus—”So Little Time, So Much to Do.” That explains why John Sergey does what he does. He is ready to go, ready to preach, ready to pray, and yes, ready to die, if necessary, for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If someone says, “But Pastor, I don’t want to go to Russia,” I respond, “You don’t have to go.” You don’t have to go to Niger or to Nepal or to Peru or to Japan. You don’t have to go where anyone else goes.

But let me tell you this. What God gave you, he didn’t give for you to keep to yourself. You are under a holy obligation to share the gospel in Oak Park, in River Forest, in Forest Park, in Galewood, in Austin, in Cicero, in Berwyn, in Chicago—wherever you live.

You are under just as much obligation as any of our missionaries. You don’t have to go where they go, but you do have to do what they do. The obligation is laid on you just as much as it is laid on them.

“My Passion is People”

The story is told of General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, that one day Queen Victoria of England asked to meet with him. Because she had heard so many favorable things about his work in the slums, she asked him for the secret of his success. “Your Majesty,” he replied, “Some men have a passion for money. Some people have a passion for things. I have a passion for people.”

What is the passion of your life? What are you living for? What are you indebted to? What are you eager to do?

Are you still twiddling your thumbs and wasting your life on things that don’t really matter? Or have you gotten excited about the most important thing in the world—sharing Jesus Christ with those who don’t know him? Are you involved in heart to heart ministry—sharing God’s love heart to heart to heart?

Touch Three Hearts This Week

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that only two things will last forever—the Word of God and people. Everything else fades away. What are you doing this week that will last forever?

Here is my simple challenge to you. Do something this week to touch three hearts. That’s all. Take out a piece of paper and on the left-hand side, write down three names. Then beside each name, write down one way

you can touch that person this week. It might be through a phone call. It might be by writing a letter. It might be by giving a word of encouragement. It might be by praying for them. It might be by going out of your way to see them.

Remember, real ministry begins when your heart touches their heart.

No one cares how much you know ‘til they know how much you care.

Whose heart are you going to touch for Jesus’ sake this week?

Now Heavenly Father, forgive us for being so busy that we forget the most important things in life. O God, help us to become people who specialize in Heart to Heart ministry. May we begin to see that our interruptions are your opportunities. Amen.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?