Passing on Compassion

The temperature was in the single digits as the brisk northerly wind screamed over the frozen tundra of the Mississippi River and onto the property of my church. The forecast said that over the next 24 hours the temperature was going to plunge even more and I knew in my heart that if I didn’t do it now, it wouldn’t get done for days. So I did it. I bundled up and marched outside to change the letters on the church marquee. The blood vessels in my hands immediately constricted causing them to look like the sunken hands of a cadaver as my exposed fingers fiddled with the thin plastic letters. It was a moment of martyrdom.

The sign read, “Christmas Events:” and listed off the times for our Christmas Eve and Christmas Children’s program. As I stood there in the cold, I began calculating how many more months we had before Christmas 2014. It’s practically February already, would people really notice if it were left up? The bitter cold said, “No. No they wouldn’t.” But the better part of me decided to grin and bear it.

So in the spirit of concise-ness and anti-hypothermia, I spelled out, “Gratitude on the inside, Compassion on the outside.” It’s not original to me. I stole it fair and square from another unsuspecting church. But hey,

“…and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” Acts 4:32

(That still swings, right?)

Let’s parse it.

Gratitude on the inside

Gratitude is the prelude to worship. If this one characteristic could be at home in the heart of every Christian, most problems within the walls of the church would be immediately resolved. Gratitude and anger cannot co-exist. Gratitude and a sense of entitlement cannot co-exist. Gratitude and bitterness cannot co-exist. Let it define you. And as it defines you, it will define your church.

Compassion on the outside

There are a few books that I re-read on an annual basis. One is The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.  In the chapter on prayer he addresses the times when our prayers are seemingly ineffective:

“Often our lack is not faith but compassion. It seems that genuine empathy between the pray-er and the pray-ee often makes the difference. We are told that Jesus was “moved with compassion” for people. Compassion was an evident feature of every healing in the New Testament.”

Let me sum up what Foster was trying to say; Compassion is the soil of effective ministry.

Compassion is not a Christian elective. It’s a Christian distinction. We can’t take a pass on compassion.

How do we nurture compassion in our lives? Here are a few ideas:

1) Be humble. Think less of yourself and more of others.

2) Be broken. Feel the wounds of love and never let them heal.

3) Be vulnerable. Ministry hurts. Pain will be felt. Remember, Jesus chose Judas.

4) Be merciful. Remember God’s mercy for you and pour it out for others.

5) Be available. Ministry happens at inopportune times. The Kingdom life is never convenient.

Stay warm.

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