This post is from my keynote address at the Wilberforce Weekend hosted by The Chuck Colson Center in Washington DC on April 26. My actual remarks may have differed slightly from this transcript. Part 2 will be posted in a few days.
Most of you know that William Wilberforce's pastor, John Newton, wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace." There's a lyric from that song that says, "I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see." That's what I want to talk about this evening–what does it mean to not just have sight, but to truly see?
Consider Mother Teresa. In Calcutta, India, in her community, it was their custom to take ambulances every morning to the train station. There they would pick up the dying who had been abandoned there during the night. One morning they found a man in terrible condition. Rats were gnawing on him. Maggots had eaten his flesh down to the bone. He had only hours left to live.
Mother Teresa cared for him herself. She did all she could to comfort him and sat by him all morning in prayer. At the end, he briefly opened his eyes, said "Thank you," and died. Later that day she said with a smile, "I had the privilege this morning of caring for the dying Christ." A reference to Jesus' words in Matthew 25.
Mother Teresa has been widely praised as one of the most important Christian leaders of the 20th Century. She has been celebrated for her efforts to make the invisible kingdom visible by both Protestants and Catholics, by Christians and secularists. She was a tiny Albanian nun with no wealth, no position of power or authority, no great education. And yet presidents and popes listened to her. Countless millions have been inspired by her. What was the secret behind her influence?
I suggest that what made her different was not merely what she did in the world, but how she saw the world.
Where others saw a dying beggar, she saw the face of Christ. Where others saw worthless street kids, she saw the children of God. Where others saw a president, she saw a man like any other in need of a Savior's grace. Mother Teresa's sight, how she saw the world, proceeded her impact in the world.
That's what I want to talk to you about tonight–how we see the world. Because how we see the world will determine our actions within it. I am convinced that this is the central dilemma facing the church in the West. Consider that we have more Christian books, music, films, colleges, churches, institutions, merchandise, education and radio stations than any other believers in history. We do not lack resources. And we are seeing a generation of young Christians arise who want to change the world. They are activist determined to end poverty, human trafficking, provide clean water, and tackle numerous other plagues. We do not lack motivation. And yet indicators show the church is continuing to lose influence in the West. If it isn't resources or motivation that we lack, what is it?
Could it be sight? Might we be more focused on changing the world than allowing the Spirit of Christ to change the way we see the world? Have we forgotten that sight proceeds action?
This was a significant focus of Jesus' work with his own followers. Both his miracles and his parables were intended to open their eyes to see a different world. He wanted them to see a world in which it made sense to bless those who cursed you, a world where the first are last and the last first, a world where the outcast is given the seat of honor, where the widow's penny is the greatest offering, a world where a rejected and crucified King conquers all.