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One day, when I was in high school, I was hanging out with a friend and he asked how I was doing.
I gave a typically superficial answer; I assured him I was fine and moved on.
But this particular friend knew me well and he cared enough to push a little deeper. He knew there was stuff going on in my life I didn’t want to talk about, so he kept asking questions to try to help me talk.
The problem was, I didn’t understand my own feelings and I certainly couldn’t figure out how to express them. As he kept asking questions, I felt more and more insecure, stressed, and frustrated, until my emotions finally boiled over and I lost control. I stood up from my chair with tears in my eyes and screamed at the top of my lungs, “What do you want from me??”
I immediately realized what I had done — I had lashed out at someone who was only trying to help me.
I expected my friend to pull back, to quit on me, or maybe to walk out. But where I expected to find judgment, I found only compassion. My friend stayed with me and tried to understand why I had gotten so upset. Eventually, this friend’s kindness helped me understand myself and get in touch with the feelings I had buried deep in my heart.
I’m grateful he chose to show compassion, instead of judging me, because his compassion changed my life.
We have all had moments in our lives where we needed compassion. Those who take the time to have compassion on us, rather than judge us, tend to leave the greatest imprints on our lives.
As I studied the Bible, I learned that this is who Jesus is. He is compassionate like my friend was with me that day in high school. And this is who God is calling us all to be: those who carry themselves with compassion rather than judgment.
If my friend could change my life by choosing to be compassionate, imagine how much impact we could all make on the world around us by choosing to be compassionate each day.
Unfortunately, as much as I want to be compassionate, it’s much easier to be judgmental of other people, especially if they do things differently than I would do them or if they make mistakes that hurt me. Jesus’ example helps me learn to be compassionate with other people in the same way he is compassionate toward me.
If you would like to learn how to be compassionate instead of judging someone, here are five scriptures on compassion I’ve found very helpful.
Put yourself in their shoes
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.Matthew 7:1-2 NIV
One of the things the Bible teaches us is that we should use the same standards on other people that we would want them to use on us. In other words, when we’re tempted to judge someone, we should put ourselves in their shoes. How would we want to be treated if we were in their position?
I often give myself a pass for my mistakes but won’t show others the same mercy. When I make a mistake or hurt someone, I tend to say things like, “Well, I meant well,” or “It wasn’t that bad,” or “They should get over it,” or “If they only knew how I felt they would understand.”
The Bible calls this “flattering yourself” (Psalm 36:1-2), and I do it to spare myself from the pain of my sins and mistakes.
My desire to keep myself from feeling bad also translates into expecting others to treat me perfectly. As a result, I don’t extend the same mercy and grace to them that I give to myself.
The Bible says that we should use a generous measure in our thoughts and feelings towards others. We should put ourselves in their shoes, meaning that we try to see things as they do, and understand their life and perspective.
When we imagine ourselves as the other person and in need of a generous and gracious measure, we are better able to choose compassion, showing kindness instead of judgment.
- Who is someone who has shown you mercy and compassion at a time you didn’t deserve it? How did their compassion make you feel?
- What might be going on inside the heart of someone who is tempted to harshly judge people around them?
Make it your goal to understand people
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.Mark 6:34 NIV
Jesus was caring and perceptive. To give you some context, when Jesus stepped off this boat in Mark 6:34, he was looking for a quiet place to rest. So many people were coming to Jesus that he and his disciples didn’t even have time to eat (Mark 6:31-32). But instead of finding a peaceful retreat, Jesus found a large crowd of people waiting for his help.
How did Jesus find compassion instead of being irritated by this crowd of people? In this particular crowd, he understood what was happening to the people spiritually — that they lacked the care and guidance of a shepherd.
He didn’t see people as problems because he understood them. Because he understood them, he knew how much of a difference the Word of God could make in their lives and he didn’t mind taking the time to teach them.
In the midst of all the division and unrest in the world around us, it is easy to see people — especially those who may be different from us — as problems or obstacles to getting what we want.
As a result, we may be tempted to get judgmental or critical in these moments, and to try to control people, argue with people, or distance ourselves from them.
The Bible teaches that we should instead work to understand what others may be feeling or experiencing in their lives. It is only then that we can see clearly enough to know how to help them and care for them, rather than judge or control them.
- In what relationships do you get tempted to get irritated or critical instead of finding ways to show compassion?
- How do you think understanding people around you would help you have more compassion?
- What ways can you pursue understanding those around you?
Accept your own shortcomings (and accept forgiveness)
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.
Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’
Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’John 8:3-9 NIV
It’s easy to judge someone else when we are unaware of our own shortcomings. The teachers of the law and Pharisees in this passage brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery. This was a serious sin for which they were ready to stone her.
Jesus responded in a surprising way. He told them that anyone who was without sin could throw the first stone. Slowly, everyone walked away. Jesus had reminded the woman’s accusers that they weren’t perfect either. As a result, they dropped their judgment.
Jesus didn’t condone the woman’s adultery; he expected her to change. But he didn’t judge, criticize, or condemn her. He gave her the opportunity for a new start.
It seems that these religious leaders began their conversation with Jesus without an awareness of their own sins. Or perhaps they thought their sins were more excusable than the woman’s sin.
The truth is, we have all made mistakes; we all need compassion, forgiveness, and a fresh start. We have all done things that we can regret and things that others would not understand unless they had compassion.
The expectation that we must be perfect, and therefore should never need mercy from someone else, is a tiresome and impossible expectation. And it is not something that we should expect of others either.
My insecurity and fear often keep me from wanting to rely on the mercy and grace of others. I live as if I believe that I will only truly be loved and secure when I am perfect. So I strive to have the best performance and do everything right.
It is in these moments that I not only refuse to humbly admit my mistakes, but I also have a hard time extending mercy to others. When I refuse to see my own shortcomings, I end up expecting others to be perfect too.
If Jesus — who never sinned — can have compassion for us even though he is perfect, then we too can be compassionate with others’ shortcomings because we ourselves have them.
- How easy or hard is it for you to face your shortcomings? Why?
- How do you think being honest about your own mistakes would help you become more compassionate toward others?
- Do you tend to try to find security in doing a good job, or in the mercy, patience, and forgiveness God has for you?
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.Ephesians 4:32 NIV
In continuation from the scripture and point above, when we see how we have been forgiven, we can be more forgiving to others. If we ourselves have needed forgiveness, then we should be able to have compassion on others.
The person who has taught me the most about God’s patience, forgiveness, and mercy is my wife. I am always amazed by how she responds to my sins and shortcomings; when I tell her things I’ve done wrong, she takes the time to slow down and think about her own mistakes instead of judging me.
Then, aware of her own need for God’s forgiveness, she is full of grace and mercy toward me. Her humility and desire to be forgiving is baffling to me.
It is these moments that I feel blessed and loved. I feel motivated to change so I can stop hurting her.
This is how God wants us to feel and respond to his forgiveness (Romans 2:4). He wants us to be moved by such a great cancelation of our debt, that we hold no debt over anyone else (Matthew 18:21-35).
- How have you experienced Jesus’ patience and forgiveness? How can you share this with others by being forgiving yourself?
- Are there any relationships in which you need to extend forgiveness?
Choose to serve instead of criticizing
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.Matthew 14:14 NIV
Jesus’ compassion led him to take action and heal people. We can learn from this that compassion is more than just a feeling; it should lead us to do something.
You and I might not have the power to heal the sick like Jesus did, but each of us has the capability to serve someone else in a unique way. Maybe you are good at serving people by listening to them, running an errand for them, or cooking a meal.
As we get involved in people’s lives, we usually understand them better and have more of a heart for them. As a result, we are less likely to judge them.
The act of serving helps us practice not thinking about ourselves, but instead thinking about someone else.
- What are some ways you are good at serving other people around you?
- Who are some people you could choose to serve instead of criticizing?
Finding compassion isn’t always easy, but it always makes an impact. When you’re feeling tempted to get irritated, judgmental, or critical of people around you, take a look at these five passages of Scripture to learn how to be compassionate instead.