Four Enemies of Compassion

by Oct 20, 2011

Gospel-driven compassion is required for us to have Christ-like influence in the world, but there are habits and attitudes that drain compassion from our hearts. Darrin Patrick lists a few of them:

When I first went into ministry, I had an overwhelming sensation that I was alive for the first time. I was utterly consumed with teaching, shepherding, leading, and counseling, to the point that I neglected other responsibilities in order to do more ministry. I could not imagine not enjoying ministry. Over the years I have realized that the joys of ministering to people are often crowded out by the demanding schedule of ministry. I find that I can get so immersed in the busyness of ministry that I lose the pleasure of ministry.

When the needs of people consistently make you angry, when you avoid people because you’re afraid they might need something from you, when you frequently tune out during conversations, you need to know that you are no longer caring for people.

There is a difference between simply being busy and being hurried. Being busy is about the things you have to do. Being hurried is the spiritual, mental, and emotional state that you are in when trying to do the things you have to do. You can be busy without being hurried.

As a new pastor I could not even understand a journal entry like this: “I’m tired, Lord. Bone weary from the inside out. I’m tired of a con- stantly cluttered desk and an overcrowded calendar. I’m tired of problems I can’t solve, and hurts I can’t heal. I’m tired of deadlines and decisions—duties done without any pleasure. I can’t remember the last time I walked barefoot outside or took time to smell the air after the rain. I can’t recall the last time I smelled coffee and paused to enjoy it. I want to feel. I want to laugh. I want to cry. I want to live life to the fullest. I want to love, and be loved.” (Richard Exley)

There is a vertical aspect to self-righteousness (I am trying to gain right standing with God with my good work instead of Christ’s). But there is also a horizontal aspect to self-righteousness (I am trying to be right before God because I compare my sin with others’). The horizontal form of self-righteousness is one of the main reasons people don’t forgive people close to them, much less be compassionate toward people not close to them.

One of the hardest things to overcome in loving hurting people is absorbing their hurt, rejection, and shame without pulling back emotionally. The root of the word compassion in English means “to be together [com] with someone’s pain [passion].” So to demonstrate compassion toward someone is to agree at that moment to enter into suffering with them, to choose to enter their reality—hopes, dreams, sins, and rebellion. If your heart is clogged up with protecting yourself, you are unable to enter into the loves of other people because all your energies will be consumed with avoiding their pain. Compassion is the only way not to focus on your own comfort. Compassion is the God-given emotion that enables us to be distracted from our own wants and focused on others’ needs.

Compassion, most assuredly, is deep within us as followers of Christ. We know this because the same Spirit who moved Jesus with compassion lives in us, and that same Spirit yearns to move us toward compassion just as he moves preachers to preach and leaders to lead. Just as we need the Spirit’s guidance to reveal truth to us in Scripture, so do we need the guidance of the Spirit to birth compassion in us regularly. God, when he revealed himself to Moses, described himself as compassionate.14 Ultimately, not tapping into this well of compassion is an issue to be taken up with the Lord himself.