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Compassion

When a particular attribute or characteristic is associated with the Lord Jesus Christ then it surely would be our ambition to emulate that quality. What greater attribute is there than compassion, the one which maintains our very continuance in His service? 'It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not' (Lam. 3:22). Is there a limit to our compassion, are there those outside the reach of our compassion, do we say enough is enough and cut people adrift, or will we feel for them whatever the circumstances?

Compassion embraces a fellow feeling for the experiences of others, a sorrowing for the suffering of others. A compassionate person will be inclined to pity and will show mercy. When Jesus looked around Him at the people whom He had created He saw them wandering, distressed and scattered, a sheep without a shepherd, and He was moved with compassion. As those wandering sheep pursued Him, after John's execution, He had compassion on them and healed their sick. Not only did He tend their spiritual need but He also met their material need and fed them (Mat. 14:13-21).

We can be so absorbed by the spiritual welfare of friends that we do not see their material needs and do not offer practical help for day-to-day problems. '...when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?' (Mat. 25:44).

Compassion is not just a state of mind but a material expression or act. The traveller on the Jericho road, who fell among thieves, was not helped by any of those who crossed to the other side but by the one who sacrificed his means of transport for a dirty, bloodstained stranger and kneeled down to treat him. In the enjoyment of our protected lifestyle do we pass by on the other side?

We have been shown so much compassion by our Saviour that we should be ready and willing to show mercy to others, unlike the servant who when he received mercy from his master went out and held his fellow servant to ransom. In this narrative there is a very serious message to all of us. 'So shall also my heavenly Father do unto you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts' (Mat. 18:35).

Jesus was not just superficially compassionate but rather filled with compassion when He reached out, touched and healed the leper. Perhaps someone's spiritual healing process will begin when you take the initiative and reach and touch them. Forgetting the obstacles and barriers, the misconceptions and recriminations, are we prepared to be pro-active rather than reactive?

Am I sometimes too preoccupied with my own sufferings to notice the experiences others are going through? Self-pity can consume us and we are oblivious to the cries for help from those passing through deep waters. On other occasions we may hear their call but choose not to get involved. Some of those who survived the tragic Titanic disaster have said that they could never erase the sound of cries for help penetrating the darkness from those black, icy waves. Sadly the lifeboats were too full. How terrible to have had room in a boat but to ignore the cry.

Compassion demands tolerance and an entering in and sharing of the suffering.

How do we view the dear child of God who finds himself or herself outside the house of God because of some wrongdoing? Do we maintain a pious detachment or are we consumed with love for them and a burning desire to draw them back? Jesus told the woman taken in adultery, 'Neither do I condemn thee: go thy way; from henceforth sin no more'. A father once writing to his son who was passing through a very dark experience said, 'My heart is bleeding with yours'. The hymn writer expresses it very eloquently:

In every pang that rends the heart

The Man of Sorrows bears a part:

He knows and feels our every grief,

And gives the suffering saint relief.

Perhaps it is easy to be compassionate to those we love, but what about those we dislike or find distasteful, the beggar, the drunk, the down and out, those who have been unkind to us and hurt us? Another hymn writer says of the Saviour, 'Pity to the wretched moved Him'. God's Word tells us that He was slain for His enemies. When we show compassion to those who despitefully use us we are demonstrating a level of Christian maturity.

Do we approach our compassion with prayerful preparation which takes account of the nature of the suffering and acts accordingly? When Ebed-melech went to bring Jeremiah up from the miry clay of the dungeon he took old rags and worn out clothes to place over the ropes, which would soften the strain on Jeremiah as he was being drawn out (Jer. 38:8-13). The rags didn't cost anything yet meant so much. Our little acts of kindness may cost us nothing but be of inestimable value to the recipient.

To enable us to have compassion we need love. To encourage our love to flourish we need to destroy bitterness. If unattended a lawn can be taken over by moss which chokes the grass and yet superficially leaves a green swathe. We need to kill the moss and stimulate the grass in our lives. A love for the Lord Jesus Christ will bring with it grace as Paul advises the friends in Ephesus. 'Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruptness' (Eph. 6:24). The Psalmist David very clearly teaches us that compassion is associated with grace, another essential vitamin in the health care of the believer. 'The LORD is gracious and full of compassion' (Ps. 111:4). Not always do we tolerate the weaknesses of another graciously, yet we sing about grace, we pray about grace, we talk about grace. It takes strength to decide to forgive but it takes grace to put that forgiveness into action.

Finally may we all take encouragement from God's dealing with His people in the wilderness. 'But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not... But he led forth his own people like sheep... And he led them safely, so that they feared not' (Ps. 78:38,52,53).