"But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd." (Matthew 9:36)
The memories of those early days are still fresh. You see, I knew the difference between right and wrong, I simply chose wrong. I had a godly mother who prayed and fasted for me, and had been married almost two years when I stopped running from God and started running toward Him. My father returned to the Lord, mostly brought on by the sudden and unexpected death of my older brother. He was now pursuing the call of God on his life that was forsaken in his youth.
I can honestly say I was won over by the godly example of my young wife and the thought of what kind of father I would be to my young son, not yet a year old. Living in a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky, working as a plain clothes police investigator, I was on a pathway that most likely would have led to an early death. But, the Lord heard my cry and forgave me of the sin that had saturated my life.
I've heard people say, "I found the Lord." In reality, God was never lost...I was. He came and found me and turned my life around. I no longer sought the temporary pleasures of the world to satisfy the longing in my heart and soul, now, I found myself seeking Someone whom I thought could never be apprehended. But now, He apprehended me.
I had such a longing to know Him more that I devoured the Bible, reading everything I could get my hands on to understand it. Suddenly, I wanted to be in church, among the people of God. In the past, I had viewed the church people to be hypocrites, but now, I wanted to be with them. I wanted to talk about Jesus, I wanted to know more about Him, so in my mind, there was not better way than to be near and talk to those who were near Him. As an investigator, I knew the value of finding witnesses to verify truth or recognize error...what better place to start than among His people?
I spent long times of prayer and seeking, experiencing an inexpressible hunger for others, even total strangers, to experience what had happened to me. I wanted them to know about the life change that I had experienced...confident that He could and would change them too.
I heard a preacher by the name of Bishop Harper Hunter express this inner drive as a "soul burden." Then, I read a book of sermons by Bishop Buford Johnson where he wrote the same thing, going so far as to say that God is looking for someone to "stand in the gap," and "make up a hedge" around lost people. It all began to make sense.
For the next thirty-plus years that "soul burden" gripped me.
It caused me to change course more than once, to leave mother and father and extended family to go wherever doors opened. At first there weren't a lot of calls or opportunities to preach so, led by the Lord I found people in walks of life and simply shared what had happened to me. I shared that I was on a path to death and destruction but now, I could lay my head on a pillow at night with confidence that to be absent from my body meant to be present with the Lord.
I prayed the prayer of faith with people on the street, in the hospital, in nursing homes and jails. At times, driven by this "soul burden" I even went door-to-door inviting people to know this great joy and peace I had found.
Having been a high school dropout, the U.S. Army required that I complete a G.E.D. to enlist, so that is exactly what I pursued. Recognizing that there was so much knowledge and understanding missing in my life I enrolled in college. First at Central Texas College I enrolled in classes and completed them. Then I attended college and seminary in Indiana. Yet with all of the learning I consumed, I found that it did not replace this "soul burden." At the end of the day, it was not a college degree that I was seeking, but rather more knowledge and understanding to present this wonderful message of the Gospel.
I had the "soul burden" as an evangelist and pastor, and for the past 15 plus years as a Presiding Bishop (State Overseer) it is still there.
After all of these years it is becoming increasingly evident to me that it is not the formal education or even the experience of ministry that matters most. What matters most is a burden for lost men and women, boys and girls. Without a burden for souls, we may be professional ministers and administrators, but at the end of the day we will not be fulfilled.
I am praying daily for the Lord to increase the Burden for Souls in my heart and life and I am praying the same for others. I pray, "Dear Lord, please wake us up to the reality of the eternal. Touch me, change me, mold me and make me into a witness for you. Increase the burden for souls...give me souls or I will die."
"The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." (Jeremiah 8:20)