How to Have a Heart of Compassion
Three steps to help you follow Christ’s example and love with a tender heart. -Elizabeth Peale Allen
The term compassion has its linguistic roots in the Latin terms com (with) and pati(suffering). Practically speaking, we have compassion when we set aside indifference and connect with those who are in pain. In a curious way, this seems to be a first step toward healing.
When Jesus saw the blind men, for example, he “had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him” (Matthew 20:34).
When he saw groups yearning for his teaching, “he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14). Christ noted the confusion of the people in the crowd following him, and “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34).
All these examples of Christ’s compassion have two things in common. First, Jesus noticesthe people around him. This tells us that compassion is only possible when we are attuned to others.
If we’re absorbed in our own feelings, problems, worries and desires, we will overlook the needs of those God puts in our path and ignore the opportunity to help them.
Second, Jesus responds to people, instead of reacting to them. He listens to the ten lepers rather than being irritated that they’re interrupting his conversation (Luke 17:12-19). He takes time to speak with the woman who touches the hem of his garment, instead of simply chastising her for lacking appropriate boundaries (Matthew 9:20).
Like anything else, we get better at compassion when we practice. Here are three basic steps:
1. Build up your empathy .
Spend five minutes a day practicing putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Choose a news report, a neighbor or a member of your own family and really contemplate what it feels like to be that person. Don’t shy away as soon as you think, “That must be awful!” Delve deep into what it’s like to suffer in that way. This exercise can help you learn to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).
2. Learn to pause before speaking .
Scripture tells us, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). To be compassionate toward others, we need to allow time for the Holy Spirit to override our tendency to judge. A simple prayer like, “Holy Spirit, guide my heart,” often provides enough space (and guidance!) to help us see why people are behaving the way they are.
3. Recognize the barriers to compassion.
It’s impossible to be annoyed and compassionate at the same time. Frustration, suspicion, irritation, bitterness, dislike and anger are all signs that we may be looking at others without compassion. We can pray to the Father to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” that rules in our hearts (Ephesians 4:31).
Ask God to help you “be kind and tenderhearted” (Ephesians 4:32). Begin this very day to cultivate a spirit of compassion.
Learning to Love Others
By: Dr. Steven C. Riser
|By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©2010|
Jesus taught us another way to see success. In one of his most famous stories he told about a man walking on a road from Jerusalem toward the city of Jericho. As fate would have it, the man was almost there when a group of thugs jumped out from behind some rocks, beat him, robbed him, and left him for dead.
Soon, a priest came walking by and the traveler undoubtedly thought he would get some help, but no such luck. The priest passed by on the other side of the road. He didn’t even look the man’s way. Later, another religious man (a Levite) came along and he too passed by.
Eventually a Samaritan came along. In those days, Samaritans and Jews didn’t get along. You know what a Jew is; you know what a Gentile is; Samaritans are half of each. Jews despised them for the Gentile nature, and most Gentiles didn’t like Samaritans because they were part Jewish.
Even though the Samaritans were often targets of racial prejudice, and had reason not to like Jews, this man put racial differences aside. He knelt beside the wounded man, cleaned and bandaged his wounds. He took him to an inn and told the innkeeper to allow the man to stay until he fully recovered; then the Samaritan paid the man’s bill. The key phrase in this parable is found in verse 33: “When the Samaritan saw him, he took pity (had compassion) on him.”
Let me ask you a question: How would you rate your level of compassion? On a scale from 1 to 10: 1 meaning you’re a cold-hearted snake and 10 meaning you’re a Mother Teresa clone, what number would best reflect the love and compassion you feel for others right now?
Paul said, “These three remain: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). Over the years I have seen many plaques, posters and poems reinforcing the need for love in this world. I grew up in the 60s when people were singing “All you need is love” and “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.”
All my life I have heard this message: loving others is the right thing to do. All my life I have agreed that it is true. I have never said, even during the most rebellious stages of my life, “I’m not interested in loving others; I’d rather be self-centered. I’d rather hate everyone else.” I’ve always believed that loving other people is the best way to live. When I became a Christian during my senior year in high school and began to experience firsthand the power of God’s love in my life, God gave me a new desire to love and I became even more motivated to live a life of love.
However, in spite of all my training, upbringing, and deeply held beliefs… in spite of my having been a Christian for more than 45 years, and pastor for almost 40, I must admit I am still not as full of love for others as I’d like to be, or as I ought to be.
A moment ago, when you rated yourself in this area, I’m sure many felt the same frustration and disappointment in yourselves that I have just expressed about myself.
How do you think it would affect your life and the relationships in your life, if you took some steps toward being a more loving person? Would it improve your home-life? Would it make a difference at work? Would it have an impact at church? Of course, the answer is obvious.
I doubt if anyone needs to be sold on the importance of love. We are already convinced this is the lifestyle God wants for us. From cover to cover, the Bible teaches how important it is. Six of the Ten Commandments are about acting in a loving way towards others. On one occasion Jesus said to his followers, “The way that people are going to know you are my disciples, is by your (agape) love for one another” (Jn. 13:35).
And, of course Jesus made things crystal clear when he said, “The most important thing in life above all else is to love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matt. 22:38-39).
That’s what constitutes true success in God’s eyes. We need to redefine success by trying to get away from the old stereotypes of what people think success, to considering what success means from God’s perspective. Jesus summarized it by saying that true success is: loving God, loving yourself, and loving others. Today we’re going to look a little closer at the idea of loving others. If a person reaches all their goals in life, but along the way becomes totally self-absorbed and detached from others, they missed on achieving true success.
God is not “anti-success.” God wants us to do well in our various godly pursuits and passions. In the midst of it all, however, he wants us to keep our eyes on these three priorities. Earlier I asked you to put a number on your current level of love for others. If you scored low, it might be helpful to consider a few possible reasons why.
Maybe you grew up in – or currently live in – a defeating home environment. Compassion breeds compassion; if you experience it at home it’s easier to live it elsewhere. The same goes for work: if your job is a relaxed, uplifting atmosphere, it’s easier for you to “cut someone some slack” if they make a mistake. If you’re constantly being berated for every little slip-up, you’re more likely to be harsh on others.
Another reason could be that you live life at an unhealthy pace. Many people who sincerely want to be loving and compassionate find themselves so stressed out with their own responsibilities that they simply don’t have time for anyone else.
This is not just a lame excuse; it’s a fact of life. In the past fifteen years the average American’s work week has jumped from 41 hours to 47 hours; for people in management in has increased to 59 hours a week. Actual leisure time has declined 37%. Add to that the pressure of a two-career family, or the incredible pressure of a single-parent family, and the result is that many people live life every day in a crisis mode. Their lives are dominated by the struggle to keep all the plates spinning at one time. No wonder being compassionate takes a lower spot on our list of priorities.
Living life at an unhealthy pace is destructive in countless ways. Worst of all, it undermines your ability to love. You just don’t have time or the emotional energy to really tune in to other people. Maybe you want to, but you’re running on empty.
Another obstacle in living a life of love is that some people simply buy into the “me-first” mindset. This condition doesn’t happen by “accident” like the first two – it’s the result of a sinful choice to put your needs and interests above others. Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
There is a malady that inflicts us all: the tendency to put ourselves first above the needs of others. We’re talking about degrees of selfishness here. We all struggle from time-to-time with the “disease of me;” .
Maybe the thing that prevents you from being as loving as you should be is your environment, or your schedule, or a sinful, selfish attitude; but the good news is that you can overcome these obstacles and learn to be a more compassionate person. How? There’s really only one way you can become more loving to others. You’ve got to experience more of God’s love firsthand. You can’t impart what you don’t first possess – it can’t happen through you until it happens to you.
The first Bible verse many people memorize is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he sent his only son.” Jesus brought a new dimension of love to the world. His love is so powerful, so compelling, so transforming that it causes the recipients to radiate that love to others.
A lot of you are familiar with the apostle Paul, who before his conversion to Christianity was not exactly living a life filled with loving relationships. Like a lot of successful men, Paul was driven and intense. He was also, as we see in scripture, hard-hearted, cold, and aloof. His primary objective in life was to eliminate the threat of Christianity. He did this by killing Christians, young and old, male and female. I doubt he was very aware or concerned, about the feelings of others.
In one day, through one encounter with Christ, his whole life changed. This hard-hearted independent, unemotional man was transformed into someone who was almost always surrounded by loving friends. He spent the rest of his life in an effort to help bring the love of Christ to others.
Christ is the one who brings about this incredible transformation. He can change you into a more loving person if you will allow him to… if you experience his love firsthand. Here are three ways you experience God’s love firsthand:
Experience God’s love firsthand
1. Through A Personal Relationship With Him
Becoming a loving person begins with a personal one-on-one relationship with Christ. You can do that today. If you have never invited Jesus into your life and asked him to fill the emptiness with his love, you can do it right now. He will. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done – God will accept you, forgive you, cleanse you, and give you a brand new start in life. When you experience his love firsthand, it becomes possible to share his love with others. This begins by inviting him into your life.
2. Through Ongoing Fellowship With Him
Becoming a Christian is a one-time event; being a Christian is life long experience. We need to spend time in his presence on a daily basis… experiencing his love and compassion in our own lives… so that we can continue to share his love with others. When we fall out of fellowship with him our spiritual life becomes drudgery.
I need to make time daily to be alone with God-spending time with him in Bible study and in prayer. Without his ongoing input in my life, I can become distracted or disgruntled. I also need the strength I get from being around other Christians. When I spend time with people who love God, I experience the love of God firsthand and this renews my spirit and enables me to live more compassionately. Another way to experience God’s love firsthand is…
3. Through Living a Christ-Like Life
I hope that the success of WWJD doesn’t cause us to miss the meaning of this powerful concept: every day of our lives should be spent in an effort to imitate Christ in all that we say and do. The Bible challenges us to do what Jesus would do… to treat people like he treated people… to handle adversity like he handled adversity… to walk with God like he did… to respond to criticism and mistreatment like he did… to care for others like he cared for others.
When you “do what Jesus would do,” something amazing happens: not only do they benefit from our kindness, but we benefit as well. A kind man benefits himself. When we show God’s love to someone else, we experience God’s love first hand. We make the mistake of thinking that we have to “feel” it in order to do it. It doesn’t always work that way. When we show God’s love, we also experience God’s love because God loves others through us.
Earlier I mentioned three obstacles to being a more loving compassionate person. Christ can help us overcome each one. If you grew up in, or live and work in an environment of anger and hostility, experiencing a personal relationship with Christ adds a new environment to your experience – an environment of love and acceptance that is strong enough to cancel out whatever negative influences you may live with.
If you find yourself too busy and too emotionally drained to even think about being compassionate, then an on-going relationship with Christ will help you experience the love of God first hand. Fellowship with him and with believers will renew you and recharge your batteries, and you will find yourself showing love to others that you never knew you had.
If you find yourself struggling with a “me-first” mindset, then striving to do what Christ would do will help you overcome it. You will find that when you are kind to others, you benefit yourself as well, because you experience his love firsthand. It is easier to give love when you have experienced love. And the way it works is that the more love you give, the more you receive.
This is what success really is. It’s not about money, power and things. A successful life can be defined as: living a life of love – 1) loving God first and foremost, 2) loving yourself, and 3) loving others as yourself.