A Christian Response to Suffering: Compassionate Service

In this series, compassionate serving is our fourth Christian response to suffering.  The other four responses are listening, lament, empathy, and hopeful living.  While presently I don’t believe these responses must be employed in the linear progression which I am developing them in this series, I do want to stress that listening must always be our first response.

When someone begins to suffer, we often are perplexed about what to do.  Being a people of words, we often want to say something but as I have suggested before, what can we say?  We can, however, do something.  It’s called compassionate service.

I have called this response “compassionate service” for two reasons.  First, our desire to serve is (or should be) motivated by our compassion for the sufferer(s) who must endure grief and pain they don’t deserve.  It is an act of ministry grounded in love rather than some other less than noble reason.  Secondly, the attribute of compassion is very prevalent in Jesus’ very ministry.  Here is a sampling of passages from the Gospel of Matthew[1]:

  • “The Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them…” (9.35-36).
  • “When [Jesus] went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick” (14.14).
  • “Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry…’” (15.32).
  • “Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes.  Immediately they regained their sight and followed him” (20.34).

These four samples are ample enough to make the point I want to make regarding compassionate service.  What we notice when we read of Jesus being moved by compassion to ministry is that Jesus gets involved in a personalized way.  He gets his hands dirty, takes action that requires sacrifice on his part.  Here is my point:  “Thinking of You” cards or “Sympathy” cards are a nice gesture.  They do let the recipient know they have not been forgotten but they are often a depersonalized ministry.  It does not require sacrifice of time, personal comfort, etc… or even in some cases, our physical well-being.  When our son passed away, there were others around to drive me to the funeral home to make the funeral arrangements so that I would not be left alone.  Others were so gracious as to come over and mow our yard and take care of some other needed yard work.  We even had someone from church give to us a young puppy named “Shadow” that had already been trained to do his business outdoors, which we gladly accepted. 

It is hard to put into words how each of these acts of compassionate service meant to my wife and I.  Neither person who offered such compassionate acts of service had to do so but they did.  Looking back, I would definitely say that these acts of compassion helped remind us that even in the ‘dark night of the soul’, God was still with us through the presence of his Spirit-filled people.  When someone in our social-space must endure suffering, whether that person is a fellow church member, neighbor, co-worker, friend, etc… what they need most is to not suffer alone but to know God is with them and caring for them.

Here are some other examples of compassionate service which I have heard of being offered to those suffering:

  • Taking the children out for the afternoon to give a mother battling cancer and exhausted from the chemotherapy some time to rest in quietness and peace.
  • Taking a birthday cake up to the hospital of a young man dying from AIDS to celebrate the birthday with the patient.
  • Stopping by to visit and spend the afternoon with a woman now confined to a bed after an auto accident left her paralyzed.
  • Offering an extra room to young woman fleeing an abusive relationship with nowhere to go for the moment.
  • Remembering someone who has recently been divorced and inviting that person over for dinner so that he or she will not be eating alone.

Those examples are all based on actual situations I am aware of.  There are so many other wonderful examples I am unaware of.  However, I hope they provide some concreteness to what compassionate service looks like.

[1] All scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.

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