Having walked the same route from the MRT station to the bus interchange countless times, I knew the drill: Avoid colliding into others, stay glued to my smartphone, flash a polite but firm smile to insurance agents.
The commute was quicker rushing this way, and it was also easier to ignore the tissue paper sellers and buskers by the wayside. I felt like they were an impediment to my journey.
Honestly … I found them annoying.
Three months ago, after a long day spent in the city, I noticed a man selling packets of tissue paper along my usual route. I’d never seen him before and thought of blessing him with a few dollars.
But weary, I was reluctant to slow down for him. Immediately, I felt the Spirit asking me, “Would you stop for him?”
“Not today, Lord,” I said in my heart as I walked past the man.
The Spirit tugged at my heart. I remembered then how I committed to not grieving Him, and how I wanted to obey His every prompting.
Turning around, I walked over to the man and asked if he’d eaten. “你好，吃饱了吗?”
I introduced myself and enquired about his well-being. He shared that he could not find a proper job because of his physical disability.
I felt compassion growing in my heart, and I told him that he is valuable in God’s eyes. Though he had seen many walk past him and ignore him, I told him God loves and cares for him. By grace, I then led him in a prayer of re-dedication to Jesus Christ and invited him to my home church.
That was the start of our unlikely friendship.
In time, I made friends with another lady who was also selling tissue paper in the same area. Despite our significant age difference, our conversations were meaningful and comfortable. We talked about everything from religion, to her family, even her health conditions.
I always felt like I was speaking to a friend.
I began to look forward to these simple conversations in the evenings as I travelled home. I knew my new friends’ personal stories and the reasons behind their livelihood. These conversations were no longer impersonal small talk – we would actually catch up on each other’s lives.
However, after two months of consistently seeking them out and chatting with them, I somehow developed compassion fatigue.
I ran out of patience and love. Previously, I wouldn’t flinch at spending $10 or even 15 minutes of my time with them. But suddenly, I was tired and unwilling to share my time and money with them.
The initial zeal of loving my neighbour gave way to weariness. I elevated my personal convenience above loving others and obeying the Spirit.
Soon, I found myself taking a detour whenever I walked between the MRT station and bus interchange, just so that I wouldn’t bump into them and need to stop for a simple conversation.
I was back to the apathy of square one.
A fortnight ago, the Spirit prompted me to read John 4. In that chapter, John records Jesus’ journey from Jerusalem towards Galilee.
Taking the most direct path would lead him through Samaria: An area occupied by the Samaritans who were despised by the Jews for their half-Jew, half-Gentile ethnicity.
They were marginalised for their mixed race and pagan religion. So Jews commonly avoided Samaria, taking a detour along the Jordan River in the east.
But Jesus “had to” (John 4:4) pass through Samaria. There, He stopped for one Samaritan woman at a well, promising her living water. Consequently, her entire town was brought to salvation (John 4:1–45).
Even in His travels, Jesus submitted to the Spirit’s leading. Though tradition meant it wasn’t necessary to pass through Samaria, Jesus was in tune with the Spirit, and knew He had to travel through a place normally avoided by others.
In the original Greek, “had to” indicates a necessity arising from a command. For Jesus, obeying the Spirit was the most important thing. Societal pressures or personal comforts were not part of His considerations.
Jesus’ compassionate commute was a stark contrast to my recent approach with the tissue paper sellers. I was deeply convicted that I had a selfish and loveless heart for others.
Jesus told His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:34). He lived with the sole intention of accomplishing God’s purpose. To this end, Jesus was always in close fellowship with the Father (John 17:21), doing exactly what the Father showed Him.
If we are to imitate Christ, we need to first experience God’s love. We only love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). It is only out of a loving relationship with God that we are able to love other people.
In other words, without regular and personal encounters with the love of Jesus, it is impossible to conjure up genuine love for those by the wayside.
It is only out of a loving relationship with God that we are able to love other people.
Meditating on John 4, I was moved by Jesus’ intentionality in loving the Samaritan woman. I endeavoured to emulate his pattern and told God, “Help me to love others like you would, Lord.”
In time, I started walking my normal route again – purposefully stopping for my friends.
Who is God telling you to stop for? As we go about our daily business, let’s remain mindful of those by the wayside: Tissue sellers, office colleagues or even next-door neighbours.
Your one conversation could possibly be the only godly one they have with anyone the entire day – perhaps even their whole life.
This article was first published on Selah.sg and was republished with permission.