After his triumph in the Olympics, Eric Liddell returned to China as a missionary and served God compassionately until his premature death from a brain tumor at age forty-three.
But, Liddell saw no conflict between his two great passions. It was impossible for him to separate his passion for running from his passion for God because he knew that both came from the same source. His sister worried that athletics would rob him of his fervor for God. But Liddell told her, “I believe that God made me for a purpose: for China. But He also made me fast! When I run, I feel His pleasure. . . . It’s not just fun; to win is to honor Him.” Liddell had tapped into a vital truth in the Bible: “Those who honor Me I will honor” (1 Samuel 2:30).
The Flying Scot did not regard running as an opportunity to glorify himself but as an opportunity to glorify God, the source of his talent. To run without passion would have tarnished the passion he professed for God. He believed that his athletic ability was to be managed and used for the glory of God. Therefore, as a compassionate servant of God, he honed and utilized his gift of speed in a manner that would please his Master, the Giver of his gift. And he did the same as a missionary in China.
We are empowered to live a truly compassionate life when serving God is the object behind everything we do. Our passion is diluted when we live only to gratify self or win the approval of others. Peter and the other apostles of the early church made it clear who was at the center of their activities: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The compassionate ministry of these dedicated leaders resulted in thousands of people turning to Christ.
Paul wrote, “Do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). Remember, Paul had been a very successful Pharisee, a well-educated man, a Roman citizen with every privilege that status entailed. Yet he gave it all up to live wide open, to follow his passion for Jesus Christ. He was consumed with that passion, and it gave him joy in every circumstance—even while sitting in prison or waiting for slow legal appeals when he wanted to be traveling and preaching. “To live is Christ,” Paul said, “and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). There is no reason that you and I cannot live a compassionate life with such an unsinkable view of reality.
In serving others, we serve Christ, and we do so as acts of perfect worship. There may be a time when you help a stranger change a flat tire during a rainstorm, and you tell her, “I know this is what Jesus would want me to do.” There may be another time when you make an anonymous financial donation to a good cause—no one knows but God, and it’s a compassionate offering pure and fragrant in His eyes. In Romans 12:1, Paul urges us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God as our “reasonable service.” Paul saw compassionate service as worship.
One of the biblical terms for worship actually means “to serve.” While the emphasis in the Old Testament had been upon worship that was law-based, the New Testament reveals a new kind of worship—one that is not law-based, but life-based—a lifestyle enabling the spiritual element of worship to travel with us and become manifest in compassionate encounters such as the one between Jesus and the woman at the well. This is the “new and living way” of worship (Hebrews 10:20) that makes it not merely private, but a social endeavor. In service-based worship, you’ll never forget that in every social encounter, you are glorifying the Lord. That mind-set changes the Christian’s social behavior.
True happiness is found in giving to others. Many people wanted to lift Jesus up as king, but He simply said, “I did not come to be ministered unto, but to minister.” A person who truly wants to be happy will find great joy in compassionately serving others.
Phillip Yancey, a journalist who interviews many sports and entertainment stars, finds that those with the highest profiles never seem to be happy. They’re nearly always unfulfilled, self-doubting, and unhappy. But those who chose to give their lives to service had a depth and richness that Yancey envies. The doctors working with outcasts, the missionaries translating the Bible into new languages, and the relief workers who had left high-paying jobs for obscurity and service were the ones who found fulfillment and satisfaction in their lives of compassion for others. Some would argue that they were “wasting” their talents, but these people had discovered that true happiness is found not in getting what you want, but in giving to others what they need, which is true compassion.
*For more information on the above questions, see Dr. Jeremiah’s book My Heart’s Desire and his study guide entitled How to Be Happy According to Jesus.