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Help Others for the Right Reasons

  • 2002 16 Jan
Help Others for the Right Reasons
It's vital to extinguish the myth that those who help others are superhuman, because this leads to a second myth: if I'm to help others, I must pretend that I have no needs or struggles of my own. We must be as disciplined about making time for and accepting God's provision for our own needs as we are about making time for those of others because otherwise we'll end up living a lie.

Not abandoning our journey. Have you ever noticed that, after giving the injured man the urgent help he needed, the good Samaritan carried on with his own journey, promising to call in on his way back? The Samaritan didn't abandon his journey in order to found a hospital for wounded travelers.

God doesn't usually ask us to stop traveling altogether, abandoning our journey in order to center our life upon a wounded person we've found beside the road. It may be necessary for a while to suspend normal activities and put our own needs and plans on hold in order to give our full attention to a crisis or a longer-term situation that demands our attention. But we need to check from time-to-time that we're in the right place. Is this particular caring role part of God's plan for us, or have we allowed a need to be the one who sorts things out to keep us involved in a situation for longer than the Lord intended?

Keeping our focus on God. The only person who has the right to take the central place in our lives is God. If he is at the center, then his agape love and his compassion will flow through us; if we make needy folk the center of our lives, we’re sliding into idolatry. If we’ve allowed anything or anyone to take God’s rightful place, we need to ask him for forgiveness and healing, and his help in moving on to be the people he intends us to be. Then we’ll be better equipped to respond to the challenge of showing his agape love and compassion in a needy world.

If the focus that should have been on God has been hijacked by feelings of being worthless, unloved and unlovable, we need to take such feelings to him, in order to dethrone them. If our feelings are very painful, the idea of facing them and bringing them to God may sound really scary, and finding an anesthetic, such as helping others and focusing on their problems, may sound preferable. But this does not honor God, and it will not meet our needs either. As we bring our feelings to God, we need to allow the teaching of the Bible to shape our thinking about ourselves; this will, in turn, affect our feelings and contribute to the healing process.

However we show compassion, it can be draining, and we may often feel that we’re not up to it. We need to go on asking God to make us more aware of his love and compassion. If we can really lay hold of what he’s like and draw close enough to sense his love, his mercy, his compassion, perhaps we won’t need to wear ourselves down by trying to earn approval, being driven beyond his call by nagging doubts about our worth. We need to allow the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort to draw alongside us and teach us to pace ourselves according to the rhythms of his grace. By keeping the focus on him, we’ll be better able to show his compassion to others.

Compassion for one another. When looking at the subject of compassion, our thoughts go to the desperately needy people out there in a needy world and those we know nearer to home in heart-rending situations. That’s right and proper because we do need to share God’s heart with those in need. But there is an additional dimension to compassion.

Paul writes: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). The word compassionate here isn’t the bowel-churning, heart-rending word we’ve been focusing on. It’s a different Greek word, which in some versions is translated “tender hearted.” I’m sure there’s a reason for using this different word. Paul is urging the Ephesians to be kind and compassionate to one another, to those they meet with regularly, to the ordinary people around them. He’s not talking about particularly needy people or those with heart-rending stories of suffering. He’s talking about the very men and women whose ordinariness, or apparent lack of problems or the fact that we see them at the front of the church doing things or in leadership roles or behind the coffeepot every week so they must be OK, may mean that we don’t feel moved to compassion when we see them. It’s about our attitude to these people that Paul is writing. …

Just as our compassion for the needy people around us and those in the trouble spots of the world needs to be genuine, so also we need to show true compassion and kindness to those around us and to the members of our families whether or not they are obviously in need. Codependent caring will focus on helping those with glaring needs as being the more certain route to a feeling of having done something worthwhile. Agape love loves without any thought of return and just loves.

When asked to write a review of pastoral care in the church I attend, I titled it “Pastoral Care is for Everyone!” This served to underline that pastoral care is not just for a few people who are somehow inadequate or especially needy, any more than it is for a select few to give to others. We all blossom when we experience the love of God being shared with us by those walking along with us I the Christian life. Pastoral care and compassion aren’t just for wimps; we all need them, so we need to repent of any pride that prevents us being on the receiving end.

True compassion reflects God’s nature and underlines that we are our Father’s children. Let’s not become preoccupied with doing things that we hope will make us feel better about ourselves or settle for people-pleasing or other counterfeits when we could be knowing and sharing the real thing.

Do I bustle on, trying to forget my own needs and wounds? Or do I make a habit of receiving from God so that I have plenty to pass on? Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. Do you know God as “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort?”

Am I happy to receive help from others, or am I only comfortable in the role of helper? For some people, choosing to accept God’s grace can be the first step toward learning to accept help from others. Ask your heavenly Father to help you if you find this difficult.

What is the cost of the help I give to those in need? Ask this of people close to you. Listen carefully and patiently to their answers and reflect on your feelings about them. Take your thoughts and feelings to God. Ask him to shine his light into your situation.

Excerpted from The Over-Committed Christian: Serving God Without Wearing Out, copyright 2001 by Pamela Evans. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com, 1-800-843-4587.

Pamela Evans has worked as a doctor in both general practice and medical research. She is also an accredited counselor with a long-standing interest in process addictions.

What motivates you to serve others in the ways you’re currently reaching out to them? Do you feel energized or drained by your service, and why? Do you regularly accept help from God and others for your own needs? Why or why not? Visit the Books forum to respond, or read what others have to say. Just click on the link below.

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