Lately I have been reading a book called “Loving the Church You Lead” by pastor David Hanson. This book is not for the faint of heart, as it does not follow the modern church’s version of pastoral love. Many believers have a view of pastoral leadership that is little more than being a cheer leader for what ever efforts we feel are right, whether led by His Spirit or not. Many pastors exercise a fickle love for congregations that is warm and encouraging when the flock follows “God’s Vision” delivered to that pastor, but cools when the sheep bite (they really shouldn’t but do) or lack understanding or struggle to get in line. Truth be told, we ought to cheer the saints in their endeavors to submit to God’s will whether in succeeding or not, but we also need to correct and teach through failures, expose sin and hold God’s ground (will) in love, when opposed by the flesh of maturing saints. Hanson’s book delivers the goods and challenges the “called” to minister just like Jesus. At times it’s very painful to read, but its the kind of correction and discipline we need, in the love of God.
As I was reading on pastors expressing love through compassion, I came across a quote which should affect any Christian whether in ministry or not. What you read will certainly illuminate the nature of compassion and why it is so difficult for humans to enter into expressing it. Remember there is a difference between feeling compassion and being moved by it. Please read this quote prayerfully…
“It is precisely vulnerability that is so difficult to deal with. It (vulnerability) throws the tenuous nature of our existence into our face. Entering another’s vulnerability, identifying with it, and allowing it to enter us and move us is the goal of compassion”.
“To say that happens naturally isn’t to say that is comes easily. Even parents often enter the vulnerability of their children out of duty. It is always worth it, but it is never easy. It should not be easy. Every opportunity to show compassion to our family, our church or to people on the street is a decision to enter pain”.
“Compassion is serendipitous (a gift to be discovered), not haphazard (unplanned or without structure). Compassion requires a willingness to put ourselves in proximity to suffering and the willingness to feel it once we are there. Often the willingness is sheer choice. Relegating compassion to a rational decision may seem heartless, but it keeps us working at something that is very difficult”
(“Loving the Church You Lead”; pgs. 76-77)
Hanson’s conclusion is well worth regarding, for it is one thing to feel bad for a person in a weakened and helpless condition and another thing entirely to get down into their condition and walk with them in it. At that level of commitment, their pain burdens you and you began to feel the sting of your own weakness, as you attempt to meet their need. The reason this is difficult is simple to understand; our natural framework physically, emotionally and spiritually desires to avoid what is uncomfortable. It is for this reason we pull our hand away from a hot stove, avoid the person that makes us feel anything other than sunny, and avoid admitting our bad behavior in light the pain of contrition we experience when found out. Our desire to avoid pain, will also limit our response when it comes to compassion. When we encounter a person who is beyond help, bound in addiction, has lost it all, or simply needs the love of friendship for being cast off (even for their own poor behavior), its easier to say we feel bad for them and I will pray, than to embrace them in love in the midst of their poverty materially, emotionally or spiritually. To embrace them, provide for them and encourage them to find their sufficiency in Christ is not only difficult, risky and draining, it also reminds us of our own tenuous state of life. Having compassion causes us to come face to face with “This could be my brother, sister, neighbor or this could be me”.
This is why it is necessary for us to force ourselves at times into the dirty, weak vulnerability of others; The more we practice this movement, the more automatic and Christ-like it will become. Jesus is our perfect example…
Matthew 9:35-36 (NKJV) Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.
A few things need to be noted. These people following Jesus, in our the above passage, were a mess. When it says they “were weary and scattered” it means that they were wore out from being flung around (by life) and deliberately hurled (by Satan) about until they were distressed and dispirited. This was a crowd who’s one thing in common was their misery. They came to Jesus not able to help themselves or anyone else. Note that Jesus did not impose a criterion (except faith in Him) to cast out a devil or heal a sickness. Although He freely gave, it is possible some heard “go and sin no more” or “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, for Jesus was about the work of reconciling souls, not simple quelling hunger or making shelter available or giving hugs of affirmation, for those who were in need. What needs to be levied is that He let their distress do something which was automatic for Him. Where it says “He was moved with compassion” it means He “yearned in His bowels”. This means that without thinking, right in His gut, He felt pain and concern and sorrow for their condition, and He expressed His hurt by meeting their temporary need. Compassion was the diaphragm of Jesus actions of love. Quite simply, humans don’t think about breathing as it is an autonomic reflex. We breath because God set our diaphragm to move when we need a breath. Jesus did not need to think or pray about responding; His gut, feeling their pain and sorrow, led Him to act. Again this is not to say His response was not measured and ultimately for the purpose of their potentially turning their life over to God. Jesus compassion, was a foundation on which He built a road for those who would turn to God repenting and towards Jesus in faith for the complete work of salvation.
Expressing compassion did have the potential to make Jesus look like a fool. Is it possible that some who received the meeting of their needs, were in the mocking crowd the day He died for the sins of the world? I would say yes. Peter was one of his closest friends, yet he denied he even knew Jesus. The point is, compassion may make us look like a door mat, or a silly fool who was taken advantage of, but that possibility never hindered Christ, nor should it hinder His followers. Every one of us, who calls Jesus Lord, has had His compassion poured out on us. We were every bit as spiritually desperate and despairing and weary and scattered, as those Jesus had compassion on in Matthew 9:35-36. As He Himself lived and instructed the disciples many years ago, so should we as well; “Freely you have received; Freely give” (Matthew 10:8).