Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Teaching Compassion

I want my children to know and love God and one of the indications that someone loves God is that they are compassionate.  Therefore, creating hearts of compassion in my children is vital for their spiritual health.  I recognize that my children face the danger of living in an affluent society that can lull them into complacency.  Surrounded by "stuff," instead of developing hearts that love others, they—and I!—may become indifferent to suffering.

In Isaiah 58, the Lord criticizes His people for merely going through the motions of worship.  The fast that God would have His people participate in is a fast grounded in compassion “to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (vv. 6-7).

At my second session at the conference on Friday, I shared some suggestions for parents to help their children develop hearts of compassion.  Here are four of those suggestions.

1.      Teach your children the gospel, not legalism.

Having a heart of compassion begins by understanding the gospel.  It is God’s compassion towards us that gives us hope of a relationship with Him.  Those who do not have compassion are like the wicked slave who was forgiven a great debt but unwilling to exhibit the same grace to a fellow slave (Matt. 18:21-35).  True compassion flows out of understanding the gospel, not out of obeying legalistic decrees.

2.      Give your children a passion for God.

A passion for God is the only thing that can replace a love for this world and awaken us to the needs of others.  The essence of God’s compassion is found in Isaiah 61:1-3.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
God’s compassion is fueled by His passion for His own glory.  Our passion must have a similar motivation.

3.      Give sacrificially and train them to give sacrificially.

Since the Great Recession, the prophets of choice among many evangelicals have been financial counselors who advocate austere living in order to get out of debt and amass a comfortable level of savings.

While I think many of their principles are sound, I fear that we have traded one idol for another.  We have traded the idol of profligate spending for the idol of hard-hearted saving.  We still love material possessions.  We've just decided that saving is the best way to acquire those things.

The Macedonians had a different financial philosophy.  Notice what Paul says about their giving:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord (2 Cor. 8:1-3).
I'm not sure how wise such giving is from the perspective of many Christian financial counselors.  But, as hard as such counsel is, my advice is to be a “Macedonian giver” and let your children learn how to give similarly.  Give not out of your wealth but even out of your extreme poverty.

4.      Immerse your children in the culture of need.

It can sometimes be hard to understand the needs of others.  The gospel calls us to enter into the world of the needy. 
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’ (Matt. 25:34-40).
 It can be hard to enter the world of the suffering.  A good parent helps her child begin to understand and relate to that world.  To respond with compassion, your children must be exposed to needs.  Let them volunteer at the local food pantry or pregnancy center.  Visit people from your church who are in the nursing home or hospital. 

Our children are already immersed in a culture of wealth.  They need to understand that the world God calls them to minister to is a world that is hurting.  If our children do not manifest a love for the world, it is doubtful that they truly have a love for God.


Phil said...

Would you comment more on point 3 and expound on how that practice works with budgeting?

Daniel Bennett said...

Good catch, Phil. I was actually intentionally vague. Maybe I'll try to flesh that out later. Sometimes specifics can veer into legalims. Looking forward to talking to you tomorrow!