Compassion for the hurting…
The Gospel of Matthew records the story of a man with a disabled hand:
Now when Jesus had departed from there, He went
into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man
who had a withered hand. And they asked Him,
saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” that they
might accuse Him.
Then Jesus said to them, “What man is there among
you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the
Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how
much more value then is a man than a sheep?
Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other.
Without getting into the whole Sabbath Day debate, I would imagine this guy with the messed-up hand attended church week after week, but no one seemed to notice or concern themselves with his condition. Chances are, very few people in the church even knew how badly he was hurting or how much emotional pain he was experiencing; no one, that is, except Jesus. Jesus was the only one paying close attention, and Jesus took the time to minister to this man and bring about his healing.
Several years ago, just a few days before Easter, my seven-week-old grandson, Anthony Nathaniel, died. He was diagnosed with a rare chromosome illness before he was born, which caused him to struggle to breathe and eat on his own. Even though everything the specialists told us about Anthony’s condition came true, and even though from a medical standpoint there was zero chance of long-term survival, still we held on for a miracle. We fasted and prayed and exercised faith; and as a ministry family we turned to God for grace and emotional strength. When Anthony died, we were all devastated. It was hard for us to comprehend such tragic loss.
Because it was a deeply emotional and grief-stricken time for us, I decided not to preach the Easter message that Sunday. It was the first time in 22 years I missed an Easter assignment. As much as I was hurting on the inside, with God’s grace and help I think I probably could have pulled it off, but I didn’t want to cast a dark shadow on the congregation and take away their joy. So I opted out and one of the other pastors preached.
Since it was Easter, I still wanted to be in church to draw strength from the Lord and celebrate His victory. I’ve been a Christian for over 45 years, and even before I was saved, I never missed church on Easter. I decided to attend a church near my house where no one would recognize me.
When I pulled into the parking lot of the church I had never attended before, I was really struggling emotionally. As soon as I parked the car, I burst into tears and had to sit in my car for several minutes in an effort to regain my composure. My heart was broken. I was crushed and felt as though someone had taken a hunting knife and cut my insides out. That’s how empty I felt.
I managed to get out of the car and make my way toward the entrance of the church. A greeter handed me a bulletin on my way in and I found a seat near the back of the sanctuary. The worship portion of the service was inspirational and the choir sang well-rehearsed songs. The pastor gave a textbook Easter Sunday message and ended the service with a call for salvation—hands were raised. But just like the man in Matthew 12 who was sitting in church with a broken hand, no one had a clue I was sitting there with a broken heart. With the exception of the greeter who handed me a church bulletin and the usher who said “Happy Easter” on the way out, I left the service without any other human contact or connection.
Now my intention for telling this story is certainly not to be critical of the church I attended that day. They didn’t know what happened or what I was going through, and I’m sure I had a “Do Not Disturb” sign on my forehead. But as I sat there during the service, I wondered how many people attended my church, Community Christian Church, on a weekly basis feeling exactly the same way I was feeling. I wondered how many hurting and hopeless people come through the doors of the church, barely hanging on, desperately needing someone to reach out to them.
As I thought about that over the next few days, I said, “Dear God, I don’t ever want this kind of thing to happen at CCC.” I want our church to be proactive and in “search mode” for people who might be hurting on the inside.
Even though we go out of our way to be a friendly church, and we have many systems in place to welcome visitors and continually reach out to members; CCC will not come close to hitting the center of the bullseye when it comes to effective ministry until we all develop that same sensitivity Jesus revealed in Matthew 12. Sometimes all it takes is a listening ear or a discerning, caring heart.
Yes, people come to church to worship the Lord. Believers want to hear God’s Word, grow in their faith, and stay in step with the Spirit—no doubt about it. But people also need to experience genuine compassion. Connecting with one another, feeling genuinely loved and cared for, building a sense of community, and establishing meaningful personal relationships—now that’s still a human necessity we all crave and desire. Bottom line, that’s the way God created us.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.