When they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!"

Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else ..." (Mark 1:37-38 TNIV).

Following Jesus and ministering in his name fills life with hard choices. I faced some of those tough choices this past Friday. These hard choices led me to ask some hard questions:

When does compassion become the opportunity for others to take advantage of God's community?

Is there a time to ignore the professional "panhandler" who continues to live irresponsibly by taking advantage of well-intentioned people?

Can you walk away from someone, even those who are trying to take advantage of your kindness, and move on to another pressing need you feel is more important?

How do you know the difference between your own self-serving avoidance of a needy person and true mission-guided opportunity?

Jesus faced these challenges often. Many folks are startled to learn that Jesus actually did walk away from folks who were seeking him for a miracle (Mark 1:35-45) and he did "run off" folks who were trying to take advantage of his miracle-working ability for their own selfish interests (John 6:26-66). Yet, as the story about healing a man with leprosy makes clear (Mark 1:40-45), Jesus ministered out of his deep compassion for broken and wounded folks who needed his touch, his grace, and his power. So how can we know how to do what Jesus did and do it appropriately?

Clearly, Jesus didn't walk away from folks in need out of selfishness or avoidance. When he left behind those who were looking for him, he did so to specifically live out his God-ordained mission (Mark 1:38). He was able to discern between the two because he had tuned his heart to that mission through his regular times with the Father early in the morning while it was still dark, in a time and place of intentional prayer (Mark 1:35). What's more, when presented with a need directly in his path, Jesus did more than just physically heal: he touched and validated the value of people even when it wasn't culturally acceptable to do so (Mark 1:41). When Jesus did "run off" folks with his strong teaching, he didn't do it for selfish reasons. He did it to avoid the misperceptions and wrong desires of those seeking to highjack (John 6:14-27) — in other words, people were wanting Jesus to abandon his God-ordained ministry to give them what they wanted.

So what are we to make of all this? For me, Jesus' example provides us some good principles to help us in this struggle to balance compassion and mission.

First, I'm called to be compassionate as a follower of Jesus and I will be judged based on how I respond to people's needs (Matthew 25:31-46).

Second, I must stick to the mission God has given me and not get side-tracked by doing what is good when God has called me to do what is best (Mark 1:38;  Acts 20:24;  2 Timothy 4:6-8).

We're often just living off the residue of a past relationship with God!
Third, when a person who has needs is in my path, I must act with compassion and care, even if it interferes with some things I have planned to do (Mark 1:40-45;  Luke 10:25-37).

Fourth, and the focus my concern today, I've got to spend time with the Father tuning my heart to his will if I'm going to know how to stay on mission (Mark 1:35-38). While we can distill guidelines — like we're doing here — there's nothing that can replace living in the stories and events of Jesus' life to help us get a feel for how to live for him in these situations. When added to personal prayer where we offer ourselves to God and ask for his wisdom, this time with the Father in Scripture and prayer becomes a conduit of God's guidance and grace to help us (James 1:5-6; cf.  James 4:17).

Those of us who claim to follow Jesus are so often involved with books about Jesus and Christian stuff, we are so into the personalities and events of our religious world, and we are so busy in our regular lives that many of us have simply given up spending time with God on a daily basis. We're often just living off the residue of a past relationship with God, but are no longer in direct daily communion with our Father.

What we offer at www.heartlight.org — daily devotionals, Scripture graphics, and articles — are supplements to your daily walk with God. They can't replace regular daily Bible reading and prayer time. I strongly encourage you to commit yourself to daily time in the word using a method like Wayne Cordeiro outlines in his new book "The Divine Mentor" or by using one of the daily Bible reading plans from Heartlight. Without opening our hearts to God, without his stories from Scripture in the hands of the Holy Spirit to shape us and form our values, we are left adrift on the sea of good intentions, caught in the winds of our own culture's biases, and left to decide based on our own selfish whims.

How do open your heart up to God so you can be tuned by the Holy Spirit to live out your mission in the world?

How do you decide whether to "go somewhere else" or spend time with the folks clamoring for your attention and service?

What are some Scriptures you would add to this discussion that can be used to form us into the people God wants us to be?

I'd love to hear from you on my blog: