A Thanksgiving Message from Kerri...
Moved by Compassion: A Grateful Heart in Action
When I was in Seminary I had the honor of sitting under the teaching of some amazing men and women. The most powerful statement I heard in those years was not uttered in the classroom; it was declared from the pulpit in a weekly chapel service by President Bert Downs. In a brief message, directed at future ministry leaders, he made a simple but powerful statement, “True disciples of Jesus and true leaders are marked by two distinct qualities, humility and gratitude.”
I have ruminated on this statement for the past fifteen years. I have bemoaned my own lack of these two critical traits. I have begged God for a heart that mirrors His own but I have never fully understood President Down’s quote; at least not the connection between the two character traits he identified. I didn’t know how to measure this statement against the reality of my own life, until the full brunt of this truth crashed into my life two days ago.
A friend and I went out to run some last minute errands in preparation for Thanksgiving. We had a long list of stores to hit and items to find in a short window of time. We had a plan and I fully intended to execute that plan in a specific time frame. As we walked into the first store I noticed a young man who appeared to be in his twenties sitting on the sidewalk with his dog. His body language screamed defeat. His head was down, his body slumped over and the small dirty sign he once held had fallen over so I couldn’t read his words.
I glanced at him quickly but then darted inside the store, I had things to do! As I did, I noticed my mind racing with all the reasons I didn’t need to bother with thoughts of him. At the time I didn’t even realize I was making up excuses in my head so as not respond to his apparent need. Then, once inside the store, I promptly forgot the young man outside and focused my mind on acquiring my list.
My friend and I hurriedly found what we needed and headed back out towards the car. As we stepped outside we noticed it had started to rain hard so we turned left to walk down the covered sidewalk as long as possible before braving the rain in the parking lot. As we turned I saw him again and now I had to walk right by him. I tried not to look. Once again my mind became a hurricane of judgmental thoughts and assumptions. “He’s probably made a lot of bad choices," I summarized neatly for myself and continued to walk away. However, approximately twenty yards down the sidewalk I was stopped dead in my tracks. I literally couldn’t move another step. I felt like my feet were suddenly grafted into the cement.
I ministered to the homeless population in Portland, Oregon for several years when I worked for the Rescue Mission. In that time, I was trained to love, serve and empower men and women on the streets without enabling addictive behavior and to use discernment as to how to help them mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Since then I have interacted with countless homeless men and women, seeking to be of some help as the Holy Spirit has prompted me. Now though, as I tried to walk away from the young man I realized I wasn’t motivated by love and thoughts of how to help him. I was instead assuming things about him that made me feel justified in the decision I had made to look away and walk on by.
God’s Spirit in me immediately held up my own thoughts for me to see…judgmental, critical, prideful thoughts. In that moment I felt so gross and ugly. It was so hard to look at the hardness and bitterness I was choosing. However, without condemning or shaming me the Holy Spirit reminded me of His power alive in me and called me to choose His love over the fear I was operating in. I received His grace and allowed myself to be humbled…humbled so that I was available to be moved by compassion.
I grabbed my friend who was turning towards our car and the parking lot, “I have to go back," I whispered with tears forming in my eyes. “I have to go back.” Graciously, my friend smiled at me knowingly and together we turned around and walked back to the shivering, cowering, defeated figure on the ground.
I stood over him silently, he didn’t even look up. “I’d like to read your sign," I stated. “Can you please move your hand so I can see it?” He moved the sign upward so I could see it but still didn’t turn his eyes toward mine. His simple cardboard sign read, “Please help me.” So, I got down on the ground. I didn’t think about it; I just needed to look him in the eye. I needed to understand why God’s Spirit in me would not let me walk away from this precious soul that He sees, knows and loves.
“Tell me your story. Why are you here?” I asked softly. The young man, *Kris, briefly recounted the past six weeks. He had gotten sick and his body was no longer producing white blood cells. He had also lost his job and his insurance lapsed so he can no longer get the medication he needs. His family wants nothing to do with him; he is alone and without a place to live. He confessed that his dog was the only thing keeping him going, his little buddy gave him a sense of purpose and the willingness to fight the uphill battle he was facing.
I listened to him intently and prayed as he shared, “Lord show me what is true here, is this someone you have sent me to help?” As I prayed I knew what I was to ask. So, finally free of judgmental thoughts, I took the risk and allowed God’s Spirit to overtake me and move me with the compassion of Jesus. “Kris, what do you need?” For the first time he looked me directly in the eye and without hesitation he said with great urgency, “I need a sleeping bag!”
I was shocked. He didn’t want money. I had assumed he would ask for money. That was one of my biggest excuses for walking by. But he didn’t want cash and he didn’t ask for us to feed him. He just wanted to be warm. I felt the sincerity of his request and without pause I promised him that we were going to take care of his need. “Do you need anything else?” I pressed. “Do you need any food…anything?” “I really just need a sleeping bag,” he stated again, “I have food I can snack on.” “When is the last time you had a real meal?” I asked, still floored he wasn’t asking for money. “It’s been awhile,” he admitted sheepishly. “What do you like? Is there anything nearby we can get you?” Kris named a fast food place right down the street so I insisted on buying him a meal once we had found him a sleeping bag. “Are you really coming back?” he inquired with childlike hope. “Absolutely,” I said. “I want you to know that it’s God’s love for you that brought us to you. Jesus loves you and asked me to talk to you and help you. I promise you we will be back.”
We agreed to meet at the fast food restaurant he had requested so my friend and I left him there and went off to search for a sleeping bag for our new friend Kris. Our plans flew out the window. I forgot all the important things I was looking for. No longer operating in self-love, I was being moved, quite literally, by compassion. As we drove to Target to purchase a sleeping bag I couldn’t fight back the tears.
I was overtaken by the realization that it is my pride that keeps me from operating in gratitude. I have prideful thoughts all the time that go unchecked. I make assumptions about others that keep me from identifying the truth about my own sinful state. I have entitlement, thinking I am owed something or deserve what I have been given. The truth is, I am Kris. I too could be living on the sidewalk. Everything I have is a gift. I am owed nothing and I am entitled to nothing. James 1:17 makes this clear, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” It’s all grace. Therefore, all I have been given from my Heavenly Father should motivate me, compel me to operate in compassion which is defined as: “A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”
If I am truly grateful for all I have been given I will have a strong desire to see, serve and alleviate the suffering of others. I will be compelled to give back. But this requires one important daily choice on my part. I must choose to be humble. In order to be humble, I need to be dependent on and learn from Jesus Himself. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus says, “Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Wow, learning from and following Jesus’ example of living humbly brings peace and rest to our souls!
Jesus lowered Himself to the status of a servant. His earthly life and ministry is completely etched in and marked by humility. He is our ultimate example and teacher. He was so humble He saw only the needs and afflictions of others. As a result of His humility He was moved, countless times, by compassion; ministering out of a place of deep sympathy and a strong desire to alleviate suffering. As Mark 6:34 states, “And Jesus, when he came out, saw many people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd…”
I pray I am never too educated, experienced, busy, self-important or prideful to be moved by compassion; which, I believe, is the most beautiful expression of humility and gratitude. For if I am humble enough to put the needs of others before my own and be truly, deeply grateful for all I have been given this Thanksgiving Day; I will be compelled to express it through serving others…no agenda, no judgments, no need to be right, no qualifiers, no exceptions. I pray my life will be marked as one who is moved by compassion.
How humbling and sadly ironic that I almost missed an opportunity to show gratitude, which is a heart condition, a state of being thankful for what God has given me because I was so busy preparing for Thanksgiving Day!
We found Kris an awesome sleeping bag at target and threw in a pack of hand wipes. We headed back to our meeting place and there he was, waiting for us by the door. My friend headed inside to buy his meal as I handed him his new bed. He was overwhelmed with gratitude and disbelief that we had come with his gift. Even his dog perked up at his joyful response. I stayed outside with him as we waited for his food and listened to him share more of his story and his dreams for the future. No longer despondent and defeated, I now saw a powerful hope shining in his eyes. As he shared I watched the love of Jesus filling him up. Matthew 25:40 flooded my Spirit as I stared, amazed by the change in his countenance. “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”
I waited for him to finish and then I shared God’s heart for him. I told him that he is seen, he is loved and God has great intention and purpose for his life. “Don’t you dare give up Kris, there is a great war for you but you will help a lot of people on the other side of this battle, I know it!” I promised. “I believe that,” Kris admitted confidently. “I know He is real and that He loves me, especially now, especially after this.” He said quietly as he motioned to his new sleeping bag.
Just then my friend came out with his food and I asked Kris if we could pray for him. He enthusiastically agreed. So there we stood. Right outside the door of a fast food restaurant with the rain pouring down, praying for Kris as people came and went around us. We prayed for his healing, for full restoration of his relationships and all he had lost. Most of all we prayed that he would know, really know the love of God, that he is not alone and that this is not the end of his story. That if God could send us to help keep him warm than surely He had a plan for the remainder of Kris’ days.
When we finished praying for him he hugged us both intently and looked me deeply in the eyes. “Thank you so much” he said as both of us fought back tears. As we left Kris and walked back toward our car I knew he and I were both experiencing the very same thing. The pure love and compassion of Jesus. We had both been humbled in completely different, seemingly opposite, ways to recognize and be truly grateful for what we have been given.
My prayer for all of us is that we will be moved by compassion this Thanksgiving Day. May we have the humility to set aside our egos, agendas, need to be right, our pride and earnestly seek opportunities to see and serve others. May we not just say we are grateful this Thanksgiving Day, but let gratitude manifest itself in and through our lives by being willing to stop our own agenda and allow compassion and agape love to be the motivation behind all of our words and actions.
As you gather with your friends and family today please remember to pray for those who are homeless, ill, hungry, destitute, displaced and feeling unloved. If you’re ready and willing pray that you’ll be used by God to be His hands and feet to those same people in the days ahead. Let’s not just tell Him we’re grateful; let’s live lives that show that we are.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family! I pray we are all humble and grateful as we reflect on all we have been given and may we actively look for opportunities to humbly give ourselves away in gratitude to our King Jesus.
Hebrews 13:1-2 Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!
*Kris’ name has been changed.
2 Corinthians 5:15-18
He died for everyone so that those who receive
his new life will no longer live for themselves.
Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.
So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view.
At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view.
How differently we know him now!
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.
The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ.
And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.