When Compassion is Sadly Lacking

Christmas

The Christmas season is fast approaching. For many families here in the Philippines, it will be a season of sadness and grieving, of homelessness and even hopelessness. The Christmas carols and blinking lights will be cruel reminders of loved ones lost and bleak futures. The typhoons that ravaged the country one strong fury after another will cast a dark shadow over the holiday celebrations. In these times of darkness and pain, the gift of compassion is greatly needed.

Sadly, there is a dearth of compassion in this world, even among so-called “Christians“.  It is highly encouraging to witness through the news funds being raised and food being distributed among the typhoon victims week after week. The heroism of a people is usually seen in tragedies of epic scales. But among the ordinary folks eking their way into existence every single day, a brief encounter with compassion is an oasis to a thirsty and war-weary soul. Yes, an oasis in the desert — hard to find, seldom seen, and a flitting mirage at best — but very much needed.

Compassion —  the deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the active desire to alleviate it — is something every hurting soul needs right now. Let us give it. Let us throw away useless platitudes, judgment, self-righteousness and even a messianic complex. Let us just feel with the hurting — no words, just feelings and loving gestures. Maybe a hug, a sincere pat on the shoulder, an understanding and kind glance. This is compassion. A soft and gentle voice mouthing judgment is not the same thing.

We call ourselves “Christians” — let us live in the way Jesus Christ lived. He is compassionate (Exodus 34:6 – “…The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”). If we want to know how else we can sincerely express compassion, we can look to Jesus’ examples in his word (you can check out BibleGateway.com). After all, he is our best example.

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Just Be

We’ve all heard and seen the very popular slogan of Nike, “Just Do It!” It is a catch phrase that spans several years and many countries and has launched Nike into yet another highly successful run. While for some it may just be another sales pitch, for many it is a 3-word command that has pulled them out of seemingly endless stupor. Often times I would catch myself saying these very words whenever I feel daunted by a task ahead of me, or when I find myself with too much time on my hands and too much guilt for “not doing anything” in the mean time. How about you?

Our God has recently reminded me that life – the Christian life – is not all about doing. If we stop long enough to listen, we will probably hear less of just do it and more of just be.

As I write this, the news of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin’s sudden death at 44 is very fresh in everyone’s minds and hearts. As a fan of his TV shows and conservation efforts, I feel a great sense of loss not just for myself but for the world, especially for the animal kingdom. However, I also thank God that Steve died doing what he loved and being the kind of person he was created to be. How many of us will be able to say the same at our final hour?

It is easy to be lured into believing that life and success are all about doing. After all, we only have a few years on this earth (beyond 70 years is already a bonus) and we ought to make the most of our God-given time. It is a terrible feeling to look back on our lives later on with much regret over things we haven’t done and dreams or ambitions we haven’t achieved when we could. This is especially true for those of us who are home-based, struggling to have a sense of identity, purpose and achievement in our lives. But let me propose Christ’s radical alternative to just be. It could actually change your life and mine!

Rick Warren said in his book, The Purpose Driven Life, “God is far more interested in what you are than in what you do. We are human beings, not human doings (177).” Our character and the condition of our hearts are of greater importance to God than what we are or what we do on the outside (1 Samuel 16:7). And whatever it is we do must be a result and reflection of Christ’s work in us. Let me reiterate. It is Christ’s work in us, not ours, and this through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

For people like me who still get conned (mostly by my own feelings of inadequacy) into believing that “doing things”, specifically things that reap financial rewards, is a measure of one’s productivity, this is a truth that needs to be seriously and consciously lived. And I don’t even have a type-A personality! I need to be constantly reminded that God is far more concerned about my growth as his child than my physical or material accomplishments. Reflecting on his truths, praying in the spirit, basking in his glory, standing in awe of him and even struggling inside as he grows me up are all part of my being all he wants me to be.

When my final hour comes upon me, I pray that I will not regret having spent so much time doing chores and responsibilities but so little time just being in God’s powerful and transforming presence. After all, when all is said and done, it is only my relationship with Christ that I can bring with me to eternity. Making every second count is not so much cramming in a lot of physical activities as it is living a purposeful life in Christ. “Live like you mean it”, a catch phrase from HGTV’s Lifestyle Network, is advice I hope to apply to myself every single day.

Let me end with the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 12:5 from The Message (NavPress): “Since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be (italics mine).”

My Purpose – A Lifelong Journey of Faith

One of the more frightening experiences for me years back was when I was asked a question that directly and unmercifully confronted my beliefs, ideals and the very reason for my existence. But even more daunting was, I did not have the answer to it! A very fundamental challenge was thrown at me and I was completely unprepared to tackle it. Worse, I felt like the whole world was watching when I dodged the challenge! What humiliation I felt! It was all about pride and the fear of being placed in a very tight spot where there seemed to be no escape. And as a human being, I was not an exception to either one.

When asked a few years ago what my purpose in this life was, I thought very long and hard, mentally reviewed all the sermons I heard in my lifetime (and maybe even came up with something quite witty), and tried to recall some well-known and oft quoted Bible verse that somehow explained the whole concept in just a sentence or two. Surely there was a quick answer to this one, or so I thought. It was a simple enough question and a “true and faithful” Christian would certainly know the answer. Well, I didn’t. The Bible, too, would surely have the answer and all I needed to do was pray, flip the pages, keep my fingers crossed (if my fingers were still up to the task) then miraculously end up with THE page that would have the answer I seek. Well, this never happened either. The question of purpose was not one that popped up frequently in my daily conversations and it was certainly not something I intentionally thought about then, much less pondered upon, until fairly recently.

In this world of fast food, express counters and instant noodles, I sometimes cannot help but desire some quick and easy answers to some really tough and painful life questions. My journey as a Christian has been, and still is, full of challenges and not a few heartaches scattered here and there. While I would never exchange my life in Christ with any other, I would have to admit that there were many times when I felt like giving up the fight. These were the times when I saw no light at the end of a very long tunnel, no pot of gold at the end of what seemed like an endless rainbow, and no God beyond the vast sea of clouds. These were the times when I fervently desired and sought the “quick and easy” solutions to my problems. And these were the times when I began to ask myself what my purpose in this life was, but was too afraid to seek the answers.

Before all these, however, I experienced much happiness and peace growing up. I grew up in a God-fearing home where many prayers were said before meals and at bedtime, and good values were taught and lived. My mother was a faithful Christian who loved the Lord with all her heart and devoted the latter part of her life to serving him full-time. My father was a good man and strove to be the best provider he could be. And my sister continues to be a faithful servant of the Lord in another part of the world. The Bible was very much a part of our lives growing up and stories of David slaying the giant and Noah building the ark to “save all the animals” were favorite bedtime stories. With this relatively “spiritual” background, I learned how to pray early on and learned some things about Jesus’ life and love for all of mankind.

I had led a relatively secure and “hassle-free” life, with the very painful exceptions of my father and mother passing away several years ago, and my only sister having to leave the country to be with the man she married. God has been gracious to me. He has allowed me to experience wonderful relationships and build good memories despite the great loss. And not so long ago, he gave me a very loving husband who is now a pastor and who faithfully serves Him. The Lord has also allowed me to be part of a very fulfilling ministry and to belong to a community of believers who truly love and serve God. I can easily recall more joyful moments than sad. But most of all, God has allowed me to experience Him, his grace, mercy and unconditional love, even at a very young age.

But looking back now, those happy experiences were there to prepare me for some of the pains of life that were yet ahead of me. After all, a Christian’s life is one that experiences Christ’s pain and suffering on the one hand, and his joy and peace on the other. And as I reflected on all these experiences, some important realizations and life lessons came to mind.

Some of the important lessons I learned were that if I wanted to know who I really was and what my real purpose in life was in the light of God’s word, then I would need to look long and hard at myself. I would have to be completely open and honest with myself, even if it meant having to be confronted by some very unpleasant facts. I would have to accept all my faults and weaknesses, and surrender them to God for his forgiveness and redemption. With these in mind, I realized that there was one thing that seemed to cripple me and hold me back from truly experiencing all the joys in life that were there for the taking; from entering all the doors of opportunity held open for me, and from giving all I had to my family, friends, and to the one I called my God. It was fear.

Fear paralyzed me and claimed everything that I felt was “rightfully” mine. I was always one step short of reaching my goal, of claiming this prize, or of achieving that award. I was too afraid of failing and of getting hurt that I just could not let go. I always seemed to tell myself that things were sometimes too good to be true and that something has got to give. It came to a point where I doubted God and his faithfulness and questioned his good intentions and purpose for me. If God wanted me to be happy, if he desired that his children have life and have it abundantly, then why did he take away everything that really mattered to me – my family, my job, and my sense of security – and allow me to experience so much pain that there seemed no point or purpose for living? I did not ask for riches. I did not desire to conquer the huge corporate world and be the big boss. But I obeyed him the best way I could, faithfully prayed and studied his word, actively served in church, and tried to love and forgive others. Is this not what true Christianity teaches? Was I not living it? Was this not my purpose in life? Why did God and those I loved the most abandon me? Why was I always so afraid?

As I struggled with these thoughts and with the pain for many years, God brought me to a place of isolation. It was just the two of us, “face to face”, with all our cards laid out on the table. He placed all my doubts and fears right in front of me and gently but firmly told me to confront them. One by one, my doubts crumbled before me. My fears chided me but were erased with such power that the slate was wiped clean. I was left with no defences before my God and my fearful heart was laid bare before him. God’s overwhelming love washed over me and cleansed me, and my life is now forever changed. He asked nothing but my total surrender. He sought nothing but my love in return for his. After all, he gave his one and only Son to die for me. His words rang loud and clear: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out all fear…”[1] God’s perfect love truly cast out my fears. They are not all completely gone, but my God is completely faithful.

And so my journey of faith with the Lord drastically changed course – and it deepened. It had begun many years before but it was only beginning to deepen in so many ways. God showed me that my life was not all about me. It was not about my dreams, ambitions and desires in life. Yes, God desired everything that was good for me, but our definition of “what was good for me” differed in so many ways. Again, I was reminded of his words: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”[2] Had the Lord not stepped in many times in my life, I know I would be lost. Had he “given up on me” – as if his great love ever could – death would surely be my only destiny.

But God had other plans for me, plans that would bring me life and not death. The Almighty God had an almighty plan – and it included an insignificant ME! He states it clearly in his word: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”[3] Just when I thought it would be impossible for God to change my wayward heart and messed up life, things began to change and the pieces of the puzzle began falling into their rightful places. God began taking away all my other sources of security and taught me to depend solely on HIM. Every job I ever held brought me more financial hardship than prosperity. It became a pattern in my life and it was almost tragic! My pride in my intellect, education and other academic and work accomplishments did not mean anything to the Almighty and all-knowing God! He did not need my resources and he certainly did not want anything I considered my own in order for him to do his miraculous work in me. And even more shocking to me, he did not want me to “succeed” in this world – not in the way I understood success to be. Instead, God wanted me to succeed in Him!

It was a long and bittersweet experience as God lovingly but surely took away everything that hindered me from surrendering my whole life to him. He wanted ME – my whole life, my whole being – nothing more and nothing less. He showed me that he could and would provide for my daily needs, and even the desires of my heart according to his holy and perfect will. The Lord could do all these even without the security of a job that could eventually take me away from HIM and his purpose for me. He gave me a husband who is now my “family”, who would provide well for me, and who would dedicate his life to serving the Lord full-time. And God showed me that he wanted me to serve HIM as well, by loving and serving my husband and serving alongside him.

God has been truly gracious. Just when I thought that my sin would forever condemn me, HE forgave me and washed me clean. Oh, the joy I felt in my heart to be given a fresh start – a new lease on life! My heart wanted only to sing his praises and dwell in his house forever. Psalm 40:1-5 became a joyful reality in my life and the song in my heart:

1I waited patiently for the Lord;

he turned to me and heard my cry.

2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

out of the mud and mire;

he set my feet on a rock

and gave me a firm place to stand.

3 He put a new song in my mouth,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear

and put their trust in the Lord.

4 Blessed is the man

who makes the Lord his trust,

who does not look to the proud,

to those who turn aside to false gods.

5 Many, O Lord my God,

are the wonders you have done.

The things you planned for us

no one can recount to you;

were I to speak and tell of them,

they would be too many to declare.”

Indeed, blessed is any person who makes the Lord his or her trust! God has shown me what his true blessings are. He has allowed me to experience his love and peace even in the onslaught of trials and tests. He has given me joy in pain, peace in suffering, and hope in darkness. He brought his praises to my lips when only tears would fall and I am now forever grateful to my God. My purpose for living had suddenly become clear – I was made to worship and praise the Lord! Even the angels praise the Lord day and night (Revelation 4:8-9)! In all things and in all circumstances, I must worship and praise him. I may be rich or poor, successful or not by the world’s standards, but I must still worship my Lord anyway – in any and all circumstances. This is now the prayer I say daily and hope to live by. The almighty and sovereign God is worthy of our praise (1 Chronicles 16:25). Anything less than this is simply not enough. If I call myself a Christian, then I must live by that great name and praise HIM who loved me and died for me.

I am now a new creation with a new purpose. By God’s grace, I am now “crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”.[4] I no longer desire what the world can offer if it would mean my alienation from God and his people. While material wealth can and does help alleviate physical suffering, it no longer holds me captive to its worldly charms. I now look at it as a tool that God uses in the hands of his people – hopefully, for HIS holy use. I no longer define “success” as acquiring material wealth, achieving a high status in life, gaining recognition and accolades, or accomplishing MY goals in life.

God has also graciously taught me what true contentment really is. The phrase, “godliness with contentment is great gain”[5] is now very clear and real to me. It is a lesson God continues to impress upon me everyday. Waking up to a brand new day with my sweet and loving husband beside me, eating simple yet wonderful meals, looking out into our garden and watching God’s power at work in the things that breathe and grow – oh, what a delight it is to rest in the Lord! The world’s pleasures begin to fade as I reflect on His awesome creation before me. Now, I ask myself again, is this not what Christianity is all about? Am I not living out God’s purpose for me? Yes, now I can say that I am. But there is more to it than simply enjoying God’s blessings on my own, and God is merciful to once again bring me into another aspect of his purpose for me.

There is a world out there crying out to God for his mercy and saving grace. He has forgiven me, he has loved me so much, and he has given me so much more than I can ever deserve. And now God is telling me to love the world as he loves me! There is no excuse and I am not an exception. All the pain the Lord has allowed me to experience is but a small drop in a very large bucket of world suffering. Can I make a difference for God? Maybe not, but HE CAN make a difference through me! I may have to face big battles to follow him, but I have an even bigger God who will fight them for me! I need not be afraid anymore. The Lord has conquered my fears and he will more than make up for my weaknesses, for he has said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”[6]

I should now live my life as a conduit of God’s blessings to the world he so loves. God has commanded us to “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…”[7] If I desire to sincerely worship and praise God, and if I claim to love him, then I must obey him. The task is daunting, but it is more than achievable because God has already declared his victory in Christ. “Death has been swallowed up in victory”[8] and God “gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”.[9]

As I worship and praise the Lord, I must also share his awesome love and saving grace to those around me. As God so loved the world, so must I also love the world and pray for the nations that have not yet heard of Jesus Christ and his gospel. I need to pray for and support all efforts toward preaching his gospel to the whole world. God expects nothing less of me and he continues to give me all I need to develop a heart that beats for the world. I can no longer bask in his love and enjoy being saved while the rest of the world groans in agony under the oppressive veil of the enemy.

God’s mission needs to accompany the purpose he has given me. And if I continue to surrender to his will and obey his command, he has promised to be with me always, “to the very end of the age”.[10] What an awesome promise! Surely this is what I, and everyone else God has created, was born for! As I read about God’s blessed hope for all of mankind who, in the end, choose to obey him, I cannot help but shiver in anticipation: “…and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore, encourage each other with these words (italics mine).”[11] How I long for this time! How I long to be reunited with my parents and with the rest of my family, and to see the world worship and praise God! And how I long to dwell in the house of the Lord forever! But while I live on this earth, I must learn to encourage others with this hope that God has given me.

Should anyone come up to me now and ask me what my purpose in this life is, I will no longer be afraid. I will no longer hesitate and look around me for the answers, nor will I pretend to be witty, and flip through the pages of an invisible Bible. This is no longer about my pride. I can no longer deny God’s grace in my life and the wonderful things he has done for me. I am still on a journey of faith with the Lord, and I know he will continue to reveal his purposes for me as I grow in his truth and love. But for now, God’s purposes for me – to worship and praise him, to share his love and gospel to the world through the power of his Holy Spirit, and to dwell with him forever – will give me the boldness to speak, coupled with the humility to acknowledge His powerful work in and through me. This is my prayer. This is my purpose.


[1] I John 4:18, NIV

[2] Proverbs 14:12, NIV

[3] Hebrews 11:40, NIV

[4] Galatians 2:20, NIV

[5] I Timothy 6:6, NIV

[6] 2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV

[7] Matthew 28: 19-20, NIV

[8] 1 Corinthians 15:54, NIV

[9] 1 Corinthians 15:57, NIV

[10] Matthew 28:20, NIV

[11] 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, NIV