Pastor Alex Montoya has ministered in the inner city of Los Angeles for almost 50 years. In his book Preaching with Passion he addresses the need of the pastor to proclaim the Word of God with zeal, not a dry, cold stoicism. Chapter 3 urges the pastor to “Preach with Compassion,” and it ends with this moving testimony from Pastor Montoya’s own ministry. In light of all the heartache in our country and world today, I found it particularly timely for all believers, not just pastors.
There have been times in my ministry when an icy chill has come over my heart, when my soul no longer weeps, when my sermons no longer connect, and when the act of preaching becomes a drudgery. I know that I have then lost compassion for people. That is when I retreat to a small taco stand in the barrio of East Los Angeles, to a place where real people live. I order a cup of coffee and sit with my back against the wall. Then I watch, I observe, I read, and I listen intently for the heart cry.
I listen intently for the heart cry
A group of gang-bangers come in for a snack—one in four will die before the age of eighteen; two of the others will end up in prison. All are doomed to a hard life. A young mother comes in with her brood of youngsters. It is obvious that they are poor. They share drinks. They live in poverty; some will never see a forest or snow. An old drunk staggers in, begging for a meal. He is quickly thrown out. That was somebody’s baby boy. A mother at one time cradled that man and nursed him. The poor specimen of a man has children. His wife is somewhere out there. They have long since disowned him, but they have not forgotten him. He is still somebody’s daddy. For all I know, he could have been my own.
I look, I listen until I hear their cries, until their souls cry out to me, “Please help, I’m perishing!” Until the tears pour forth from my melted heart! I am in love with humanity once again. Now I am fit to ascend the pulpit, to weep with those who weep, to laugh with those who laugh, and to bring a living Word—Christ—to a needy people. Now I can preach with passion, for now I have compassion.