Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.
–Dalai Lama (b. 1935), a monk of the Gelug School.
Compassion is a form of love which is aroused when we’re faced with those who’re suffering or are vulnerable. The Hebrew and Greek words – rachuwm and splanchnisoma are at times translated as “compassion.” Their other broader meanings are “to show pity” and “to show mercy.” Near synonyms in the English language are “to be loved by,” “to show concern for,” “to be tender-hearted,”and “to act kindly.” All these terms help in our expressions concerning how we should pray.
Rumi (1207–1273), a Persian Muslim theologian observed, “Great can be a garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.” Nevertheless some of us are brought to our knees when we suffer. Strange as it may seem such pain in our devotion to our Lord may provide relief, insight, and dependence on our Savior.
In the New Testament believers read about a compassionate God. This is shown through the ministry of Jesus Christ among his people (Mt 9:36; Mk 6:34). Jesus encountered helpless crowds, sick, and hungry people. Luke speaks about a Father (Jesus Christ) moved with compassion when he encountered his wayward son (Lk 15:20). God accepts us when we repent and return to his fold.
But what should we do when we put feet and hands to our prayers? Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965), a French-German theologian explained, “The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” We can do such deeds by feeding the poor, working in soup kitchens, and clothing the naked. These ministries call for dedication as we show love to the underprivileged. We therefore should make compassion an integral part of our Christian lifestyle (Zech 7:9). As Daniel Goleman (b. 1946), a psychologist wrote, “True compassion means not only feeling another’s pain but also being moved to help relieve it.”
Reach Out in Prayer
But what must we learn? Radhanath Swami (b. 1950), a community builder said, “Religion is meant to teach us true spiritual human character. It is meant for self-transformation. It is meant to transform anxiety into peace, arrogance into humility, envy into compassion, to awaken the pure soul in man and his love for the Source, which is God.” Desmond Tutu (b. 1931), a South African retired Anglican bishop further stated, “God’s dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion.” When we pray for guidance in our various ministries our test is to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion.
We know that God is full of compassion and gracious (Ps 78:38; 86:15; 111:4). Jesus taught we must extend this to the whole human race without exception (Mt 5:43-48; Lk 10:30-37). As Saint Stephen (d. 36 A.D.), the first martyr put it: “You desire that which exceeds my humble powers, but I trust in the compassion and mercy of the All-powerful God.” Then again we are reminded by Saint Francis of Assisi (1181/1182–1226), an Italian Roman Catholic preacher: “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” Being compassionate should not be viewed as a weakness, but rather as a special gift from God.