How often have we heard of Christians suffering real persecution and thanked God for the freedom we have to worship as we choose? How many times have we seen someone who was homeless and thanked God for all of our blessings? Probably not as often as we should but, it is certainly not uncommon for Christians to feel thankful when exposed to the misfortune or suffering of others. These encounters also seem to put our problems into perspective. As the old saying goes, “I wept because I had no shoes, until I met a man with no feet.” When faced with real abject poverty and genuine suffering, worrying about our popularity seems a little trivial.
Now, here’s another question. How often was Jesus moved to thank the Father for His blessings when He met those who were suffering? When Jesus came in contact with the impoverished, diseased, or outcast – was He ever thankful that He was not like them? Jesus’ reaction to suffering was different. He felt compassion for those in need and was moved to relieve their suffering, not just count His blessings. His focus was not on Himself but on them.
Jesus was truly the first Christian missionary. He saw the desperate need of mankind and was moved to do something about it. While He existed in the form of God, He didn’t consider it something to be used for His own advantage but emptied Himself. (Eph 2:6-7). He did this to relieve the ultimate suffering experienced by man; the death and condemnation caused by our own sin. This is truly the missionary’s heart; it is the one that we should desire.
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be thankful for what God has so generously given us – we should. But our thankfulness should be continual, not just motivated by sharp contrasts. However, I am suggesting that if we truly desire to be conformed to the image of our Savior we must respond to the suffering and need in the world as He did. Not with passive thankfulness, but with active compassion. We must be moved to get involved, to try to lighten the load carried by those who are afflicted and in distress. It is not enough to sit idly in our comfortable pews each Sunday and thank God for our blessings. He does not bless us to make us complacent; He blesses us to give us the resources we will need to fulfill His mission.
As Christians we are all called to be a witness in our Jerusalem, in our Judea and Samaria and ultimately to the ends of the earth – every day. Our compassion, our desire to genuinely show the love of Christ should never be limited to a one week trip during the summer. It should not be something we do occasionally, it must permeate our lives. As Christians we are called to serve, not be served. Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that the Christian faith is an active faith. James states that we are called to be, doers of the Word and not hearers only. He goes on to say that if we are hearers only, that we are just deceiving ourselves. But if we are doers who are moved with compassion to show the love of Christ to a lost and dying world, we will be blessed in what we do. Then we’ll have yet one more blessing for which to be thankful.