Encouragement Skill #2


No one in distress cares about how much we know until they know that we care about how they feel.  You believe that?  When you are hurting, do you want a treatise on pain and suffering or do you want someone who will try to understand what your heart is feeling?  John Piper says, “There’s a time for words and a time for tears.”   And this is from a theologian who learned this through decades of pastoring as he left his study to enter the drama of human lives.

As I always should, I look to Jesus to show me how He gave empathy first and answers last.  The most obvious story is the one where Jesus wept tears of grief at the gravesite of His friend, Lazarus.  He didn’t give a eulogy about Lazarus or a sermon on death’s curse. He heard the wailing and entered in to weep deeply with Mary and Martha.  Jesus is our great High Priest.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Hebrews 4:15  What’s comforting about that is Jesus knows how I feel because He subjected Himself to life in this world.  He could have stayed in heaven, continued to inspire writers to pen scripture, and assure mankind that He knows how the human body handles pain because He created us.  That would have been only mildly comforting. He knew I needed more than a God who just understands how I am wired. I needed an Emmanuel who would show me that He understands the complex emotional landscape of human beings.  As the incarnate God, He modeled a rich emotional life with displays of grief, joy, and everything in between. I am a stoic by comparison.

It is easier to give answers instead of empathy.  I can deliver a few well crafted lines about pain and walk away without the slightest fatigue.  I won’t feel spent nor will I carry the hurts of the people I love with me. But that’s not how Jesus lived. Ministry to others drained Him.  His investment was costly.  When the woman with the issue of blood reached out to touch the hem of His garment, He knew it immediately because He felt power go out of Him.  After extended periods of ministry, He was depleted. He went off alone to pray and rest.

As you read this today, perhaps you are feeling the drain of loving someone well.  You have invested your heart over time and it has taken its toll.  This devotional is not to tell you to step away and to stop caring so much ~ though you need periods of rest.  It’s quite the opposite.  It’s to validate your weariness and commend you for being like Jesus.  Each of us must build a bridge of friendship before others will trust our words.  Without a heart connection that is built by compassion, there is little credibility to preach a sermon. Empathy opens their heart for truth that comes later.  Henri Nouwen wrote, “Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”  

Father God, make us a kingdom of priests after the order of Christ Jesus, our High Priest.

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