When You Lack Compassion

Those with the gift of mercy may find this post unnecessary, but if you lack compassion or feel overwhelmed in this area, read on.

One of my strongest spiritual gifts is the gift of administration. (See Romans 12:6–8.) I’m a firstborn go-getter who can take a complex project, break it down into its respective parts, and figure out how to get it done. I work most successfully when I pair up with a visionary who can think up something wonderful or creative (not my strong suit), then hand it off to me to make it happen.

Jesus’ Healing Ministry

If I’d been in charge of Jesus’ healing ministry, I would require everyone to reserve their appointments at least three days in advance, list them on a spreadsheet-style scroll, and you can bet I’d check their synagogue IDs when they arrive.

Like a Chick-Fil-A drive through, I’d have greeters, traffic control officers, and three lines.

-Demoniacs to the right. Don’t shove and please keep the noise down.

-Contagious diseases? Far left. 

-Masks on until you approach the front, and please, stay six feet apart at all times.

-Crippled? You and your helper stand (or lie) in the middle line—only one helper allowed per person, please.

Jesus’ Example

Interestingly enough, Jesus operated quite efficiently without an organizer like me. Despite the press of the entire city at his door, “He healed many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons” (Mark 1:34 NKJV).

One day a leper approached, knelt before him, and pleaded, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Jesus didn’t stick a number on him, direct him to the proper line, or scold him for showing up without an appointment. Mark 1:41 tells us He was “moved with compassion.”

Stretching out His hand, he touched the leper and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.”

“As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed” (Mark 1:40–42 NKJV).

Don’t Lose the People in the Project

There’s nothing wrong with approaching life with an eye toward organization and efficiency—unless we forget that every number, name, and situation has a person behind it. God is a God of order, but task-oriented people like me must be especially careful not to lose sight of the people at the heart of the project.

Jesus didn’t die for alphabetically arranged rosters or high-functioning organizations. He died for the Church—and the Church is made up of people—tender, needy people who don’t just need a service performed. They need compassion.

And you know what? His compassionate approach to ministry didn’t keep Him from accomplishing the mission God had given Him. Instead, His compassion made it more efficient. “I always do those things that please Him,” Jesus said in John 8:29.

Isn’t this our goal, too? To always do those things that please the Father?

What are those things?

Compassionate acts.

How do I know?

Because Jesus performed compassionate acts, and He is our example.

What This Looks Like in My Life

By God’s grace, as He continues to conform me to Christ’s image, I will grow in compassion and mercy. I will learn to meet people’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs with tenderhearted care.

In my dealings with strangers, I want to picture myself in their place and respond as I would want someone to respond to me.

In my dental practice, I want to look my patients in the eye, ask how they’re doing, and listen—really listen—to their answers before I administer treatment.

In my friendships, I want to meet my friends’ physical and emotional needs through action, empathetic listening, and prayer.

In my parenting, I want to cheer my children on instead of criticizing, pray instead of preach, and extend forgiveness as often as necessary.

In my marriage, I want to extend grace when my husband disappoints me, encouragement when he fails, and respect because he is created in the image of God.

In my ministry, I want to remember how lost I was, how patient God has been toward me, and how He calls me to love like He loves.

Rethinking Ministry

The pandemic has produced many opportunities to minister in Jesus’ name, but it hasn’t been easy. As ministry leaders, we’ve had to set aside our plans and programs and rethink how to minister.

We’ve had to consider polarizing viewpoints. Masks or no masks? In-person gatherings or virtual? Limited attendance or wide open? 

Everyone has a different comfort level in these conversations, and we must consider them all, even the ones we don’t agree with. As a task-oriented, get-’er-done person, I’m sometimes tempted to bulldoze my position (which, of course, is the right position, yes?) so we can arrive at a decision. When I do, I violate Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (NKJV).

Whether or not I agree with someone’s position isn’t really the issue. The issue is whether I treat each person with compassion, understanding, and love. In the last year we’ve made hard decisions not everyone has embraced, but because we’ve listened with respect and considered each person’s viewpoint, they at least know they’ve been heard. This goes a long way toward fostering unity.

A Different Way to Minister

The pandemic has also forced us to minister differently. Instead of organized programs and events, churches have shifted to a more one-on-one approach. One church I know divided the church role among the deacons to ensure that each family received a weekly phone call or text message. How are you doing? Do you have any needs? How may I pray for you? 

Many have used the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders to reach out to their unchurched neighbors, many of whom they didn’t know. Members of our church have extended acts of kindness, compassionate care, and timely prayers to minister in Jesus’ name. Instead of saying, “I’ll pray for you,” we’ve prayed—right then—for the needs people share. Then we’ve done what we could to help in practical ways. These overtures have fostered relationships we hope will continue long after the pandemic is over and then bear fruit into eternity.

There’s Hope for People Like Us

I’ll probably always struggle with compassion; maybe you will, too. But by God’s grace and with conscious effort, we’llgrow closer every day to the example Jesus set for us all.

Philippians 1:6 gives us hope: “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”