We may think that the bigger a church is, the more it pleases God. But the truth is, He’s far more interested in people than buildings. Creation testifies to this fact. The Lord didn’t create the earth simply to be admired for its beauty, but to be the ideal habitat for the crowning glory of His creation—humankind.
When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He also focused on people. Wherever He went, He ministered to those with physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. So doesn’t it make sense that people should be our priority as well? As believers, we are called to build each other up (1 Thess. 5:11) and bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Yet many Christians have developed a “sponge” attitude. They go to church and attend Bible studies, soaking up spiritual truths, yet they never squeeze anything out onto others. God’s Word should change us, and in turn, affect others as we minister to them.
If we’re not careful, we can go through life with blinders on, forgetting that people around us are suffering. Some Christians are quick to claim, “Well, I don’t have the spiritual gift of mercy, so this doesn’t apply to me.” But believers aren’t exempt from the responsibility of spiritual practices, and all of God’s children should be growing in these areas.
If we’re going to learn to be empathetic, we must see others’ situations from their perspective and feel their emotions. Hurting people recognize whether our attempts to comfort are genuine care that flows from an understanding heart, or merely shallow words. We recognize how Jesus could minister with true compassion. After all, He is God. But how in the world are ordinary people supposed to reach out the way He did?
Acknowledge the value of suffering. One of the Lord’s most surprising and effective ways of developing empathy in us is through suffering. The Bible says God is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
Although no one enjoys going through difficulty or pain, who better to empathize with a hurting person than someone who has walked through a dark valley and come out on the other side?
Although no one enjoys going through difficulty or pain, who better to empathize with a hurting person than someone who has walked through a dark valley and come out on the other side? Because we’ve shared a similar painful experience, we can assure others that the Lord is sufficient in every situation. All of us who desire to be used by God must submit to brokenness and recognize that ease, comfort, and pleasure aren’t His only plans for our life. He saved us to minister to others, and becoming more empathetic is an integral part of that calling.
Recognize when others are in need. If we’re going to be effective in expressing empathy, we must first recognize the emotional and spiritual condition of those we’re trying to help. As we walk in the Spirit, living in submission to His authority and being in tune with His still, small voice, He’ll give us the spiritual discernment to view people and their situations from God’s perspective. The Holy Spirit will also touch our emotions, giving us compassion for the hurting and love for the unlovable.
Part of seeing people as God views them is recognizing their potential. When Christ looked at a person, He saw not only the one standing before Him but also the one he or she could potentially become. For example, when Jesus met Peter, the fisherman, He saw a leader of His church. He recognized that Saul, the persecutor, would one day become the evangelistic missionary. That’s why we should never label anyone as a hopeless case. At times, just knowing that someone sees their potential can lift people out of despair and motivate them to become mighty forces in the kingdom of God.
If we desire to be used by God, we must submit to brokenness and recognize that ease, comfort, and pleasure aren’t His only plans for our life.
Reach out to help. In order to build up and encourage others, we need to reach out to them personally. Too often, we try to connect distantly or conveniently through text messages, emails, or even phone calls. But nothing can replace the effectiveness of face-to-face personal interaction. Only then can we see body language and facial expressions that reveal what’s truly going on in the heart. When Jesus reached out to meet people’s needs, He connected on three levels: mentally, by assessing their condition; emotionally, by showing compassion; and physically, by alleviating their suffering.
Be ready to give. Next, we must be prepared to meet the needs of those who are going through difficulties. However, this requires great spiritual discernment because the most obvious need may not be the most important one. It seems as if the compassionate response would be to alleviate their pain or help them get out of a bad situation. But sometimes God has a purpose to work out in their lives through the trial.
When Jesus was in the country of the Gerasenes, He met a demon-possessed man whose appearance and behavior might have seemed like the major problem (Luke 8:26-35): he was naked, covered in wounds, and screaming wildly. If Jesus had told His disciples to attend to the man’s immediate needs by quickly clothing him, asking him to sit down quietly to eat a meal and talk about what’s bothering him, there would have been chaos. What’s worse, the man would have stayed in his desperate condition. But Jesus met him at the point of his deepest need—spiritual deliverance. After He cast out the demons, everything else fell into place. Like Christ, we have to remember that our good intentions to make people feel better may actually get in the way. But we can’t go wrong when we help them with their spiritual needs.
Our good intentions to make people feel better may actually get in the way. But we can’t go wrong when we help them with their spiritual needs.
Make use of difficulties. We’ve all experienced situations when our needs have been so overwhelming that the only thing we could do was ask for help. But that’s not where God wants us to stay. Once we’ve moved through suffering and received His comfort, He wants us to become comforters to others, thereby completing the cycle of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. After helping a person walk through a dark valley, the next step is to challenge him to use that suffering to help someone else. That’s what Jesus did after delivering the demon-possessed man. He told him, “Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you” (Luke 8:39).
Investing in others’ lives is not always easy, and on occasion it can be quite costly. It requires time and emotional energy, but Christ has given us a promise in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you.” This verse isn’t speaking just about money. The Lord will multiply whatever you give in service to Him. If you sacrifice your time to help someone, He’ll give you adequate time for whatever else He knows you need to do. If ministering to someone leaves you emotionally exhausted, He promises renewal. Giving ourselves away to others is not a life of deprivation but one of spiritual growth, joy, and fulfillment.