Archive for January, 2013|Monthly archive page

Compassion

A friend told me a couple of years ago that he didn’t have “compassion”.  He admired people who did, but he didn’t have it.

For me, this raises all kinds of questions.  For instance, what is compassion?  Is it important? Is compassion written into the DNA of some people and not in others?  Or, is it something everyone can have?

I mention this because I told some friends last night that I find myself returning often to Matthew 9: 36: “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

What happened when Jesus had compassion?  He reached out in love to them.  He told them about the good news that the kingdom of God had come to them.  And he proceeded to show what the kingdom of God meant by healing them of their diseases.

He saw people who were helpless and who didn’t know where they were going.  He offered them hope and a new, firm, and eternal direction.  And he tended to their wounds.

So compassion appears to be a heart condition which leads to acts of love.

It seems to me that compassion isn’t something that some personality types have and others don’t.  It is true that some people are naturally more inclined to reach out to others.  They are more likely to intuitively feel another’s pain.

I look at Christ, the perfect example of compassion.  He knew instinctively when someone was hurting.  Again and again, we read of Jesus acting out of love to help the helpless.

He wept at his friend Lazarus’ tomb, partly because of the confusion and grief of his friends Mary and Martha.  He knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet he grieved for his friends.  His sorrow led to action.

On the other hand, the apostle Paul was a very different person.  He was a bold man who loved intellectual debate.

But was Paul heartless? No one who reads his letters can say he was heartless.  The people he led to the Lord were always on his mind.  He prayed for them.  He fought for them.  He yearned to see them.  He asked after their personal needs.

The friend I mentioned earlier is a lot like Paul.  He said he does not have compassion.  But I say he does.  He puts himself out for his family.  He rushes to help others in practical ways.  His heart leads to action.

Is compassion important?  Yes, it is an aspect of love.  And Christ said that love of God and love of others is more important than anything else.

Already a prince

I am already a prince.

That’s not boasting: It’s a fact.  Jesus acknowledges in John 18:36 that he has a kingdom and he is referred to in Revelation 17:14 as “King of Kings”.  And, as a believer, I am told that I am a brother of Jesus (Hebrews 2:11).

So, I’m a prince.  So what?

Well, this truth should make a difference in how I view myself and my life with God.

If I’m already a prince, why am I working so hard to become a prince?  In other words, why do I think I have to jump through hoops to get God’s attention and acceptance?

This “performance trap” as it’s called is a common disease among Western Christians.  I caught it early in my life as a believer and, in some ways, it clings to me still.  I am learning that I need to remind myself continually that God delights in me just as I am.

Many of us grew up in a culture which emphasized living a godly life according to certain standards.  There was subtle pressure from outside – and within ourselves – to conform to these measures of godliness.

There is no doubt that Christ and the apostles urged us to live godly lives.  But their emphasis was first on God’s love for us.  As the apostle John says in 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.”

Knowing that God loved me when I was unloveable – and couldn’t love him back – should give me a sense of security.  If Jesus loved me enough to die for me, doesn’t he love me still now that I am his brother?

I am sure many believers feel instinctively that this kind of talk leads to inactivity – and even sin.  The thought has occurred to me.

But that discounts the power of a grateful heart.  If I’m really convinced that God loves me, won’t I react with gratitude?

It’s interesting that Jesus links two commandments together in Luke 10:27 where he tells us to love God with all our heart and love our neighbours as ourselves.  Out of love for God comes love for others.

Meditating on scriptures which tell of God’s love for us stokes our love for him.  And it turns the attention away from our accomplishments for God to his accomplishments for us.

He has made me a prince so that I can reflect his love to others.

When things are dark, there is still light

Last night, I was reading Pete Grieg’s powerful book God on Mute when a short passage hit me between the eyes.

Grieg asks his wife Samie who is in hospital with a brain tumour “if she ever doubted God’s existence or His power to intervene.”

No, she replies.

“How can I doubt God?” she continued more softly. “God is all I’ve got.”

Grieg confesses that he, a leader in the world-wide prayer movement, was finding it hard to pray because Samie was going through a bad period and there seemed little hope.

Yet his wife’s faith seemed to grow stronger despite disappointment and seemingly unanswered prayer.

Of course, that is not true of everyone. And I can’t presume to explain why someone’s faith grows in a crisis and another’s trust in God collapses.

But I find it inspiring that someone going through a dark period still clings to God.

For some people, I believe the reason they persevere in their faith is because they know God loves them and that they will enjoy him forever in heaven.  They believe, as well, that God has chosen them and has a plan for them – a plan for good.

That plan may seem grim in our eyes.  But who knows what good will come out of pain and suffering?

I think of the early Christian martyr Stephen (Acts 7).  The apostle Paul witnessed Stephen’s stoning which he bore with great courage and faith, seeing heaven open before him on the edge of his death.  Was that a factor in Paul’s later conversion?

Instinctively, I want an easy life, a pain-free life.  I believe most people do.  But God is more than a Santa Claus, bestowing gifts on us whenever we ask.

He is our Father.  He loves us and knows that we must walk through a world of challenges and pain as well as joy.  He uses everything to bring us closer to him, even though he is not the source of suffering.

Jesus called himself “the light of the world.”  He brought hope and a vision of the way things should be and will be when we are with God in heaven.

So Samie Grieg is right.  When all is said and done, all we have is God.

And that is all we need.

God knows what he is doing

Whenever I get discouraged, I think of Elijah and his complaints to God about being the only one in Israel who is faithful to the Lord.

But God gently chides Elijah, saying that “I reserve seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal.” (1 Kings 19:18).

In effect, he is saying: “Elijah, I am in control.  Don’t forget it.”

That’s a good thing to remember when we feel gloomy about the state of the Christian church and the future of the kingdom of God in the West.

I believe that there are green sprouts springing up in what seems to be a Christian wasteland in Europe and North America.

God is reserving many who are not bowing their knees to the anti-Christian spirit of the age.

One of these bright signs is the growing prayer movement around the world.

Pete Grieg, author of Red Moon Rising, has helped spawn 24/7 prayer groups in many countries.  They are praying for transformation of their countries as well as for personal concerns.   And people are finding Jesus.

Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, has had a great influence on young Christians for many years.

Christian history proves that prayer is the prelude to powerful moves of God.

God has promised that he will bring spiritual healing to our ailing cultures if we pray (2 Chronicles 7:14).

There are of course many other hopeful developments.  New people with a deep commitment to God are breaking ground in desert areas.

The reason many of us tend to get discouraged is that we can’t see what God is doing all around us – just as Elijah did not see what was happening in ancient Israel.

I love the story of the prophet Elisha comforting his servant Gehazi who was appalled by the huge Aramean army that surrounded Dothan where Elisha was living (2 Kings 6).

Elisha asked God to open Gehazi’s eyes that he might see the heavenly army of angels ready to do battle against the invaders.  Gehazi saw and the Arameans were delivered into the hands of the king of Israel.

We need to trust that God knows what he is doing.  We need to believe that God will work things out according to his plan.  And we need to believe that his plans are good.