Knowing God’s heart

Jason Meyer

Pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church

Point Magazine // January 2019

The heart of God

It seems to me that many people have lost their sense of awe when it comes to the off-the-charts, never-ending, inexhaustible love of God. One of the best ways to reclaim our awe is to be confronted with the way God Incarnate responds to people in the Gospels.

Consider Jesus’ response to the crowds that followed him: “When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk. 6:34, ESV). Jesus had taken the disciples to a desolate place to rest from the crowds, but the people ran ahead and beat him to the spot.

How did Jesus respond? Irritation? Frustration? No. He responded with compassion. There is a wonderful Greek word for “compassion”: splanchnizomai. It may not mean anything to you unless you have a medical background and know it is the root of our English word splanchnology (the study of the gut). This word for “compassion” is only used of Jesus in the New Testament.

Jesus did not have superficial pity for people. He had compassion for them — deep down in the very depths of his being.

Have you ever heard the expression a gut feeling? It means you feel something way down deep. You can give yourself a stomachache by caring about something so much you make yourself sick with worry.

From the depths of his being, Jesus ached for these lost people because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He had come to gather his lost flock by laying down his life for his sheep (Jn. 10:15).

But the gathering of sheep did not cease with the Gospels. Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn. 10:16, ESV).

Where are these sheep today? And are God’s commissioned people responding to them as Jesus would — with compassion?

Levels of lostness

Today there are an estimated 7.6 billion people in the world. If the population rate of growth stays the same, that number will soar to 9 billion people in 20 years.

The problem of reaching the lost is not merely mathematical — like saying there are lots of lost people. The problem is that there are different levels of lostness: (1) lost people, (2) unreached peoples and (3) unengaged peoples.

First, there are many lost people. They are lost and don’t know Christ, but they have the benefit of being surrounded by a strong gospel witness because many gospel-believing churches are around them. They are lost, but they have access to the truth that Jesus came to seek and save the lost.

Second, there are unreached peoples. This is a different level of lostness. It is bad enough to be lost in a place with a gospel witness. But it is far worse to be lost in a place without a strong gospel witness.

The Joshua Project, a research initiative seeking to highlight the ethnic people groups of the world with the fewest followers of Christ, distinguishes 17,016 people groups in the world. Of these, 7082 people groups are still categorized as unreached by the gospel. 

“Unreached” people groups are defined as being less than 2 percent evangelical Christians. The reason so few are reached by the gospel is that there are few gospel workers and, therefore, a weak gospel witness.

Over 7000 people groups — representing 3.14 billion people — have almost no chance to hear about Jesus because of such a sparse Christian witness.

Third, there is a level of lostness worse than unreached. People groups on this level are not only unreached, but also unengaged. Unengaged people groups have no gospel witness because there are no gospel workers.

But it gets even worse. Not only do they have no gospel workers, they are not even on the radar screen for a gospel witness. No one is even targeting them to bring them the gospel.

Among these people groups, Christ is unknown, untranslated, unheralded, unloved. He doesn’t have first place — he has no place. The entire people group is headed for the worst place, where only weeping and everlasting misery exists. And many of God’s people have no plans to do anything about it. 

They are unengaged and untargeted. They are out of sight and out of mind. Finishing the Task, an association of mission agencies and churches, has recently identified 963 unengaged people groups.

Unengaged people groups suffer the greatest level of lostness and should receive the greatest depths of our compassion. We want them to be off the list of the unengaged and move all the way to the Lamb’s book of life.

Christ should have first place everywhere, in everything. Among these people groups, Christ is unknown, untranslated, unheralded, unloved. He doesn’t have first place — he has no place.

The entire people group is headed for the worst place, where only weeping and everlasting misery exists. And many of God’s people have no plans to do anything about it.

Where is our compassion?

How can God’s people be complacent in the face of these facts? We should not be OK with these things.

Companies like Coca-Cola are working harder than we are to reach these people groups, only so they can profit from them through their products. They will reach them for a price. We need to reach them because our Savior already paid the price.

Therefore, people who know Jesus’ name need to go and tell the unengaged. But far from telling them, we are not even targeting them.

More than 70,000 people die every day in the unengaged and unreached world without the chance to even hear the name of Jesus or learn about the eternal salvation he provides.

I put that number into perspective every day when I pray for the unengaged people groups. I live in Roseville, Minnesota, with a population in 2016 of 35,691. Twice the population of Roseville dies every day and dives headlong into the eternal agonies of hell. And they did not even have a chance to hear our Savior’s name.

Christians spend more money to put Halloween costumes on their pets than to engage the unengaged. These facts do not align with the heart of Christ.

Let’s also get specific about the problem in terms of missionary workers and ministry money. One would think the most lost places on earth would be the largest targets for missionaries. But 90 percent of all foreign missionaries work among people groups already-reached.

The places that need workers most receive the fewest. The places least reached also get the least amount of our offerings. American Christians spend 95 percent of offerings on home-based ministry, 4.5 percent on cross-cultural efforts in people groups already-reached and 0.5 percent to reach the unreached.

In other words, if you look at the distribution of foreign mission funding, 87 percent goes for work among those already Christian, 12 percent for work among the already evangelized but non-Christian and 1 percent for work among unreached people groups.

The 38 most unreached places in the world receive the least amount of money (0.1 percent of all Christian giving is directed toward bringing Jesus’ name to those people and places.). 

Christians spend more money to put Halloween costumes on their pets than to engage the unengaged. These facts do not align with the heart of Christ.

We need to know his heart to share his heart

God’s people are not putting the heart of God on display for the least-reached peoples on the planet. But to tell of God’s heart, we first need to know God’s heart. Therefore, we must press on to know the Lord.

The Great Shepherd will bring his lost sheep into the fold, but he will use his people who know his heart. The closer we get to Christ, the more of his heart we will know.

He had a passion to seek and save the lost. The closer we get to the Great Shepherd, the more passion we will have for his passion.

Henry Martyn, early missionary to India and Persia, said it well: “The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to him, the more intensely missionary we become.”

Let us press on to grow nearer to him to reach further for him.


Jason Meyer, Pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church

Jason Meyer is the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Additional articles by Jason Meyer