This monthly column is my gift to you, a faithful servant in ministry. As a co-laborer in Christ, I want to encourage you to care of your own soul, to take time to nurture your relationship with God through spiritual practices. We regularly reflect in this space on how soul-care is critical to long-term ministry success. If you’re not growing, if you’re not keeping your own soul healthy, it’s hard to tend to the souls of others. I sometimes feel like the gal who gets to ring the bell at recess, to give permission for you to play, to rest, to just enjoy God. I pray that refreshment will water your soul, help it to thrive.
There is another type of growth and it comes from serving, from imitating Jesus who took on the nature of servant (see Philippians 2). If that’s true and we want to be like God, we have to know what he’s like. Throughout the Bible, poets and prophets describe God in this way:
“The Lord is gracious and compassionate; slow to anger, abounding in love.” (see Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, and Joel 2:13).
And the Bible is clear, that God’s people are called to be much the same: gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, loving. We know we can’t attain God’s standard, but with his help, we can do much more than we thought. If that grace flows through us, we can share it with others. If we experience his compassion, we can pass it on.
When people long ago asked about what matters, what our lives should be about if we are following God, God answered through the prophet Micah:
“He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Someone who loves mercy is compassionate. The word compassion springs from two Latin roots: cum (with) and pati (suffer). To suffer with. Not to condescend, not to write a check, not to pity. Not to fix. But to suffer with, identify with, share in the struggles of. Compassion begins with paying attention.
Because of God’s grace and mercy, Jesus came to earth to suffer with us, to take on flesh and live among us, to die for us. Likewise, the Holy Spirit prays for us and lives in us, in both our joy and suffering. In fact, the name for the Holy Spirit in Greek is Paraclete, meaning one who comes alongside. And he calls us to be compassionate people. It is one way that we grow.
Just serving in children’s ministry can be an act of compassion. You come alongside young people, listening and teaching, caring and serving. You suffer with them and sometimes, truth be told, because of them. Don’t believe me? Serve a shift in the two-year-old room.
When I look back at my spiritual journey, I can see that most of my profound growth occurred when I was facing challenges or extended myself to others—to show compassion.
The common denominator in someone who is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and loving is that they listen. Listening is a path to compassion. And listening is a spiritual practice that will nurture others and us at the same time.
In his book, if You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, John Ortberg asks,
“Is there any challenge in your life right now that is large enough that you have no hope of doing it apart from God’s help? If not, consider the possibility that you are seriously under-challenged.”
I think just attempting to walk humbly, act justly and love mercy is something I have no hope of doing without God’s help. But when I agree to take on this challenge, with God’s help, I learn to live a life of simple compassion. We often find it incredibly challenging to simply love our neighbor—whether that neighbor lives next door, in the poor part of our city, or sits next to us in the pew on Sunday mornings.
And it is those acts of compassion that help us to grow spiritually. Among the children you minister to, you have great opportunities to show compassion. Almost every child in your care has been affected by the economy in some way. Perhaps they have a parent who has lost a job or they’re just seeing more tension at home because of financial pressures. There may be children in your ministry who don’t get enough to eat or who are just starving for attention. Others may be quietly dealing with other issues: divorce, a dying grandparent, a sick sibling, neglect, verbal or even physical abuse. You just never know. Every time you are with the children you minister to, don’t just see it as an opportunity to tell them what they need to know or how to act. See it as a time for you to listen and learn, to understand their suffering, to come alongside them and show them compassion.
You don’t have to go on a mission trip or visit a soup kitchen to show compassion (although if you serve older kids, you may want to do just that with them). Rather, you simply have to pay attention. The opportunities to grow by showing compassion are right in front of you.
If you’d like to learn more about what it means to be compassionate, to make a difference in your own life and the lives of others at the same time, pick up Keri’s newest book Simple Compassion. Learn more at keriwyattkent.com.
This post is originally published on http://www.todayschildrensministry.com, which is owned by Christianity Today.