By David Wilkerson
A crack-addicted mother killed her own six-year-old daughter, Elisa, suffocating her with a pillow.
Four-year-old Nadine starved to death in her mother’s house in the Bronx. Police found the girl locked in a bedroom – shriveled, emaciated, curled up in the fetal position. All her cries for help had gone unheeded by her crack-addicted mother.
A twenty-year-old mother took her three children to the rooftop of their apartment complex. One by one, systematically, she pushed the three children screaming off the roof to their deaths. Then she jumped and fell to her death. New York’s Daily News showed pictures of anguished onlookers wailing in unbelief at the sight of the mother and three children lying dead in the street. People were doubled up in agony at the sight. Terrified, they screamed, “What has happened to our country?”
A sixteen-year-old girl jumped off the elevated train in Brooklyn and fell on a little boy who was rushing home to play with a new toy his mother had bought for him. As I write this, the boy is in a hospital, in a coma. The teenage girl died.
A distraught mother laid her little girl on a bed, covered the child’s head with a sweater, went to the kitchen, got a knife and began stabbing the little girl to death. Later, the mother could give no explanation for her action. And she didn’t seem to have any sorrow over it.
Another mother got stone drunk, loaded her two children into a car and began careening wildly down the road. She ran down two children, killing them instantly, and smashed the car into a divide, killing herself and her two children. Four children dead – killed in an instant by a mother in a drunken stupor!
I could go on and on, with one tragic story after another. These are just a few of the stories that have appeared in our New York City newspapers over the past few months. There seems to be no end to all the awful crimes committed against children.
And they are happening all across the land. I believe it is all God can do to restrain Himself from moving in before the end of time and putting an end to it all. I will never believe He is just some benign spirit who sits in heaven, unmoved by the horrible spirit of murder loose in this land. No – He is a compassionate father who agonizes over His suffering children.
During His time on the earth, Jesus was the embodiment of God’s compassion. Scripture frequently says Christ was “moved with compassion” by the suffering of people. And if that was the case in the first century, what great grief there must be now in our Lord’s heart!
The Bible tells us “…his compassions fail not” (Lamentations 3:22). “Thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsufffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (Psalm 86:15).
Most Christians Living Today Would Like to Think That, Like Jesus, They Are “Moved With Compassion.”
When I read stories like these from our newspapers, I also want to be moved with compassion. Even the worst sinners are “moved” when they hear of the suffering of children. I hear them speak in trembling voices on radio talk shows as I drive in my car. They say, “How awful, tragic, sad! What is our nation coming to? We ought to lock up all the drug-using mothers. We need to get tougher on crime.” After taking several such calls, one radio announcer declared, “America is still full of compassion!”
But compassion is not just pity or sympathy. It is more than being moved to tears or stirred up emotionally – more than speaking out about the evil behind such crimes. Compassion means pity and mercy accompanied by a desire to help change things. Truly compassionate feelings move us to do something!
This is illustrated in the compassion Jesus showed in the gospels. At one point, He departed into the wilderness to pray. When the multitudes discovered His whereabouts, they followed Him by foot from all the surrounding towns. In desperation, they brought Him their lame, their blind, their dying, their demon-possessed.
What did Jesus do? The Bible tells us: “And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14). That is compassion!
Had Jesus been hampered by our modern thinking, He might have gathered His disciples for a committee meeting. He would have analyzed the problems and talked about the sins that had brought society to such a place. He would have pointed to the frothing demoniacs and tearfully said, “Look at what sin does to people. Isn’t that tragic? See the wages of sin at work!”
Or, He could have said, like so many sanctimonious people, “Look – I’m very tired. I’ve worked hard ministering to you. But now I’m exhausted, and I need to talk to my father. You can be sure I feel your pain. I’ll tell you what: I will call my disciples together, and we’ll have an intercessory meeting. We’ll agree in prayer for your needs. Now, go in peace.”
That is modern theology, in a nutshell. Everybody is willing to pray – but few are willing to act!
Matthew 9 says of Jesus, “When he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” (9:36). The phrase “moved with compassion” here means “stirred to action.” So, what did Jesus do about it?
He didn’t just talk. His heart was moved and stirred at what He saw -and He had a consuming desire to change things! Did He have pity toward those people? Yes. Did He have sympathy? Yes. But those feelings moved Him to action! He said, “I’ll do all I can to make a difference!”
“Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (verse 35). This was not some vain theology. Jesus didn’t just get alone with the father and say, “Lord, send laborers into your harvest field.” Jesus went himself! He laid hands on lepers. He got deeply, practically, intimately involved.
In Matthew 15, we read of an incredible scene: “Great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet; and he healed them” (15:30).
I don’t think we can appreciate this scene today. Can you imagine it? All around Jesus, hundreds of afflicted people were sitting and lying on the ground – the diseased, the despairing, little children too sick to sit up, people crying aloud for help, groaning in pain, fevered, demon-possessed.
Jesus didn’t turn them away. He performed miracles of healing and deliverance: The dumb spoke, the crippled leaped, the blind saw, the sick and diseased suddenly were made whole. And with every healing, the people pressed in even closer. I imagine the people picking up their sick children and pushing forward, with the disciples trying to keep some order.
These people were out in the wilderness for three days without food. And now they were fainting from hunger. That’s when Jesus said, “I have compassion on the multitudes. I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.”
I could stop right here and make that the focus of this message: “I have compassion – and I will not send them away!” But the Lord wants to say to us much more:
Our Once-Caring Nation Is Slowly But Surely Losing Its Heart of Compassion for the Poor and Needy!
America’s compassion is dying! Here in the harbor of New York City stands a lady whose arms have been outstretched to the poor and needy for more than one hundred years. Yet now things are changing drastically.
State governors compete with one another to see who can cut the most people from the welfare rolls. From the White House on down to cities and counties, there is a stampede to cut food stamps and wipe out welfare – and other essential benefits. Just last month, President Clinton talked about the many thousands of people who no longer receive welfare benefits. And here in New York City, food distribution centers are quickly drying up. Funds for feeding programs, are dwindling.
Now, I am not a politician. I do not want to get into a political discussion about the rights and wrongs of welfare for the poor. Yes, I know there has been a lot of cheating in the system. And I believe there should be changes – that all able-bodied men should work, and that we must not pay mothers for adding more illegitimate babies to the welfare rolls.
But what bothers me is that most of the rhetoric I hear on the subject is mean-spirited, cold, heartless. There’s a hardness sweeping this country!
I tell you, God will not stand by and allow the richest nation on earth to put mothers and children on the streets. He will not allow billions to be spent on space research while our cities’ children go hungry. And rest assured – we are just two years away from having hundreds of families on the streets in New York City!
I know the feelings of many middleclass workers across the nation as they struggle to survive financially. Many suburban people hold good jobs but are being taxed to death. They can’t even afford to have their children vaccinated or to give them health care – yet they hear of ghetto mothers who get free clinical care. They can barely keep food on their tables, while free food stamps go to people on welfare. One hard-working mother said, “I might as well go on welfare. At least my kids would get medical attention.”
I understand all these economic pressures. But as Christians, we dare not allow a cold, hard spirit toward the poor to rob us of compassion!
One former governor is pushing for a new law that would legalize euthanasia, the killing of the elderly infirm. He says the nation can no longer afford to “waste its resources” on them. He suggests that the best thing the elderly sick can do is to “die and save our medical resources for the young.”
This is shocking! We have become so hard and calloused that Jack Kevorkian “Doctor Death,” the man who assists in planned suicides – is looked upon by many as a hero. He is referred to as a “compassionate, caring doctor, helping people out of their misery.” Yet what he does is just plain murder!
Worse, euthanasia is now being promoted in cases not just of physical pain, but emotional pain as well. If you have a nervous breakdown and don’t want to face life, you can call Doctor Death!
One day soon, our nation will legalize euthanasia. We will cut off more and more food stamps to the poor. And our streets will begin to look like those in Third World countries – full of beggars, children and homeless people.
Yet what shocks me most is the lack of compassion I see spreading in the church of Jesus Christ. Many of God’s people are growing cold-hearted and uncaring. Denominations say their missions funds are dwindling. People simply are not giving toward foreign missions anymore.
Recently, I sent out to our readers a simple report of our missions giving. I wrote, “I want you to know that at least ten percent of every dollar you send us is tithed to missions. We support child-care ministries around the world. We operate orphanages in Romania and Mozambique, and we support many thousands of needy children in Latin America.”
I thought people would be thankful for our ministry’s commitment to missions giving. But I was utterly shocked and dismayed by the numbers of irate letters we received from several readers. Here is what some of them said:
“Take me off your mailing list. I did not give you permission to spend any of my offering to your ministries overseas. I want every dollar to stay here in the United States.”
“I do not want any of my money going to foreign missions. I’ll support your ministry in New York, but nowhere else.”
Thank God, the majority of readers are thankful for our commitment to give out of compassion. They share my love for hungry and orphaned children around the world and they rejoice that their single gift to us is shared with these special children.
Let Me Now Talk About Times Square Church And It’s Need For More Compassion.
We minister in one of the most troubled, hurting cities in America – both spiritually and, very soon, economically. It is a city where over two million people receive government assistance, many of them on welfare. This city is flooded with drug addiction, despair, homelessness.
Matthew writes that multitudes came to Jesus, casting down at his feet the lame, blind, mute, maimed and crippled. And today I see this happening in New York with the church of Jesus Christ. The government has failed; all other institutions and systems have failed; so, what is the last hope for humankind? It is supposed to be the church of Jesus Christ! And very soon, we are going to have more hurting, more homeless, more helpless people cast at our feet. They will be brought right to our doorstep!
What will we do then? Should we pray for revival, hold all-night prayer meetings – and simply step over the homeless lying right outside our church doors? No never! That is not compassion!
A few Sunday nights ago, I could not sleep. My spirit was in turmoil, because I couldn’t put out of my mind the mother I’d just met backstage. In one arm she held a five-day-old baby, and in her free hand she gripped the hand of her two-year-old. Her husband had lost his job and couldn’t find work, and he’d left her.
This young mother was now sleeping on the floor of a small apartment where ten other people lived. They wanted her out because her babies cried so much. She could not get welfare; she had no family, no place to go, not even money for milk. She told me, “I’m headed for the streets. There’s no place for us to go!”
I gave this pitiful young woman some money, and our helps ministry began working with her. But that wasn’t the end. Another young mother who attends our church came to us in a similar situation. Her husband was on drugs and couldn’t hold a job.
She was unskilled and couldn’t work. She also told me, “Pastor Dave, I’m just a week or two from being on the streets.”
Then I met two other dear women whose husbands beat them. They fear for their lives and for their children’s safety. And all the city’s “safe houses” are full, with waiting lists.
As I lay down that night to try to sleep, I couldn’t shut my eyes. Was I moved? Yes. Full of pity? Yes. But something else was going on inside me. I prayed: “Lord, what do you want us to do about this? How can we change this tragic situation? I’m sixty-five, and I’m tired. I’ve spent enough time with drug addicts and alcoholics. Please – not another program.”
But the image of the five-day-old baby kept coming to mind. I thought, “We’re the church of Jesus Christ. We are to have compassion, and not send them away. What can we do?”
I realized that in just two or three weeks, our Isaiah House would be open and operating in Times Square. And we would be moving our men’s Timothy House into that facility.
Suddenly, there it was, right before my eyes: The former Timothy House building would free up ten apartments. We could use the building as a living center for abandoned and abused mothers. We could only put two mothers and their children in a single apartment and that means helping only sixty to eighty families a year. It is only a drop in the bucket. But something has to be done!
Compassion cannot be only sympathy and pity. It must be feelings moved to action! It asks, “God, what do you want me to do?”
Let Me Tell You the Kind of Outpouring I’d Like to See Here in New York City!
Our church has spent much time in prayer. We have just concluded a twenty-four-hour-a-day, thirty-day prayer chain. And in January we opened the year in prayer and fasting. But exactly what are we praying about? What are we looking for?
The late Leonard Ravenhill, who wrote “Why Revival Tarries,” was a great man of God in my mind, a true prophet. I sat for hours listening to him talk of a coming great revival. He waited for it for more than sixty years, but he died without ever seeing it.
When I grew up in the Pentecostal church, all my father and grandfather ever talked about was a coming great revival.
Evangelists talked about it at camp meetings: “There’s a revival coming. God is going to sweep multitudes into the kingdom!”
Yet, for many, this talk of revival simply meant: “We won’t have to go out into the streets and get our hands dirty. We can just stay here and pray. The Holy Ghost will draw people in!”
But the definition of revival is, “the awakening or resurrection of that which threatens to become a corpse.” It means, “to wake up the dead church – to revive it, resuscitate it, so the ungodly will be inclined to enter its doors.”
Beloved, the church is not supposed to have to be resurrected from the dead! We shouldn’t have to be praying for some great revival. And while we shut ourselves in, praying for revival, the following things have happened in our country:
One-half of all our teenagers smoke pot. More than a third drink. Twelve-year olds indulge in sex. Fourteen-year-old girls are having babies. We have lost an entire generation of young people to cynicism, hardness, disillusionment.
Our cities are about to burst into flames. The nation is satiated with sex, pleasure, the idolatry of sports. One of every two marriages ends in divorce.
The sobbing sounds of hungry, battered children now rise as thunder from our cities. Homosexuals demand marriage rights. Desperate fathers roam the streets by the hundreds, looking for work. Many black and Hispanic men are unable even to get interviews for a job.
As the year 2000 approaches, what is the church doing about these things? What has captured our attention and energies?
Not long ago I received a letter from a woman who attends our church. She said, in effect, “Times Square Church needs healing lines, miracle meetings, signs and wonders – like the things that happen on Brother So-and-so’s TV show.”
I want to answer this woman’s letter lovingly and publicly: “Dear Sister: Let me tell you how you can produce a mighty miracle, a great sign to all unbelievers.
“There is a mother in our church who is about to be put into the streets with her children. She’s soon to be homeless, and she’s willing to work. Would you kindly take her in and give her your extra bedroom for three months? Or simply let her sleep on your couch? Would you feed her while she looks for an apartment? Would you minister to her? Would you lift her out of the pit of despair?”
Would doing this constitute a miracle? Would it be considered a sign, a wonder? Yes absolutely! Every unbeliever who’d see it would say, “Now, that is what Christ is all about. And that is what Christianity ought to be about!”
The Bible says that if we are meeting human needs – if we are obeying the commandment to be compassionate to the world, and giving ourselves to the needs of others – then we will be a well-watered garden! “If you deal your bread to the hungry…if you cover the naked …if you do not hide your face from the poor .. if you draw out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the suffering soul …then the Lord shall guide you continually, satisfy your soul” (see Isaiah 58:5-12). “…thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” (verse 11).
I asked a minister friend to explain to me why so many Christians are traveling miles to experience a revival. In essence, he said, “Christians have become so defeated, dry and downcast that God is trying to resurrect joy. The Holy Spirit is trying to free people up through manifestations.”
I ask you: How did the church ever get to this low point of being downhearted, anyway? How did the church ever come to need such pumping up?
Could it be because we have not dealt with Isaiah 58! That passage tells us very plainly and directly why Christians lose their joy, go dry and become bound up. It is because they have become engrossed in self-survival!
Most Christians now hear only sermons about how to cope with life’s problems, how to deal with emptiness. Many no longer have a burden for missions, for people on the streets, for the poor.
Why aren’t shepherds teaching their people to reach out to human needs, so that when the needy come to church they’ll find a well-watered garden, a deep source springing up? The Lord said he would provide that for anybody who was willing to give of himself!
Almost three hundred years ago, the Moravians came to New York with the Dutch. As they established a church, they also set up an outreach to the poor. Today, all of the churches that were established then are gone – but the Moravian ministry in New York still exists, as one of the most blessed programs to the poor in the city.
Likewise, the Bowery Mission is still going on after one hundred and fifty years. And Jerry McCauley’s ministry to the poor is still in operation after one hundred and sixty years. God is meeting the needs of the poor – even though many churches have gone to dust!
We should not have to travel any farther than our own neighborhood to have the greatest kind of revival imaginable. God says that if we will deal our bread to the hungry, bring the poor into our house, cover the naked and give of our own soul to the hungry and suffering, he will guide us and provide for us continually. We will be like a well-watered garden – a spring of water whose waters never fail!
God is telling us, “Focus on helping others! Reach out to the poor, the hurting. I will answer you, guide you, satisfy you. You will be a spring of life to others. Your blessings will never fail!”
If you are not comfortable with this Old Testament teaching, listen to what Jesus said in the New Testament:
“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
“Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
“Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:4246).
“Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17).
You Can Have a Compassionate Heart.
At this point you may be saying, “I’d like to be compassionate, to help the needy. How can I make a change?”
I can only tell you that God will answer this prayer: “Lord, I see all the human needs around me. And I know that the only Jesus my neighbors may ever see is the one they’ll see through me and my church. God, you’re going to have to direct me. I’m ready with my wallet, my house, my time. Show me what to do, Lord!” Rest assured – God will bring those needs to your doorstep!
You may think, “But I have so many problems of my own. I can’t spend time helping others.” Let me ask you: Are you lonely? Volunteer to visit hurting people in a hospital or a rest home. You won’t be lonely before that night is over! Do you need a friend? Go to the street, find a homeless person and ask, “Are you hungry? Let’s go to McDonalds.” Buy that hurting person a hamburger and talk to him about Jesus.
God wants every one of us to be a part of his compassionate heart to the world. And if you’re willing to do that, he will send the needs to your doorstep.
So, present yourself to the Lord to be used. He will open all doors to you. Then you will truly know his heart of compassion!