About a month ago, I wrote this song called “Love Looks Like Something.” Before we jump into the song diary and unravel the inspiration behind this song, here are the song and lyrics:
Your sentiment is great, but it doesn’t heal my pain
You can say all that you want, but it doesn’t make a change
If you won’t even consider lifting just a finger
To clothe the naked, feed the poor, help the needy, heal their sores
‘Cause Love looks like something
It’s not just words, not just a feeling
Love looks like something
It’s not just wishing, not just believing
Your sympathy is fine; it can surely ease your mind
But my circumstance remains; it won’t change just ‘cause you sigh
No matter how good your intentions, it makes no difference what you say
Without the practical expression, the words you service have no weight
Love is choosing to hear the cries
Love is not turning a blind eye
Love is giving up my rights
Love is laying down my life
“But I’m Not the ‘Evangelistic Type’”
This song was birthed out of a season of God speaking to me about this issue of Social Compassion. To be honest, I never used to think about this issue very much. I’ve dabbled in the past with compassion ministries, passing out food to homeless people on the streets, ministering to the elderly in homes, and even sponsoring a child, who lives in Congo, on a monthly basis through World Vision (he has the same birthday as me, July 5) for the last ten years.
For the most part, I felt content and justified with my share of “social work.” I felt like I was giving enough into the world, in terms of money and good deeds. Plus, I didn’t consider myself to be the “evangelistic type,” and social compassion is the work of an evangelist not a “worship leader,” like me—at least that’s what I believed. I had relegated myself to the “worship ministry” and therefore I didn’t have to “get my hands dirty” like other people who were called to feed the homeless and serve the poor. That was their ministry, not mine. All I had to do was worship and pray from the sidelines, affecting the atmosphere with my particular talents and “anointing,” not actually going out there and doing the “dirty work.” (Hey, I’m being honest)
Is Social Compassion Optional?
But it was when I listened to these two sermons by Timothy Keller– “Blueprint for Revival: Social Concern” and “Justice” (I listened to them over and over again)—that, all of a sudden, I began to question whether or not I was even a Christian (!). In this series, Keller presents the issue of social compassion the way that Jesus presented it—as one of the most significant signs of true faith and love of God. When the law expert asks Jesus in Luke 10:25-37, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus points him back to the foundation of the Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer then asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
What proceeds from Jesus’ mouth would be considered by many Bible scholars to be hugely significant, considering the context. Jesus had just laid out the two most important commands for any believer, and now he gives us an example of how to live it out by telling the story of the Good Samaritan.
This is how Timothy Keller describes it: “When Jesus goes on to show the law expert the essence of the kind of life that God requires of all human beings, he brings up Social Compassion and Social Work. This is a great shock for most people. Although most people think it’s nice to help the poor and do social work, almost everyone in the church thinks of it as an optional thing. ‘We should all worship, evangelize, fellowship, sit and listen to teachings of the word of God… but social compassion is optional.’ Jesus is saying, That’s not true.”
Jesus is telling us WHAT LOVE IS by definition. In Matthew 25, Jesus describes what it will be like when we come before God at the end. Do you know how God will tell the real believers from the counterfeit? It’s simple: “I was sick, you didn’t care for me. I was hungry, you didn’t feed me…”
Basically, Jesus is saying, “Your attitude toward the poor reveals your attitude toward Me.” And to those who did not serve others in this way, Jesus will say, “Depart from me, you evildoers.”
The Inevitable Sign of Real Faith
Jesus is not saying that our social work will get us to heaven. It’s an attitude of life, a life poured out in deeds of service to people in need. In other words, social compassion is the inevitable sign of real faith. The inevitable sign. For example, fruit and leaves on a tree do not give the tree life. But fruit and leaves on a tree are the sign that the tree has life.
God will tell who has real faith by whether their love has expressed itself through deeds and not just sentiment.
(And that is why I started off my song with this line: “Your sentiment is great but it doesn’t heal my pain.” Sentiment is great; feeling emotional remorse and sympathy for others is great, if it leads to action. Otherwise, it’s essentially useless.)
The following quote is incredibly sobering, and it certainly challenged me when I first heard it. Robert Murray McCheyne was a Scottish minister in the 1800’s, and he spoke the following quote during a sermon to his congregation:
I fear there are some Christians among you to whom Christ cannot say ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.’ Your haughty dwelling arises in the midst of thousands who have scarce a fire to warm themselves at and have but little clothing to keep out the biting frost, and yet you never darkened their door. You heave a sigh perhaps at a distance, but you do not visit them. Ah my dear friends, I am concerned for the poor, but more for you. I know not what Christ will say to you on the great day. You seem to be Christians, and yet you care not for his poor. Oh, what a change will pass upon you as you enter the gates of heaven! You will be saved, but that will be all. There will be no abundant entrance for you. ‘He that soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly.’
And I fear that there may be many hearing me who may know well that they are not Christians, because they do not love to give. To give largely and liberally, not grudging at all, requires a new heart. An old heart would rather part with its life-blood than its money. Oh my friends, enjoy your money. Make the most of it. Give none of it away. Enjoy it quickly, for I can tell you, you will be beggars throughout eternity.
(Just let that soak in. If it hasn’t hit you yet, I’d encourage you to read it again, slower and out loud.)
The first time I heard this quote in Timothy Keller’s sermon, I felt like I had just been hit by a ton of bricks. I was literally walking on a treadmill in the gym, and I had to stop. Especially when he said, “You seem to be Christians, and yet you care not for his poor.” I felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room and suddenly I was faced with a harsh reality… Just because I say I am a Christian doesn’t mean I am one. At the end of the day, my actions reveal the true condition of my heart. And God looks at the heart.
I realized two things: 1) my revelation of the Gospel was a lot shallower than I had thought and 2) so was my love. Because the Gospel is what propels us to go out of our way to love others—even our enemies—because that’s what Jesus did for us. Yet I would more often feign ignorance of others’ needs in order to protect my own comfort and convenience, rather than choose to lay down my life to serve others. It felt like an open-heart surgery, and I was seeing for the first time all of the selfishness and pride inside of me.
God Requires A Practical Response
A few weeks after hearing Timothy Keller’s sermons, my heart was still sore from the open-heart surgery. It was galvanizing, no doubt, but I still had no clue what I could do to respond to what I had heard. A practical message like this one required a practical response, and I struggled to figure out what that would look like for me, in my environment.
Of course, God quickly provided an opportunity for me to put it into practice. I began connecting with a married couple in my revival group and asking how I could practically serve them (because the husband has MS and is completely paralyzed; the wife has to take care of him full-time, which is hard to manage along with school). We began to reflect on why there still seems to be a lack of practical compassion in the church towards the sick and needy in the congregation. For instance, do you ever feel a slight annoyance or even disdain towards brothers and sisters who are still sick, still weak, still needy… despite all the prayer and attention that they have received? Like, why can’t you just get up and walk already!
Sometimes we can get so focused on the destination of healing that we forget to love the person in the process towards healing—it is definitely more convenient to heal the sick than to actually love and serve them. Love is inconvenient. Real love is sacrifice.
Social Compassion: The Key To Healing?
As I was talking with the wife, she said to me, “Melody, you actually have a lot of influence. You are able to write songs. You can write a song about this issue.”
So I took it to heart. A few days later, I woke up at 4:30am and felt a burning in my spirit to write this song. I opened up the Bible and began searching through the Scriptures for what God had to say about social compassion. One particular passage stood out to me, and it was Isaiah 58, in which God is speaking to the Israelites about what “true fasting” looks like:
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
The Israelites were doing a whole bunch of spiritual things. Verse 2-3 says, “For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right… They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’”
But what was it that God wanted? Verse 6-7 lays it out for us, and one could summarize it in two words: Social Compassion.
What did the Israelites want? Verse 8 gives us a clue: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear.” Could it be that, the KEY to the healing we all want to see, for our brother or sister, is in our willingness to SERVE them before they are healed?
You might be thinking, “Hey, but God doesn’t give sickness to people. God is a GOOD Father. He doesn’t use sickness to teach us a lesson. That’s cruel!”
I’m just saying what the Bible is saying! Yes, God’s desire is to heal us, and He is a good Father. But COULD IT BE that God cares more about our hearts, whether or not we have learned to LOVE, than how quickly we receive our healing? Because healing is a cinch for Him. That’s not an issue for Him. But perhaps the greater issue for Him is whether or not we have grown in LOVE, because that’s who He is—God is Love. And love looks like something. It looks like going out of your way to cook a meal for a family in need, inconveniencing yourself to help a handicapped man out of the car, giving up sleep to write a song, or sacrificing time and energy to create encouraging cards for orphans in Cambodia. All of these things are practical expressions of love…
But how many times do we stop short of love? We say, “You mean a lot to me. I really do care about you,” but we do nothing? That is like Jesus’ rebuke against the Pharisees, “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:4).
My Prayer: God, Raise Up an Army of True Lovers!
My prayer is to grow in love. My desire is to constantly be reminded of the true meaning of the Gospel. I love because He first loved me. He laid down His life for me, so now I gladly lay down my life for Him. He was the suffering servant, so now I gladly serve and wash the feet of those around me.
I also pray that these never remain rhetoric but that the Gospel becomes living and breathing inside of me and that it bears visible fruit in my life—that people may see and praise God. I want my faith to be REAL, not dead (James 2:17). I pray my heart always remains sensitive to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and tender to the people around me, that my love LOOKS LIKE SOMETHING.
Finally, I pray that this song blesses all those who hear it. I want to see a generation awakened to the meaning and expression of real love. Love is more than words, more than a feeling. God, raise up an army of true lovers!