Weekly message from Pastor Mike: Empathy matters

1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

Many years ago, when I was a youth pastor, I used to take groups of students to do mission work in Mexico. We would spend a week or so in a poorer section of the town getting to know people, providing fun programs for kids, doing a few community gatherings, and talking about Jesus of the Bible. It was a great time, as many of the students had never been exposed to that level of poverty.

Sometime during the week, I would take a few students down a street not far from our compound. I would ask the students just to observe, say nothing, and let God speak to them. The street was a typical dirt street, but on the left was an old school bus with no wheels set in the ground made into a dwelling. On the other side of the street was a house made out of doors. Just past that was a house with a wood frame and cardboard nailed as the siding.

I purposefully asked a rhetorical question, “I wonder what happens when it rains.?” One house, what looked like a ten foot by ten-foot cube, had a bunch of kids in it. They all came out, so excited see us, being they had been with us for the morning kid’s programing. The little girls ran up with flowers to put in our girls’ hair and grabbed their hands, and the boys jumped on the backs of the guys and we walked the length of the block. The little kids all went back to their homes and we walked on in silence.

Later that night, at our debriefing of the day, I asked the students who went on that walk to share. One student started out describing the houses and in mid-sentence realized that the closet in their room was bigger than one of the houses, and 7 people live in that house. Tears welled up as they began to understand how another person lives and how privileged they are. Others joined in sharing their experience and it was amazing to see God do the good work of humbling hearts to bring about empathy.

Empathy is the ability to understand another’s feelings. But empathy is not a one-time choice. Empathy is a muscle that grows as we open up to a curiosity about others, asking good questions. Empathy is noticing biases in ourselves and others, and thinking outside our own experience. Empathy is listening with a humble and vulnerable heart.

Empathy matters, and if there was ever a time that we need empathy, it is now!

Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Matthew 7:12 So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 22:37-40 And He (Jesus) said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

John 15:12 This is my (Jesus’) commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Empathy matters. There are people all around us, some even facing injustice, and we could use empathy. Empathy sees. Those students used to walk by that street to go to the local store, but until we walked down it and chose to observe, they did not really see. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to see. As well, empathy listens and learns. Empathy is willing take the time to understand the plight of another and let it sit for a while. Empathy also moves us to action. It has been a joy to see many of these students be changed as they care about others, get involved to speak for the those who cannot speak for themselves (see Proverbs 31:8), and take whatever platform they have to promote justice for those who have been treated wrongly. See, empathy matters.

How could you exercise that muscle of empathy?

Church can be a great place to learn of God’s empathetic heart and what the Bible teaches of us loving/being empathetic towards others. One resource we have is a new section on our website called “Revive your soul this week.” Housed here are a number of links to videos, emails, posts, and publications for learning that will revive your soul. These resources also help give greater insight to our Sunday teachings. Every Sunday we learn from the Bible and seek to know God more. Here is the link to our live-streaming services (seelive.neighborhoodchurch.com) As well, if you would like to view any of our past worship gatherings visit our YouTube channel.