Something Needs to Change
Why the Tears?
Alone in a guesthouse at the base of the Himalayas, I found myself on my knees, face to the floor, sobbing. Scattered around me was the evidence of my past week—a backpack, trekking poles, hiking boots. I was fresh off a weeklong journey through some of the highest mountains in the world and only hours from a flight home to the States.
But I hadn’t planned on ending my trip with out-of-control tears.
Up to that day, I could count on one hand the number of times I’d cried in my adult life. The last time I’d wept was the day I received the phone call that my dad had died of a sudden heart attack. But this day in an Asian guesthouse was different. This time I wasn’t weeping because I was missing someone or even something. Instead, I was crying uncontrollably because of what others—men, women, and children I’d met the past week—were missing. Things like water, food, family members…freedom and hope. I so longed for them to have these things that I couldn’t help it. I fell to the floor sobbing, and the flood of tears wouldn’t stop.
What We Need
Looking back on that day in the guesthouse, I wonder why being so overwhelmed for others in need has been uncommon for me. I think of all the church services I’ve been in week after week, year after year, talking and hearing about the needs of people all over the world. I think of all the sermons I’ve preached about serving those in need. I even think about the books I’ve written, including Radical—for crying out loud—a book about laying down our lives in love for Christ and the world around us. So why has it been rare for me to be so moved by the needs of others that I have fallen on my face before God and wept?
I don’t think this question is just for me. When I think of all those church services, I recall very few instances when other Christians and I have wept together for people who were missing water, food, family, freedom, or hope. Why is a scene like that so uncommon among us?
It makes me wonder if we’ve lost our capacity to weep. It makes me wonder if we have subtly, dangerously, and almost unknowingly guarded our lives, our families, and even our churches from truly being affected by God’s words to us in a world of urgent spiritual and physical needs around us. We talk a lot about the need to know what we believe in our heads, yet I wonder if we have forgotten to feel what we believe in our hearts. How else are we to explain our ability to sit in services where we sing songs and hear sermons celebrating how Jesus is the hope of the world, yet rarely (if ever) fall on our faces weeping for those who don’t have this hope and then take action to make this hope known to them?
Why today do we seem to be so far from the way of Jesus? Jesus wept over those in need. He was moved with compassion for the crowds. He lived and loved to bring healing and comfort to the broken. He died for the sins of the world. So why are those of us who carry his Spirit not moved and compelled in the same way? Surely God didn’t design the gospel of Jesus to be confined to our minds and mouths in the church, yet disconnected from our emotions and actions in the world.
Surely something needs to change.
But how? When I found myself face first on that guesthouse floor, it wasn’t because I’d heard a new fact about suffering in the world or even made a new discovery in God’s Word. On the long plane flight to Asia, I had actually written an entire sermon on poverty and oppression, complete with staggering numbers concerning the poor and oppressed in the world today. And I had written that sermon from an emotionally well-guarded, frighteningly coldhearted perspective. Somehow, staring at statistics on poverty and even studying the Bible had left my soul unscathed. But when I came face to face with men, women, and children in urgent spiritual and physical need, the wall in my heart was breached. And I wept.
Clearly, the change we need won’t happen simply by our seeing more facts or listening to more sermons (or even preaching them, for that matter). What we need is not an explanation of the Word and the world that puts more information in our heads; we need an experience with the Word in the world that penetrates the recesses of our hearts. We need to dare to come face to face with desperate need in the world around us and ask God to do a work deep within us that we could never manufacture, manipulate, or make happen on our own.
This is my prayer for the pages ahead.
I’ve taken a different approach in writing this book. I’m most naturally a preacher who makes use of exposition and explanation to communicate his points. But as I’ve already mentioned, I really don’t think we need more exposition and explanation. I think we need an experience—an encounter that takes exposed and explained truth to a deeper level in our hearts than it would ever go otherwise.
So in this book I want to take off my preacher hat and invite you to experience a trek with me through some of the highest mountains of Asia. I invite you to eat what I ate, drink what I drank, see the faces I saw, touch the people I touched, and, in all of this, feel the emotions I felt. In the end, I want to consider with you how to transfer this trek through the Himalayas into everyday life where we live. I want to imagine with you what might happen if we let the gospel penetrate beyond our heads to our hearts in a way that dramatically changes the course of our lives, families, and churches in the world.
I believe that in using my mountain trek as the setting for this book, there’s risk involved—for both you and me. For me the risk is leaving the security of the platform where I normally preach, and even coming out from behind the desk where I normally write, to share some struggles I have with things I preach and truths I believe. By inviting you on these trails, I want to open my personal thoughts to you, and I don’t want to hide my most profound questions from you.
For example, if the gospel is really true and God is really good, then where are the truth and goodness of God amid extreme poverty and pain? And where are his peace and protection for the oppressed and exploited?
And what of life beyond this world? In a universe governed by a good God, is hell really a place and does it actually last forever? If it really exists and really won’t end, then why are so many people born into an earthly hell only to move on to an eternal one? And will billions of individuals who don’t believe in Jesus really go there, even if they never had a chance to hear about him?
It may surprise you to find that even a pastor like me, who absolutely believes in the truth and reliability of Scripture, still wrestles with questions like these. I do. And I know it’s one thing to ask these questions behind a podium in a comfortable building on a Sunday morning, but a whole other thing to ask these questions when you’re standing on a mountainside with a man whose wife and kids died in a matter of hours of a preventable disease because no medicine was available. Or when you’re looking into the face of a twelve-year-old girl who wants sex with you, because that’s what she was sold and enslaved to do since she was ten. Or when you’re watching a body physically burn on a funeral pyre and you know that person never even heard of Jesus.
I want to take a risk in sharing a more behind-the-scenes look into what happens when a preacher and author with three seminary degrees has his deepest convictions rocked by darkness in the world around him and finds himself asking honestly, Is Jesus really the hope of the world after all?
I believe there’s risk here for you, too. Now, just so you know, I am saving you a lot of risk by writing this book. You don’t have to risk flying on a helicopter into a remote part of the world where if something bad happens to you, you’re virtually disconnected from outside communication and days away from getting any help. I’m saving you the risk of crossing suspended bridges and hiking narrow trails where one slip might mean tumbling to your death. You don’t have to worry about altitude sickness, amebic dysentery, traveler’s diarrhea, cyclospora, giardia, malaria, hepatitis, or… I think you get the point. Suffice to say that “you’re welcome” for saving you from all these risks!
But you can’t avoid all risk by joining me on this trek. I had no idea what would happen in my life after a week on those trails. So by inviting you to come with me into these mountains, I’m asking you to open yourself to the possibility that the way you view your life, your family, your church, or your future might not be the same when you return. I don’t know if you’ll find yourself on the floor weeping uncontrollably. But I do hope that you’ll find yourself unguarded. Unfiltered. And ultimately open to a whole new world of what God wants to do in and through your life.
So if you’re up for that journey, I invite you to turn the page.
Because something needs to change.