The Holy Spirit: The Development of Compassion

Donnell Wyche — May 2, 2021

Time and again, Jesus presents a picture of God that he hopes will catch us up into the goodness of God; producing joy, and inviting and welcoming the renovation of our heart by the Spirit of God by being born again.

3Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” (John 3:3)

The measure of a good life, Jesus says, is a life that is full of joy, dependent on God, learning to trust God as we take risks seeing, loving, and serving others.

But, if the Empire succeeds in its goals to keep us anxious, self-centered, constantly consuming, and exhausted, it will choke out any opportunities we have to draw life from Jesus and be transformed. We are at risk of missing out on the Kingdom life in which Jesus invites us to participate  Life that Jesus says life is joyful and abundant, not just “full”. This isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky dreamscape, Jesus says it is possible.

This is why we need the renovation of our hearts and lives by the presence of the Holy Spirit. I’ve been talking about being born again in this series on the Holy Spirit because I believe it is only through our submission to the Holy Spirit can we grow our faith and truly become Jesus’ disciple. Think of it as moving from childhood into adulthood. For many of us this transition is offer littered with starts and stops, failure and success, and taking risks. This is the role of the Holy Spirit helping us cope with the dangers and shortfalls of the real world as we attempt to grow from an immature faith into a mature faith.

Jesus invites us to come and see as we follow him into the unknown. Jesus invites us to develop an openness that allows the Holy Spirit to transform us, to soft our hearts, and to moved into action.

I love this picture that Jesus offers us in Matthew 9:35-38.

35Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:35–38)

I want to draw our attention to what Jesus sees and what he invites us to see.

36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  (Matthew 9:35–38)

It’s compassion because the people were harassed and helpless. Jesus uses this as the basis for his instruction to his disciples. See what I see. Feel what I feel. That’s literal definition of compassion in the Greek, feel it in your gut. You know, that feeling where your reaction happens in your stomach. It’s a primal feeling, something here is not right. You feel that pit, sometimes, even painfully in your stomach. That’s compassion — a visceral feeling. Jesus has compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd. In other words, wandering, aimless, lost, and lacking guidance. But more so, in need of care, of protection, of pasture, of tending, of nurture.

Jesus invites us to see what he sees, and to feel what he feels. But, this awareness was developed through his connection with the Spirit. Jesus able to have compassion for others because he was grounded in his awareness of the divine at work in him and around him. His compassion for others was slowly developed and tended over time. His compassion for others was anchored in being cared for himself by God. The Spirit cared for, loved, and provided for Jesus releasing him to see others and have compassion on them.

One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the Spirit’s assurance that we belong to God. Paul in Romans 8:16 puts this way,

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:16)

There is something powerful about knowing that it is someone’s else job to care for, provide, and attend to us and all our needs. It reassuring knowing there is someone who constantly checking in on us, asking about our well-being, providing us what we need at the moments we need it, gradually releasing more freedom, independence and confidence into our lives. There’s a freedom in knowing that it doesn’t all depend on us. That we haven’t earned everything that we have, instead, that everything is a gift.

Would you join me in an exercise?

I want to invite you to imagine what it means for God to be compassionate towards you. To see you, even when you would rather hide than display how you are hurting. That God sees even in the deepest places of shame, and instead of judgement, condemnation, and disdain, God rejoices over you. I want you to imagine what it would feel like that even in your darkest moment, there is a God who deeply loves you. That this God instead of being angry with you, cares for you. This God cries over you.

Because as much as Jesus knew how lost the crowd felt, Jesus also knows how lost and lonely you can feel. Who has compassion for you? Who tends to you? Who makes sure you are protected and safe and loved and nurtured? Perhaps one of the reasons that we feel unable to have compassion on others is we don’t allow ourselves to be the recipients of compassion, we don’t allow ourselves to be the objects of someone’s else passion, to acknowledge that we deserve time, attention, and care. Think about that for just a minute, maybe a little longer — what it feels like to have compassion for another and then what it feels like that you are, in this case, the other. Does it feel good knowing that you are care for? Does it start to border on feeling too good, do you begin to talk yourself out feeling worthy or deserving? Understandable, when we come towards this feeling, we start to back away. We start to make excuses. We start to apologizing for taking up space, we start to sabotage the situation. Why?

Let’s face it. We’d rather feel lost than trust that we are worthy. We’d rather feel sorry for ourselves than believe we deserve relationships that are truly reciprocal. We’d rather do things on our own to prove our power than step into places of potential powerlessness.

It’s one thing to recognize that someone has compassion for you. It’s quite another to allow those acts of compassion to unfold in your world.

We also like to pretend that we have it all figured out. That we don’t really need true compassion. Because we often mistake compassion for pity and that’s the last thing we want to feel — pitiful. We mistake pathos for pathetic. True passion for obligation. Why? Maybe the reason is profoundly theological — we simply cannot believe in God’s grace; in God’s love, in God’s care for us. So, we would rather get lost in the crowd, hoping not to be noticed. Yet, Jesus sees you.

36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  (Matthew 9:35–38)

The Holy Spirit wants to develop deep wells of living water within each of us, so that we full of life, life that is overflowing, allowing us to be develop compassion for ourselves and release compassion for others.

I have one suggestion for getting started.

Center Prayer.

    1. Choose a “sacred word” as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. Suggestion, “compassion.”
    2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
    3. When you become aware of thoughts, especially thoughts that aren’t compassionate towards yourself or others, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word (as the chosen expression of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.)
    4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

What would it look like to pray this way enough that you have rooted out any thoughts and feelings that say you aren’t worthy, you aren’t deserving of love, or that God doesn’t rejoice over you with dancing?

Friends, let’s invite the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to do what Paul says,

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:16)