Evangelism means that we must not only have a passion for God as I have written here, but also a passion for our fellow human beings. We cannot claim to love God when manifestly we don’t love our fellow humans. The two are inextricably linked: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Luke 10:27).
Why do we have so little passion for others? Perhaps because we have so little compassion! We can have passion for many things good or bad but compassion is suffering with someone, being moved by someone’s predicament. Who is the King of compassion? The Lord. The word is used many times of him.
In the aggregate:-
“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”
And small groups:-
“Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.”
“When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.” ”
The Lord is moved by compassion. What does it lead him to do? In the first verse above that compassion leads him to say, “Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest.” “
So the Lord has compassion and that means he sends us. We need that same compassion to help us carry out that task.
How do we get more compassion?
- Becoming more like Christ – Oh that I and you could have a more Christ-like character! Then we would naturally and spontaneously be full of compassion. Let’s not miss the opportunity the context gives us to ask the Lord of the harvest to make us more Christlike.
- Knowing people – We must know the people to have compassion on them. God can love the whole world but we are not God. Jesus could feel compassion for the crowd but we are not the Lord. We can very easily instead become Mrs Jellybys, that awful character in Dickens “Bleak House” who pours all her energies into great philanthropic schemes in Africa whilst starving her own children. “She was a pretty, very diminutive, plump woman, of from forty to fifty, with handsome eyes, though they had a curious habit of seeming to look a long way off. As if…they could see nothing nearer than Africa!” We can fall in love with an abstract idea (or, dare I say it, theology) whilst neglecting the very people God has placed us among as ambassadors.
- Our compassion conquering our fear – We fear what people will say about us. That holds us back like a handbrake in a car. What should release the brake is compassion for the person. That they are “like sheep without a shepherd”. What are sheep without a shepherd like? They wander aimlessly around and they are at risk from wild animals. Our friends are most of all at risk of being eternally separated from God.
What does having compassion for our friends look like in practice?
- We listen to them – We can hardly feel compassion for some problem if we don’t know what the issue is in the first place. If I had one piece of practical advice it would be, “Ask more questions”. The right question of course! Here is one to start with:- “What puts you off Christianity”? Or, “Do you mind if I pray for you?”
- We care practically for them – Not everyone’s need is obvious and there may be cases where we can’t do anything. But most people (especially right now) at the least need a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. Often they need more. We will only be credible in talking about the compassion of Christ when we can show practical compassion ourselves.
- We share the ultimate medicine – Letting our friends see how good and effective the medicine of compassion is. The medicine chest with the power to heal is not anything that we have, but something which we are given: God’s word. We just need to “dispense” it, not unlike the NHS dispenses the covid vaccine. For example, we can use the psalms which are full of wonderful balm. Many people now are weary and bruised and depressed. Try and share just a couple of verses from the psalms and speak very briefly about how they’ve helped you. “In lockdown I’ve found this so helpful”. You don’t even need to say it comes from the Bible
Whilst for many people reading a gospel together is the best place to start, I’ve also found recently that reading a psalm together can be wonderfully soothing for those facing grief or serious illness, for example. That’s why I wrote my new book, “Hope in the face of suffering” which is designed to give away to people who need comfort.
- We can read the Bible together – This particularly helps build our Christ-like compassion because as you read together, God’s Word becomes a bridge over which all kinds of unexpected traffic will be driven. Many highly successful people in business appear to need nothing: in my experience of reading the Word 121 with them, that’s an illusion. As God’s Word does its miraculous work, so all kinds of problems and sadnesses will emerge. How to deal with them? With kindness and compassion and by pointing them to the one who is gentle and lowly and will turn no one away.
Start with a single step
How then to start? A journey of a hundred miles begins with a single step and here are my suggestion of a simple and easy “step” and of course you can adapt it as you wish
You: “how was lockdown?”
You: “for me, the thing that kept me going was just reading a few sentences every day from John’s gospel: it’s an amazing book, I loved it! ” (We easily say “I loved a TV series such as “The Crown” or “Bridgerton”…this is the same principle!)
(Assess friends reaction!)
You: “Did you ever have a look at it?”
Friend responds… (likely no)
You: “would you like to have a look at it with me?“ or “would you like to read it together?”
The Bible says “those who honour me I will honour”. When we honour God in such a simple way I believe that he will use our tiny and trembling step of faith. If you stand on a diving board or the edge of a swimming pool and long to jump into the beautiful water all you must do is take a small step and gravity does the rest. All we need to do is take a tiny step and God and his Word does the rest. “My word will not return to me empty but will accomplish that which I purpose”.