• being a compassionate presence

    compassion_sqThis summer my church has been holding a “Ministry Lab.” The idea is that we do a teaching each week on something our leadership feels is a unique aspect of life at Light of Christ and the following week we have a discussion on it. So far we have had teachings on what mission is and isn’t and work in the context of mission. Next week we’ll be talking about hospitality and eventually about evangelism. I spoke on the topic “being a compassionate presence.” I am astonished at how well received the teaching has been (despite my many “ums” and “ahs”) and the wealth of our discussion last night. Not only that, but by trying to explain how important compassion is in my Christian life–heck, just in my life–I’ve realized how central being compassionate is to who I am and how, when I feel I am at my best, I am a person embodying the compassionate presence of Christ.

    I am meditating on this A LOT right now.

    What I’m starting here today isn’t a series exactly, but I do think it will be a theme for a few months. I think it’s important for me to continue to explore the idea of what it means to be a compassionate presence and how this is a calling for all of us. After all, is there any corner of the web that isn’t infected with the shrill voice of fear and anxiety? Sometimes Jesus calmed the storm, sometimes he calmed hearts, sometimes he did both. Being storm-calmers may be part of the unique call of Christians in this generation.

    So here are a few thoughts I have on what compassion is. You will note this is pretty subjective, but it’s all based on Christian practice and observances of Christ’s compassion. We’ll get into all that soon. But for today:

    What is Compassion?

    Compassion is a type of love. It’s the love that God has when he looks on what we have done to ourselves as a result of the fall, that identifies with us through feeling pity which moves him to act on our behalf.

    When you see and identify with someone in compassion, you are seeing them with God’s eyes and feeling God’s heart for them. This is a holy act. You are unified with God in that moment, in his own compassion for that person. This is why it is very important NOT to stuff, quell, dismiss or ignore feelings of compassion. Feel them, even when they crop up at inconvenient times. Feeling the feelings moves you from “seeing” to identification: “I know you are hurting,” “I could be in this exact same situation,” “Lord, have mercy.” Then, Compassion should move us: move us to tears, to prayer, to action.

    Characteristics of Compassion:

    • Compassion sees. Our eyes are open to see those around us that God wants to have compassion on.
    • Compassion identifies. We may identify with the person, the circumstances, the poverty or simply God’s compassion for them.
    • Compassion acts. Since compassion places us in the center of God’s heart, he may desire that we provide part of the solution to the problem being presented, be it a passing prayer, a listening ear, a five dollar bill or taking the homeless out to lunch.
    • Compassion better tunes our ears to hear God’s voice. Because compassion is all about being in God’s heart–we are rarely closer to him than then! It is a great place then, to listen for his voice.
    • Compassion requires sacrifice. There are no two ways about it. Compassion is disruptive and almost always requires a change in plans. Don’t worry, it’s OK to negotiate with God on this.
    • Compassion is needed for healing. You might say that compassion itself creates a safe place for the wounded to expose their wounds. And how often has someone said to you “Wow, I feel so much better. I guess I just needed to talk”?
    • Compassion invites the stricken to take a step of faith. This is where mission comes in. God does not pity us in order to leave us stuck. He has compassion in order to extend a hand that lifts us up. It might be a tiny, incremental change–but when we are in a place of compassion, we should always be asking “what is God’s invitation to this person?” When we stand in unity with God in compassion and can verbalize God’s invitation to the stricken, we can offer it in his authority, not our own–and that can make a huge difference in their ability to respond it.

    By the way–You are not required to have compassion for everyone, everywhere, all the time. Our eyes of compassion will see different things than other people because of our own gifts and life circumstances. If you are tired and word out from your day and don’t see your frustrated coworker as you leave, don’t sweat it too much. But if, on the other hand, you realize several days in a row that your coworker is staying late and frustrated…well, maybe God is trying to get your attention.

    What does compassion look like to you? How has my description challenged your thinking?

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