Why in the world would anyone be a minister, a doctor, a nurse, or a teacher? What gives people a service heart? What drives a person to work day after day in demanding service professions, focused more on the needs of others than personal gratification? Service careers that offer significant pay usually imply limited time to enjoy the fruits of their labors! Unfortunately most teachers, fireman, nurses, police man and ministers cannot pay their bills without a spouse bringing home another check to meet the family responsibilities.
Perhaps, some people select a service career because of expectations of their parents. Others submit to a mystical calling to a service career. For example, Mother Teresa was highly influenced by stories about missionaries serving in Bengal and by age 12 was certain that she would commit her life to religious service. Others work tirelessly because of an internal drive they can’t name. For me, compassion is the wood that sustains my fire. We read in Matthew 9:36 that compassion motivated Jesus, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
I grew up on a farm in southeastern Iowa. Life in the 1950s for a tenant farmer was tedious financially. My parents encouraged me to earn money for my college education. I started with three sheep. My flock had grown to nearly forty by the time I graduated from high school. Then tragedy struck.
One evening I forgot to lock my sheep in the protection of the barn. I woke up with a start and immediately thought of the flock. I ran through the back lot and down the dirt driveway by our two ponds filled with fish and bullfrogs to the hillside where the sheep normally grazed, but they were not there. By now, panic drove my legs faster and faster scanning the hillsides as I ran from field to field. When I found them, it was obvious that wild roving dogs had ravaged them. Eight were dead, ten brutally torn and gashed, and those unharmed from the attack trembled. I stood and cried over my flock. I learned the real consequences for sheep left without a shepherd. In that moment, God was writing a script for my life.. I didn’t realize it, but that experience etched a lifetime urge to serve others with emotional, physical and spiritual needs.
As I think about the people of the world today, my heart fills with compassion. Many, like my sheep, are spiritually dead without a faith in a higher being. Others are brutally torn by the world, unable to find a sense of security. Many of the masses live in fear with no answer for their anxiety. They wait and watch expectantly for some witness of resolve or hope.
I define compassion as a consistent sensitivity and response to the needs of others. A service career allows an individual to respond to the needs of the world.
My painful experience with my sheep herd was likely one of the first times I felt the birth of a passion that would eventually feed my energy and fulfillment for my adult life. Until today, I periodically revisit those pastures in my mind’s eye to refresh my purpose for a life of service.