Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Growing Compassion

 


One of the marks of Christian maturity is an increased capacity for compassion.  The longer we follow Jesus, the more compassion we have for people. This compassion even extends to people who are in bad circumstances caused by their own choices.

When I was younger it was easy for me to judge people who were enduring bad circumstances in their lives. 

“After all,” I reasoned; “if they would make better choices they wouldn’t find themselves in that circumstance.” 

Compassion was absent from my heart. 

Over the last several years God has transformed my heart. Rather than blaming people for their difficult circumstances my heart breaks for them. I realize most of the time they are in those circumstances, not because they want a difficult life, but because they don’t know there is a better way to live.

As Matthew put it: they are “confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

I don’t want to diminish the responsibility each of us has for the choices that we make. I do want to point out that the choices we make are hardly ever black and white. Most of the time our choices are the result of a complex mixture of experiences, emotions, and environment. 

The reality is that all of us make decisions based on the information that we have.
1 Peter 1:18 (NLT)
For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 
This has been a key verse in understanding the choices people make and one of the reasons I have more compassion for them.

People live the way they were taught to live. The choices that they make sense to them in the light of what they know.

 Imagine how your life would be different if you were raised differently. Things that seem to be “common sense” may not even be known to you. 

Peter tells us that much of the world, instead of inheriting a life of faith in Jesus, they inherited a life given to them by their ancestors, a life that is empty. It is not their fault, it is simply the hand that they were dealt.

On top of inheriting an empty way of life, many people struggle with habits and addictions that are difficult to break free from. Again, it isn’t necessarily their fault. They may want to get out, but they are trapped in a prison of their own creation.

In a real sense people are victims of outside forces. 

When we read the gospels it appears that when Jesus looked at a crowd of people he didn’t see dirty rotten sinners; instead he saw people who were being victimized. Rather than condemning them for their choices and sins, Jesus showed them compassion and understanding. That is not to say that Jesus accepted their sin or acted like it wasn’t a big deal, but it does show that Jesus, the one person who could sit in judgment, chose to extend help to them.

There is a shift in our thinking that we need to make.

With the Bible in our hands it is tempting judge people with God’s truth, rather than to help them out of love. 

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for doing this very thing. They focused on people’s sin and did nothing to help them overcome it. 

This is a danger we need to avoid.

To have a knowledge of God’s will can lead us to believe that taking a stand for God’s truth is the same as doing God’s work. 

In Revelation 2:1-7 Jesus told the church in Ephesus that they were in danger of being shut out of the Kingdom because of their lack of love. The Ephesians were known for standing up for the truth, but somewhere along the line they had lost their love.

We have to be on our guard so that doesn’t happen to us. Truth shouldn’t overshadow our love.

Compassion, which is a form of love, needs to be mixed with truth. It is the mixture of  truth and love which gives us the ability to influence the people in our lives. Our care and compassion opens up people’s hearts to receive the the truth. 

 The example of Jesus is that he led with compassion. Jesus loved people through healing and helping them. Not only did he demonstrate compassion, he always told them the truth. 

Truth is a lot easier to take when you know it comes from a person who cares for you.

Jesus looked at the crowds of people and He saw people who were lost and with no way to find their way home. What these people needed was a person to show them the right direction, not lecture on how terrible it is to be lost.

As we look around us we realize that the number of people who need help are more than we can help by ourselves. What can we do? 

If we are going to show compassion to the world we have to pray. Prayer gives us a  proper perspective on life and the world around us. It also helps us to align our hearts with God’s heart. 

In our prayers we need make a request: workers for the harvest. There is a shortage of leaders who are able to show the lost the way home.

Compassion is not just reserved for our prayer life. Compassion needs to be a key characteristic of our lives. Jesus lived in such a way to show the people around him that he knew the Way they were to travel. 

As Jesus’ followers we have that same responsibility of living our lives in such a way that it demonstrates a better way to live.

To live like Jesus means we need a change of perspective. Instead of seeing the people as dirty rotten sinners we need to see them as lost travelers trying desperately to get home.

Or better yet, a field ready to be harvested and brought home.

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