Learning Empathy

I’m an up-and-at-em, carpe diem kinda guy. Nothing gets me down for very long—I’m resilient and self-motivated. So I used to have a hard time relating to people who weren’t wired the same way. That is until I went through a time in my life where getting up-and-at-em was one of the hardest things I had to do each day.  

In the midst of this dark night, I would ask God, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?” But I heard the Holy Spirit gently but unmistakably remind me, “This isn’t about you!” 

The dictionary says that empathy is nearly a transliterated word from the Greek word empatheia. It means to be in suffering, but the emphasis is more on imaginative empathy. Something like, “If I was them and I was in that situation, I bet it might feel like this.” 

In the New Testament, a different Greek word is translated sympathy, which is also a transliterated word from the Greek sympatheō. This word means to enter into another’s suffering, but the emphasis is on experiential empathy. In other words, I don’t have to imagine how you might feel, but I know how you feel because I’ve gone through the same thing myself. 

Just as the Holy Spirit taught me this lesson, let me say the same thing to you: the dark night you are going through isn’t about you. It’s about learning empathy SO THAT you can help others persevere all the way to the end! 

Think about the dark night Jesus went through just before His crucifixion. He might have asked His Father, “Why is this happening to Me? What did I do wrong?” But He knew why He was going through this night: it was to prepare Him to be the perfect empathetic High Priest for all of us (check out these verses in Hebrews).  

When we invite Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, we become a part of His Body (1 Corinthians 12:13, 26). 

Dr. Paul Brand was a renowned hand surgeon and missionary who worked with leprosy patients in India for years. He learned that leprosy doesn’t mangle a person’s foot or hand, but their lack of ability to feel pain does. He wrote, “A body only possesses unity to the degree that it possess pain…. We must develop a lower threshold of pain by listening, truly listening, to those who suffer. … The body protects poorly what it does not feel.” 

Sometimes we have to go through the painful, dark nights so that we can learn to feel others’ pain so that we can learn empathy. 

Through those nights we can learn to hear what others aren’t saying, and feel what others aren’t expressing. We don’t have to ask, “Can I help?” but rather, “I’m here to help because I know what you’re going through.” 

You cannot truly empathize until you go through your own dark night. I can be thankful IN the night because God is growing my empathy so that I can help others! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in this series, you can check out the full list by clicking here. 

Learning Contentment

A mark of a maturING saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! Even the most mature Christian you know hasn’t “arrived”; we are all a work-in-progress. Going through the dark nights is one way God helps mature our understanding of contentment. 

You know the differences between a need and a want: a need is something vital, something I require to survive; a want is something that would be nice to have. 

In good times I can convince myself that my wants are really the same as my needs. In the bright, sunny times a lot of wants mistakenly get called needs. But in the dark nights, this confusion is quickly clarified! 

In Philippians 4, Paul explains what he has learned about needs as he went through some very challenging, dark times. When he says he knows what a need is, he isn’t exaggerating a bit (see 2 Corinthians 11:24-28). And yet the Amplified Bible has Paul saying, “Not that I am implying that I was in any personal want.” 

That’s because Paul was learnING contentment. The verb tense here means I have learned, I am learning, and I will keep on learning. It was an ongoing process that helped him clarify needs from wants. The word Paul uses for content is unique in all the New Testament and it means independent of external circumstances, or as the Amplified Bible says, “satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted in whatever state I am. 

Paul uses another unique word in verse 12 when he says “I have learned.” This is a different Greek word from the previous verse. This time it means disciplined by experience to know how to respond. In other words, Paul disciplined himself to reflect on the lessons he learned in the night. The cliche “Experience is the best teacher” isn’t necessarily true. Lots of people go through experiences and never learn a single thing. Instead, we should say, “Evaluated experience is the best teacher.” That’s exactly what Paul is saying here: “I have learned lessons in my time of meditation after going through a dark night.” 

The English dictionary defines contentment in two important phrases: 

  1. Satisfied with what I have. In Psalm 16, David learned that he had everything he needed in God, and Jesus reminded us that “your Father knows what you NEED before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).
  2. Satisfied with who I am. Paul knew that “God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by His grace, was pleased” (Galatians 1:15). God made Paul on purpose and for a purpose, and Paul was satisfied with who he was in Christ. God made you on purpose too! 

Our relationship with Jesus is a maturING one. It’s only IN Christ that I can be satisfied with what I have, and satisfied with who I am. It’s only IN the night that my wants get separated from my needs, by learnING contentment.

I can be thankful in the night because I am learning contentment. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in this series called Thankful In The Night, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

8 Quotes From “Words To Winners Of Souls”

I don’t say this very often, but Words To Winners Of Souls by Horatius Bonar is a must-read for those in pastoral ministry. You can check out my full book review by clicking here. 

“The question, therefore, which each of us has to answer to his own conscience is, ‘Has it been the end of my ministry, has it been the desire of my heart to save the lost and guide the saved? Is this my aim in every sermon I preach, in every visit I pay? Is it under the influence of this feeling that I continually live and walk and speak? Is it for this I pray and toil and fast and weep? Is it for this I spend and am spent, counting it, next to the salvation of my own soul, my chiefest joy to be the instrument of saving others? Is it for this that I exist?’” 

“It is not opinions that man needs: it is truth. It is not theology: it is God. It is not religion: it is Christ. It is not literature and science; but the knowledge of the free love of God in the gift of His only-begotten Son.” 

“Our power in drawing men to Christ springs chiefly from the fullness of our personal joy in Him, and the nearness of our personal communion with Him.” 

“Why so many meetings with our fellow men, yet so few meetings with God?” 

“Our life has not been a lying-in-wait for the voice of God. ‘Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth,’ has not been the attitude of our souls, the guiding principle of our lives. Nearness to God, fellowship with God, waiting upon God, resting in God, have been too little the characteristic either of our private or our ministerial walk. Hence our example has been so powerless, our labors so unsuccessful, our sermons so meager, our whole ministry so fruitless and feeble.” 

“It is easier to speak or write about revival than to set about it. There is so much rubbish to be swept out, so many self-raised hindrances to be dealt with, so many old habits to be overcome, so much sloth and easy-mindedness to be contended with, so much of ministerial routine to be broken through, and so much crucifixion, both of self and of the world, to be undergone. As Christ said of the unclean spirit which the disciples could not cast out, so we may say of these: ‘This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.’” 

“These must be days of strenuous, ceaseless, persevering, and, if God bless us, successful toil. We shall labor till we are worn out and laid to rest.” 

“It is unbelief that makes ministers handle eternal realities with such irreverence. It is unbelief that makes them ascend with so light a step ‘that awful place the pulpit,’ to deal with immortal beings about heaven and hell.” 

Thursdays With Oswald—Swine And Testimonies

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Swine And Testimonies

     Jesus Christ is inculcating the need to examine carefully what we present in the way of God’s truth to others [Matthew 7:6]. … 

     Over and over again men water down the Word of God to suit those who are not spiritual, and consequently the Word of God is trampled under the feet of “swine.” Ask yourself, “Am I in any way flinging God’s truth to unspiritual swine?” “Be careful,” Jesus says, “not to give God‘s holy things to ‘dogs.’” …  

     Our Lord never tells us to confess anything but Himself, ‘Whosoever…shall confess ME before men…’ (Matthew 10:32). Testimonies to the world on the subjective line are always wrong, they are for saints, for those who are spiritual and who understand; but our testimony to the world is our Lord Himself, confess Him, “He saved me, He sanctified me, He put me right with God.” … 

     If we are only true to a doctrine of Christianity instead of to Jesus Christ, we drive our ideas home with sledge-hammer blows, and the people who listen to us say, “Well, that may be true”; but they resent the way it is presented. When we follow Jesus Christ the domineering attitude and the dictatorial attitude go and concentration Jesus comes in. 

From Studies In The Sermon On The Mount

The apostle Paul also talked about wanting to make sure that Jesus was seen above all else. More harm than good is done when we talk about our personal experiences with God, which have now become our personal doctrines about God. 

Let God be as unique with others as He is with you. Don’t make other people fall in line with what you believe. Just point them to Jesus. As Chambers says, our testimony should be nothing but “He saved me, He sanctified me, He put me right with God.” Anything else, and we run the risk of casting pearl before swine. 

Argument Vs. Experience

There is a curious word that shows up about 70 times in the Bible (almost all of them in the Psalms)—Selah. The best scholars can figure is that this word has some sort of musical meaning: 

  1. Pause / Interlude—to rest in silence. This might even be where the singers stopped while the music continued. 
  1. Accentuation—to lift up or exalt; as in the renewed vigor of the singer or musician after pausing for a deep breath. 
  1. Consideration—the root word for Selah means to weigh on a balance, with the idea of despising the things that are light or trivial, and valuing the things that carry weight or substance. The Amplified Bible uses the phrase “pause and calmly think of that.” 

All three are valid definitions, and all three are used in the Psalms. I think the context of the Psalm makes it clear which one is meant. Sometimes more than one meaning is implied, and sometimes all three meanings are implied. 

Selah first shows up in Psalm 3. This is also one of the few psalms that uses Selah multiple times. We also get a clue to the context in the introduction: A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom [see 2 Samuel 15]. 

David has a lot of enemies ganging up on him? The Message says, “enemies past counting!” And David laments that his enemies are whispering something very negative: “There is no God” or “God is too disinterested or weak to help you” or “You don’t deserve to have God’s help.” 

In the midst of this noise, David pens his first  SELAH—David needs a pause. The enemies past counting have got his thoughts swirling. He needs to pause and calmly think: “I KNOW God can and will help me because He has already helped me in the past. You may have your arguments and reasons, but I have my personal experience with God!” 

Notice the very next word: But (v. 3). You ARE [not were or will be] a shield around me…. To the Lord I CRY aloud [not I used to cry or I will cry], and He ANSWERS [not He answered or He will answer] me… (v. 4).

The second SELAH (v. 4) is the renewed vigor after the pause. The Message says, His answers thunder from the holy mountain. This corresponds with what David wrote when God delivered him previously (see Psalm 18:4-13). Then in the next four verses, David lists all the blessings that come when God answers: 

    • sleep 
    • sustaining power 
    • no fear of the tens of thousands on every side
    • deliverance
    • retribution for enemies 
    • God’s blessing—Real help comes from God. Your blessing clothes Your people! (v. 8 in MSG) 

David concludes this psalm with one final SELAH (v. 8)—to weigh on a balance. On one side: accusations and threats (only words). On the other side: personal experience of past deliverance and confident assurance of God’s present presence and rock-solid hope in God’s future grace. Pause and calmly consider those scales: which side are you on? Do you have only words, or do you have personal experience? 

The one with an experience with God is NEVER at the mercy of the one with only an argument against God. 

Join me next Sunday as we continue our look at the Selahs in the Book of Psalms. You can join me in person or on Facebook Live. 

Thursdays With Oswald—Jeremiah 7

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Jeremiah 7

[These are notes from Oswald Chambers’ lecture on Jeremiah 7.]

     To seek a place instead of a Person is the first peril in the spiritual life, and to sentimentalize over places where God has met you is the beginning of spiritual twist. Beware of relying on a principle saving you from moral wrong, for it never can. A personal relationship to a personal Savior is the only power that can shield the soul from moral peril. The golden rule is, my personal Savior in every place, not that in certain places I meet my Savior. …  

     Self-deception always arises by ignoring the personal relationship to God….

     Self-examination is the only exercise for a soul who would remain true to the light of God. … The hardest thing in a saint’s life is to maintain a simple belief in Jesus until he realizes the one relationship is—my Lord and I; then His joy will be fulfilled in us.

From Notes On Jeremiah 

We have to be very careful about making a special landmark out of a place, an experience, or even a passage of Scripture where God met us in a profound way. Those special encounters are intended for one specific purpose: to draw us more deeply into a relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ. 

We are on the road to self-deception if we keep seeking experiences. The road to spiritual health is paved with Spirit-inspired self-examination where we ask, “How did that experience lead me closer to Jesus?” When all the other stuff is stripped away, that’s where we will feel Christ’s joy fulfilled in us.

A.W. Tozer On How To Try The Spirits

“I make available here a little secret by which I have tested my own spiritual experiences and religious impulses for many years. Briefly stated the test is this: This new doctrine, this new religious habit, this new view of truth, this new spiritual experience—how has it affected my attitude toward and my relationship to God, Christ, the Holy Scriptures, self, other Christians, the world and sin.

“Christless Christianity sounds contradictory but it exists as a real phenomenon in our day. Much that is being done in Christ’s name is false to Christ in that it is conceived by the flesh, incorporates fleshly methods, and seeks fleshly ends. Christ is mentioned from time to time in the same way and for the same reason that a self-seeking politician mentions Lincoln and the flag, to provide a sacred front for carnal activities and to deceive the simplehearted listeners. This giveaway is that Christ is not central: He is not all and in all. …

“Whatever originates outside the Scriptures should for that very reason be suspect until it can be shown to be in accord with them. … However high the emotional content, no experience can be proved to be genuine unless we can find chapter and verse authority for it in the Scriptures. …

“The Bible does not teach that there will be new light and advanced spiritual experiences in the latter days; it teaches the exact opposite.

“A growing acquaintance with the Holy Spirit will always mean an increasing love for the Bible. The Scriptures are in print what Christ is in Person.” —A.W. Tozer, in Man—The Dwelling Place Of God

Thursdays With Oswald—Not Everything Good Can Be Explained

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Not Everything Good Can Be Explained

     We are apt to imagine that if we cannot state a thing in words it is of no value to us. What counts in talking and in reading is the atmosphere that is produced and what is opened up that would not be otherwise. There is a literature of knowledge and a literature of power. The former gives us in forming stuff and we can say—This is what I have got; by the latter you cannot say what you have got but you are the better for it, your mind and heart are enlarged. We need more than the information. The domain of things represented by the literature of power is that which comes with a knowledge of God’s Book. …  

     The basis of Christianity is not primarily virtue and honesty and goodness, not even holiness, but a personal relationship to God in Jesus Christ. … 

     It is a haphazard life, and we have to bank on God’s wisdom, not on our own.

From Shade Of His Hand

Oswald Chambers is not an anti-intellectualist; quite the contrary! Numerous times in his works he counsels Christians to sharpen their thinking.

However, here he is commenting on Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes, and he is noting that not everything has a “satisfactory” explanation. I love to think of it this way: The one with an experience is never at the mercy of the one with an argument.

Let me explain it this way. Someone can list all of their scientific facts that they say explain that there is no God. However, I know by personal experience the difference a relationship with Jesus Christ has made in my life. Can I explain this by “literature of knowledge”? No. Can I explain this by “literature of power” and by my enlarged heart and mind? Yes, yes, yes!

Sharpen your intellect with knowledge, but don’t ever discount the power that is demonstrated by your changed life!

Thursdays With Oswald—Is Your Religion Rotten?

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Is Your Religion Rotten?

      No man can redeem his own soul, or give himself a new heredity; that is the work of the sovereign grace of God. Man has nothing to do with Redemption, it is God’s “bit”; but God cannot give a man a good character, that is not God’s business, nor is it an inevitable thing. God will give us what we cannot give ourselves, a totally new heredity (see Luke 11:13). God will put the disposition of His Son, Holy Spirit, into any man who asks, then on that basis man has to work out a holy character. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you….” [Philippians 2:12]

      If your religion does not make you a better man, it is a rotten religion. The test of true religion is when it touches these four things—food, money, sex and mother earth. These things are the test of a right sane life with God, and the religion that ignores them or abuses them is not right. … A man needs to hold a right attitude to all these things by means of his personal relationship to God.

From Shade Of His Hand

God gives Christians a new heredity—a new way of looking at life through a relationship with Jesus Christ—by placing His Holy Spirit in us. That, as Chambers says, is God’s bit.

What we do with this new heredity—this new way of looking at life—is our bit.

So… how are you doing? Does your relationship with Jesus Christ help you handle food, money, sex and mother earth in God-honoring ways? Is the Holy Spirit able to correct your attitude so it aligns with the biblical viewpoint on these topics?

If you can answer “yes” to those questions, your religion is true. If not, Chambers says you have “a rotten religion.”

Thursdays With Oswald—What Makes Life Worth Living?

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

What Makes Life Worth Living? 

     Think of the devastations and havoc throughout the world just now. What is going to make up to the people who are broken? To say that “every cloud has a silver lining” is a kind lie. Unless a man can get into a relationship with the God Whom the Bible reveals, life is not worth living. …  

     Solomon says whether you are wise or foolish, upright or not, a king or tyrannized over by a king, successful or a failure, in society or solitary, stubborn or sagacious, all alike ends the same way. All is passing, and we cannot find our lasting joy in any element we like to touch. It is disastrous for a man to try and find his true joy in any phase of life, or in the fulfillment of ambition, or in physical or intellectual solitariness, or in society; he will find his joy only in a personal relationship to God. …

     When once a man is there, he receives a hundredfold more of all he gave up to get there, and he never demands an infinite satisfaction from those other relationships. The man or woman who does not know God demands an infinite satisfaction from other human beings they cannot give, and in the case of the man, he becomes tyrannical and cruel. It springs from this one thing, the human heart must have satisfaction, but there is only one Being Who can satisfy the last abyss of the human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.

From Shade Of His Hand

As a Christian, you have an opportunity to show people how much joy there is for a life in Christ. And then Peter tells us to be ready to tell people the Source of your joy (see 1 Peter 3:15-16).

Do you have the spiritual courage and moral backbone to show and tell? Chambers says, “The Christian faith is exhibited by the man who has the spiritual courage to say that that is the God he trusts in, and it takes some moral backbone to do it.”

Let’s do this!

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