Where Does Compassion Come From?

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A few years ago an attender of our church asked me, on the heels of our series opener from Jonah, “So how can I have a deeper compassion for people, especially those who are not like me?”

To be quite honest, I didn’t know what to say, for I, too, struggle with this – how can I increase in my love for others? So I just started praying right there on the spot for a ‘word’ that would be both biblical and practical, even while I was thanking him for his question. Sure enough, God’s Spirit was sufficient – he started showing me (in my mind’s eye) people that I had a great love for…men, women, kids, couples whom I had grown to spiritually ache for deeply. And as I thought about each of them, I realized it was their story that had turned my indifference to compassion. Yes, that’s what God used – their story!

Then various verses from the NT epistles began to flash across my mind that spoke of Paul’s love for the saints in various cities and how he knew their story. Whether it was one of poverty (Philippi), persecution (Rome and Thessalonica), or even pain and problems (Corinth), Paul was aware of their journey to and with Christ, and it brought him to a place of intense compassion, even a godly type of jealousy for them. No wonder he consistently called his fellow believers his “joy, his longing, his crown.” He knew them and it helped him love them.

Then God reminded me of his story: An Almighty Creator sending his one-and-only Son to die for people who had no hope. That’s not just a story; that’s the story. The gospel! In that split-second, their stories and his story were merging. And I realized that those two things were common elements with all the people for whom I had a strong and deep compassion.

It began to dawn on me right there – hearing another’s story and knowing God’s story is one of the ways compassion takes root and grows. It is how we begin to “exhort” (or lit., walk along beside) our spiritual family (1 Timothy 5:1). I had seen it in my own life, and there was ample biblical evidence for the principle. So I shared this with my friend (who was probably wondering why I was stalling with pleasantries). I encouraged him to ask questions, listen closely, and dig for details. I reminded him not to parse words too quickly, but rather hear their heart. Relate to their struggle. “Draw out their story and the why behind it,” I said. “You’ll find the seeds of compassion in the soil of their story. Watered with his story, God will move you from indifference to compassion, just as he has me in so many cases.” I then trusted the Spirit to enable him to receive my words with understanding and insight. Knowing this man, I am confident he did.

I’ve thought about that 3-minute encounter many times over the last month. Maybe it was a vision? A word of knowledge? Perhaps just a mental reminder? Regardless, it became very clear to me that God uses, not only His story, but others’ story, to get me to a level of compassion that can make a difference. But that takes time. Ears. Questions. Actual conversation. Face to face communication. Listening. Then more time. Bigger ears. Deeper questions. And still more conversation.

No wonder there is so little real compassion in the American church of today — There is very little face-to-face conversation that matters. Not a lot of deep communication. We don’t know each others’ story; we haven’t walked in their shoes, not even vicariously. Truth is, few people actually take time to sit down and listen to someone’s journey. After all, it’s an email world we live in, isn’t it? A blogging atmosphere. A “text-me-if-you-need-me” culture. And we wonder why we get irritated quicker. Frustrated faster. Judgmental and snappy in a heartbeat.

Here’s why: We don’t know their stories, and we have forgotten his story. But that’s where compassion lives – in the stories and in the story. Take the time today to hear one, as well as remember the best one. Then watch God sprout a seed of compassion that can make an eternal difference in the life of even just one.

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One Comment on “Where Does Compassion Come From?”

  1. Pastor Todd’s sermon Sunday, August 4, was so timely and spot-on. Of course, I say that every week, as I have been watching and listening from home, due to physical pain and limitations. But this Sunday was a special blessing because I was able to attend FFC in person. I am thankful to the Lord that He enabled me to be there. I felt the presence of the Lord in the service, and I am so thankful to be reminded and to hear and understand more deeply about the compassion of Jesus in areas that I could relate to. I praise and thank the Lord a lot for a Pastor that allows God to use him to explain so clearly and vividly the Word of God. I am thankful to be part of FFC. Thank you, Pastor Todd! Also, it was wonderful that a precious old hymn was incorporated into the service. I know I, for one, would consider it a wonderful blessing to be able to sing an older hymn each Sunday, along with the new songs. One of my favorites that I never get tired of singing is I’D RATHER HAVE JESUS!

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