We have seen from Linda how important compassion is, yet it is not easy to get. You can’t just think yourself into being compassionate. How do we get Christ’s compassion? Scriptures suggests that it is our own struggles that work in us the compassion Linda talked about.
It is true that it can be particularly tough having compassion when we ourselves are struggling. It is hard to think of others when we have such great needs ourselves.
However it need not be the case. We can move on from our needs, not belittling them, pretending they are not there, not mind over matter, but by recognising that our sufferings are not the end of the story. That is experience of the saints over the centuries and the teaching of Paul particularly in 2 Corinthians.
Following Paul’s conversion Ananias was told by the Lord to go Paul.
Go This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. Acts 9v15, 16.
Suffering, trouble was predicted at the start of his ministry and was what defined it. 2 Corinthians contains Paul’s reflection on the impact on him of this suffering.
In particular Paul concluded that receiving God’s compassion and comfort in our troubles is what equips us to offer compassion and comfort to others.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1v3,4
Paul is not talking theoretically, but from personal experience. He gives an example.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. 2 Corinthians 1v8,9.
Many, including myself, feel that the struggles Paul had were with depression. He was delivered them from that, and through the experience he learnt to rely on God.
My personal experience is those who have suffered much love much. Those who have experienced God’s comfort in difficulties have a depth of compassion others don’t have. It is especially true for those who have suffered in some way with mental illness, which is true for 25% of the population! But not just mental illness, other difficulties are used by God to help us grow in compassion. Paul’s reflections are that it is our difficulties that equip and grow us. As we embrace them we find compassion for others.
This is in total contrast to those who see troubles and difficulties as a sign that something is wrong and shouldn’t be happening to us because we are sons of God. Such thoughts have always been present, even in Paul’s day, even in Corinth to whom he is writing. Paul’s teaching is totally different, our suffering is used by God.
WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON
Tony is the leader of Hope Church Luton. He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.