In Their Shoes: Cultivating Compassion

Seeing People through the Eyes of Christ

We can view others as people to be loved, tools to be used, or scenery to be passed over. But when Jesus saw the multitudes, He did not lose their individual worth in the crowd. Nor did He see a crowd as an opportunity to promote a political cause. He saw their souls, the hurt in their hearts, and their desperate need for salvation.

That compassion was always with Christ. When He hungered, He gave water of life to the woman at the well. When He was tired, He fed the multitudes. And when Christ was crucified for our sins, He forgave His executioners.

But for most of us, compassion comes and goes with our circumstances. For example, our country was flooded with emotion after the September 11 tragedy. People gave generously to provide for funeral costs and scholarships for children of the first responders who died. It wasn’t long though before our interest faded.

We may start with compassion, but we get in a hurry; other people mistreat us; and soon our compassion is gone. We sometimes love and are compassionate, but Jesus was always compassionate because God is love.

Someone once said, “Compassion is your hurt in my heart.” Jesus Christ faced every sorrow that anyone has ever faced. Hebrews 4:15 tells us of Christ, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Isaiah prophesied, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3).

During Jesus’ time on earth, He faced weariness from long days in ministry, criticism for well-doing, temptation while physically exhausted, sorrow after the death of a friend, and betrayal by a man who spent three years as His disciple. He knew every kind of tragedy and pain we would endure, and He had the compassion to bear our penalty for sin. On the path to Calvary, Jesus walked in our shoes.

Those who have personally lost a loved one or endured some other trial often have a greater ability to show compassion, especially to those facing similar trials. Yet even those who have been broken in trials can see their compassion fade over time. None of us are immune to apathy.

This is why we need God’s heart. We need the Holy Spirit to work in us so that when we see the multitudes, we will be moved. How can we gain a Christ-like compassion? Let’s take a walk in someone else’s shoes.

A Day in The Life Of…

Jesus spent a lot of time with people. He walked with them. He ate with them. He traveled through cities and villages to go where people were in need.

Jesus didn’t live like sinners, but He did spend time with them. In Luke 5, Jesus called to Levi, a publican, and the man followed Jesus. Then we read, “And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them” (Luke 5:29). Jesus was willing to spend time in the man’s home and have dinner with with his friends and coworkers.

You learn a lot about people when you spend time in their home. Before you become frustrated with a teen in your Sunday school class, visit his home. There you may learn that he hasn’t seen his dad since he was six years old, and his mom is rarely home because she works two jobs. You can’t control him in class because nobody can control him at all. All that young person is looking for is someone who will stop, hear his needs, and show some compassion.

I am thankful for people who are willing to go to others’ homes and tell them about Jesus Christ. My wife was saved because of a bus captain who invited her to church and spoke to her parents about letting her ride on the bus. He was an executive at IBM, but he spent every Saturday talking to the kids on his bus route and finding new children to bring to church. I thank God that someone would love my wife when she was “just a bus kid.” Today, my wife goes soulwinning trying to help other “just bus kids” to know about Jesus.

Our compassion is stirred when we let ourselves see the needs. “But when he [Jesus] saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them…” (Matthew 9:36). Jesus saw the needs. The Bible says in Lamentations 3:51, “Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city.” This is why Jesus told His disciples, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35b).

It’s important for our church family—especially our young people—to go on missions trips. When you see the conditions in which people from other nations live and missionaries labor, it changes how you think about your offering to missions.

Sometimes we don’t feel compassionate. There is nothing inside of us that wants to go knock on a door or tell the person seated next to us about Christ. But when we begin to talk to them and realize the great needs and the sense of hopelessness in their story, God can put a love in our hearts. We just need to spend a little time with them.

No Good Deed

While Jesus spent Himself to help and heal wherever He went, there were those who criticized Him. When Jesus ate with Levi and the publicans, “…their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?” (Luke 5:30). In Matthew 9, Jesus healed a man demonically possessed. This was a great day in the man’s life, but the Pharisees blasphemed Jesus saying, “He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils” (Matthew 9:34b). When Jesus cast out the demons from the maniac of Gadara, the people begged Jesus to leave!

If we expect love returned for love shown, we will be disappointed. The Bible promises that there are “Despisers of those that are good” (2 Timothy 3:3b), and God warned us—twice—to “be not weary in well doing” (2 Thessalonians 3:13, also Galatians 6:9). We open ourselves to hurt when we give of ourselves out of compassion, but we can’t let that stop us.

I remember taking many of the men soulwinning in the early days of our church. Then, I was always worried that we wouldn’t have a good call. Maybe someone would be unkind and slam the door. It can be intimidating to knock on a stranger’s door and tell them about Christ, and I didn’t want a bad experience to cause a new soulwinner to quit. We like to believe that if we are doing good, then we should always be treated well. This isn’t biblical.

Christ-like compassion continues even when we are criticized. D.L. Moody was called “Crazy Moody” because he wasn’t ashamed to share the Gospel with everyone he met, friend or stranger. When William Carey pled the cause of missions to a group of ministers, one of those ministers shouted, “Young man, sit down: when God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine.” Thankfully for the heathen, Carey still went to India to preach the Gospel.

Making a Difference

Is it worth the trouble to care? How important is a simple gesture of kindness? It made a difference to Douglas Maurer.1 After spending several days with a fever between 103° and 105°, Douglas’ mother took him to a hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. The doctors ran some tests and returned with grave news—Douglas had leukemia.

The treatment wouldn’t be easy. Douglas would have to undergo three years of chemotherapy. He would most likely lose his hair, and his body would bloat.

Douglas became severely depressed after hearing of the diagnosis and the treatment. His aunt called a local flower shop to order flowers for Douglas. She told the clerk her nephew had leukemia and said what she would like written on the card.

The flowers came soon, but with two cards. Douglas read the card from his aunt first, then the other card. It read: “Douglas—I took your order. I work at Brix Florist. I had leukemia when I was seven years old. I’m twenty-two years old now. Good luck. My heart goes out to you. Sincerely, Laura Bradley.”

Douglas’s world changed when he read that card. He may have had some of the best doctors treating his illness, but it was the compassion of a store clerk who gave him the hope to continue. Jude 22 states, “And of some have compassion, making a difference.

Weeping in Prayer

Because we are such self-centered people, it doesn’t come naturally for us to think of others when they face something desperate. But there are those who not only notice others in need, but also feel that need as greatly as if it were their own.

Nehemiah was a leader who cared deeply about the condition of his nation and his people. After he was told that only a small remnant was left in Jerusalem and the city was broken down, the Bible says, “And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4).

Later in the book of Nehemiah, we read of the work Nehemiah did to rebuild Jerusalem—risking a plea before the king, organizing laborers, and confronting adversaries disguised as friends. But before any of that took place, Nehemiah wept, fasted, and prayed to God. Every good work Nehemiah did flowed from a heart that matched God’s heart.

There is great power in prayers fueled with tears. “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:6). Whether we pray for our nation’s restoration or ask God to save one soul, may it be with tears in our eyes and a longing in our hearts.

The Christian life is not mechanical. The Pharisees erred by creating a religion devoid of compassion. The Apostle Paul knew this, but no one could accuse Paul of lacking emotion. Hear some of the language Paul used to describe his life and mission (emphasis added): “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (Roman’s 10:1). “That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2–3). “Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved” (Philippians 4:1). This is not a man who was cold and indifferent to either the saved or the lost.

When was the last time you wept in prayer for someone? When have you felt pain for others who just lost their job, their dad, or their spouse? We have a lot of needs for ourselves (I am first on top of my list of prayer requests), But when have we stopped to pray for someone else with needs greater than our own?

“Compassion can’t be measured in dollars and cents,” said former Congressman J.C. Watts, “but there is a price tag. The price tag is love.” There is a shortage of love in this world. Many will fight for causes, rights, and federal programs, but who will love people?

Take a walk in someone else’s shoes. See their needs. Feel their hurts. And tell them of a God in Heaven that knows exactly what they are going through.

This article was originally published in the September 2010 issue of The Baptist Voice.

1. Bob Greene, “From One Sufferer to Another,” Chicago Tribune, August, 1987

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