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  • Writer's pictureJean Brender

Compassion: Having a Heart for Others

What does it mean to have compassion? In her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun describes compassion as “feeling with and for others as well as extending mercy and help to them...Compassion is part and parcel of sharing in God’s heart for an aching and wounded world.” (1)


Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision in the 1950s certainly viewed compassion in this manner when he prayed, “Let my heart be broken with things that break the heart of God.” He developed a deep sense of concern for and then resolve to help children in dire circumstances after he encountered an abandoned Chinese girl and “chose to not look away.” (2) Realizing that giving his last five dollars in his pocket to the child was not enough, he started World Vision that has become one of the largest Christian international organizations, focusing on children and their families in nearly 100 countries around the world.


The Gospels are full of stories about Jesus extending compassion to the people around him. Like in the story about Bob Pierce, Jesus also chose not to look away when he encountered hurting people. The Gospel of Matthew (9:36, CEB) indicates that “when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”


Jesus followed up with his noticing and sense of compassion with acts of kindness, mercy, and healing. For example, he healed people with leprosy, considered ‘untouchables’ in biblical times. After a leprous man begged Jesus to “make [him] clean,” Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and healed him (Mark 1:40-42). Although he had a busy itinerary during his earthly ministry, he welcomed little children to spend time with him so he could bless them even though his disciples tried to initially shoo them and their parents away (Luke 18:15-17).


Jesus emphasized that we too should love our neighbors even as much as ourselves (Mark 12:31). When one of the lawyers asked Jesus “who is my neighbor,” Jesus responded by sharing the parable of the Good Samaritan in which a Samaritan man, who was considered at that time to be part of the out-group by the Jews, took care of the needs of a Jewish (implied) man he spotted on the road who had been robbed and badly beaten (Luke 10:25-37). In contrast, two religious authorities ignored the victim’s plight and continued on their way.


In his last discourse (Matthew 23-25), Jesus seems to imply that practicing compassion is not optional if we claim and aim to follow him (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus identifies himself as with the “least of these.” He indicates that when we address their hunger or thirst and needs for hospitality, clothing, and or visitation while sick or imprisoned, we are doing such acts for him.

It can be overwhelming to know where to begin to live out Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-40. To start, we might pray the prayer of Bob Pierce – “let my heart be broken with things that break the heart of God.” We can also pray for the grace of noticing and being sensitive to the needs of others around us. If done on a regular basis, you might be surprised by what you notice and the little nudges you sense to reach out to someone. These nudges are most likely the Holy Spirit and prompts for us to ask for God’s wisdom on how to best reach out.


Extending compassion to others does not necessarily require extensive time and resources. Sometimes it can be as simple as taking time to listen to someone’s story and the heartaches they are experiencing. I would like to end with a couple of stories about the power of noticing and listening. Awhile back, a friend of mine related how as she was taking a walk one day, she approached a neighbor pushing a baby stroller. Since my friend did not know her well, she decided to stop and introduce herself. The neighbor subsequently poured out her life story and the difficulties she was experiencing. My friend simply stood there and lent a sympathetic ear. Later on, she found out that her neighbor had planned to end her life but changed her mind that day after spending time with my friend.


On her website (, Deana Landers shares a story about Mark and Bill that begins when they were junior high school students. Mark was walking home one day when he noticed that a boy around his age had fallen with an armload of books, clothes, and sports equipment. After helping him pick up his stuff, they introduced themselves to each other and Bill invited Mark into his home for a soda and to watch some television together. They ended up going to the same high school and kept in contact with each other. A few weeks before their high school graduation, Bill shared with Mark that the day that they first met, Bill had cleaned out his locker and was planning to go home and take his life. He changed his mind after spending the afternoon with Mark after school. (3)


Have you come across anyone lately who might benefit from your attention and reaching out to help? By responding to such a nudge, God may be preparing you to be an answer to their prayers.




1.    Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us [Revised and expanded] (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 205.

2.    World Vision, “Our History.” Accessed July 2, 2024.

3.    Deana Landers, “The Power of Compassion.” Accessed June 29, 2024.

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