Watch out for little boys named Samuel. Little Samuel had his hand raised, and he was poised to answer the question. My wife, Jamie, and I were in Sheridan, Wyoming for a weekend of meetings. One was a local Christian school’s morning chapel service. As we talked to the kids about Taiwan, I watched Samuel’s eyes light up with what I thought was normal excitement about the exotic and far away places, but now I think that there was something more.
As we explained the daily fear that the Taiwanese experience from “ghosts” and evil spirits, the children began to understand the Taiwanese people’s need for Jesus. I talked about the idols that were made of stone and wood which sat in the temples never moving, and how the priests would beat on drums or bang on gongs to awaken their god. I then asked the children, “Do we have to wake up our God?” “NOOOO!” the children yelled back (Ps.121).But Samuel had his hand held high . . .
Quietly he said, “No, we don’t have to wake Him, but sometimes He has to wake us.” Suddenly it wasn’t Samuel, the boy, talking to me, but God speaking through Samuel, the prophet.
Prophets come in different shapes and sizes, and different levels of obedience. Take Jonah for example. He heard God’s command to go to Nineveh, and yet he ran . . . as though there was some place to run. Who can flee from the presence of God? As the story unfolds, he tries to hide in a ship going the wrong way, and God sends a mighty storm. The waves were towering and crashing upon the ship enough to alarm this sea-hardened crew. In sheer terror, they began to make offerings and sacrifices to their gods, begging for mercy and protection. As the storm raged, they grabbed all the merchandise that they were hauling, all that was to be their source of profit, and cast it overboard trying to help the ship stay afloat. Still death was imminent. All this while the prophet of God, the one who knew the Maker of the land and the sea, the wind and the waves, slept unconcerned in the hull below.
Have you seen the planet lately? I have. I’ve watched as people smash spiked balls into their faces and slice their backs open with swords, all in honor of their idol. I know of children’s summer camps to which parents send their kids just for the purpose of becoming demon possessed, so they can then return back home with profit potential through healing, fortune telling or demon exorcisms. I’ve read of cyclones smashing into Bangladesh killing hundreds of thousands in one blow. I hear of entire ethnic groups wiped out because of hatred and others starved to the brink of extinction. All of the world’s peoples are caught in the giant storm of life. It inevitably signals their death. In sheer terror, they rush to worship whatever deity they have, sacrificing and begging for survival. All of their cries go unheard and unheeded, so in greater desperation they throw everything they own and care about to their false gods, and still the storm rages unabated, destroying young and old alike. And those who know nothing about Jesus, those who have never even had the opportunity to hear of Him, die; fifty-five thousand of them every day fall into eternity without Jesus.
Jonah was asleep in the hull. The captain came down and roared, “Is now the time to sleep?” Our Captain is calling to the Church today in no uncertain terms, “IS NOW THE TIME TO SLEEP? I gave you the commission to go, yet you run, covering your ears with petty concerns and little ambitions for your own well being. You get into a vessel of your own choosing for a destination of selfishness. But I gave everything, left security and My comforts that you might have life. Why then do you, who call yourselves by My Name, refuse to rescue the perishing? Why do so many Christians honor Me with their lips, but refuse to imitate Me with their lives? With half the world knowing nothing about Me, is now the time to sleep?”
Some years ago a minister was traveling in a car; his wife and a young son, a boy eight years old, were with him in the front seat. They were traveling through hilly country, and the road was wet. A car going in the same direction passed them at a terrific rate of speed. As they came over a hill, they saw the car again, just as the young man driving it lost control, and it turned across the highway. Coming from the other direction was another car, also traveling at a high speed, and it crashed into the first one. In a moment the highway was littered with debris and with the torn, broken bodies of the occupants of both cars.
The little boy saw the catastrophe. He became pale as a sheet. He did not speak a word the rest of the way. In fact, none of them did. They had nothing to say.
When they arrived at their destination, the parents were disturbed at their son’s nervousness. They put him to bed. Ten o’clock came; then eleven; then twelve; then after twelve-and still the boy remained awake.
His father sat beside him, trying to calm him, and said, “Sweet-heart, won’t you try to sleep?”
Suddenly the little fellow’s emotions overcame him. He burst into tears and said, “Daddy, when people die, can we sleep?”
It seems we can. Like Jonah we seem to sleep without regard to the terror the unreached peoples face. Because we are in our eternal security, we have nary a thought as to their predicament. We sing Sunday after Sunday about the great salvation that is ours and only occasionally, and begrudgingly at that, give a week over to “them” and their concerns. Keith Green, who passed away in 1982, said it best, “He rose from the grave! And you can’t even get out of bed.”
One day, while I was not sleeping, I had a dream. Some would call it a vision. I was standing on cracked and dry earth that stretched out before me like a giant plain. The sun beat hotly on me as I surveyed the three figures in front of me. You have seen them before: three starving boys. Victims of a famine. Crouched weakly on the ground, all three were in desperate need of life-giving sustenance. The reddish hair, the protruding belly, (all tell-tale signs of malnutrition) struck an eerie contrast to the skeleton-like bodies, too weak to lift a hand and chase away the flies that crawled about them.
Each of the three boys had a plate. On the first boy’s plate was an unbelievable sight. It was piled high with food. Roasted chicken, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, bread and more. So much food was on this first boy’s plate that some of it had spilled off and was now on the ground around the plate. It was literally full and overflowing. The mystery was that although he had plenty of food to survive and regain health, the boy was still starving. It looked to me as though he had not eaten anything, though if he wanted to, he clearly could.
On the second boy’s plate was a healthy serving of food. It wasn’t a pile like the first, but enough to sustain the boy and provide his body with all the much needed proteins, vitamins and nutrients. But just like the first boy, the second boy wasn’t eating. There it was: everything they needed for life! Yet, they would not. Instead, they sat there getting worse with each passing moment. It was then that I noticed the last boy.
I don’t know why I didn’t look to him sooner, but he was the last boy on which I fixed my attention. This third boy was dying, even as the first two were. He also had a plate before him, but there was no food on it. There wasn’t even a crumb. It was empty. I looked at that precious third child and knew that he didn’t even have a chance at food. His dark eyes looked back at me and still do.
I suddenly knew that I was not alone in this vision. Jesus was guiding me through it. He stood behind me and gently touched my arms as He spoke, “Who will you feed?” I looked down at my hands, and in them I had food … not a pile … only enough to give to one of the boys. All three were starving, but the first two had an option. They could choose to eat. The third boy had no option. As it stood right then, he would starve to death without ever having a chance at food. My decision was obvious. My food would go to the third plate.
The third plate. I think that most of us look at it last or give it last place on our priority list. I know of many well-intentioned churches and individuals who will talk about it, but they never practically get around to seeing any food getting to the third plate. Somehow it all ends up in the first or at best the second plate.
Am I talking a mystery to you? Let me speak clearly. I quote Oswald Smith, the founder of Faith Promise, when I say, “What right do we have to preach the Gospel to anyone twice, while there are those who have yet to hear it once?” How can we continue to turn a deaf ear to the cries of those who are looking into a night with no dawn, a future without hope, an eternity without Jesus. Dear friends, Jesus always places us between Himself and the multitudes. His command is still the same, “You feed them.”
(This article is an adaptation of a sermon by John W. Zumwalt.)