There is a lot of need in the world that we live in. Perhaps it’s because I work in aid and development and so am hyper aware of it, but I feel like this need is thrust in our faces more now than ever before.
The 24-hour news cycle fills out tv screens, our social media feeds, and our minds with pictures of war torn cities, stories of exploited people, and footage of women and children in deep poverty. It’s as if a need that demands our response can jump out from behind a corner at any second, asking us to show compassion.
Indeed, sometimes it does just that in the form of someone employed to pester people while they’re doing their shopping. I’m ashamed to admit that I now plot a route in my mind to navigate my local shopping centre to avoid these (no doubt) well meaning, but supremely annoying shopping centre fundraisers.
Let us not become weary
Of course, Jesus had a far more potent experience than us of hearing and responding to the needs of those around Him. Mark chapter 6 verses 30 to 34 tells the tale of how Jesus, seeking rest for His disciples and Himself, travelled by boat to a solitary place.
But the people and their needs “got there ahead of Him” it says! But Jesus, being the great bloke he is (disclaimer – probably an understatement), “had compassion on them” instead of looking at his phone and carving out a tortuous path around their little stall to avoid them.
Since Jesus was so amazingly compassionate, Paul tells us to behave the same. He says in Galatians chapter 6 verse 9 “Let us not become weary in doing good” and in verse 10 “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
That’s all good and well in theory, but what if we do become weary in doing good? What if we experience ‘compassion fatigue’ because of the bombardment of need cast before us?
Come to me, all who are weary and burdened
For starters, Jesus offers his ever-attendant listening ear to us in this moment of need also. Matthew chapter 11 verses 28 onwards says “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” The first thing we need to do upon experiencing compassion fatigue is come to Jesus about it.
When we do so, a few things happen. First, we realise who Jesus is, which gives us some freedom from the pit of despair we find ourselves in. Things might seem bad now, but Jesus is making all things new (Revelation chapter 21 verse 5)!
He came to set the prisoner and the oppressed free (Luke chapter 4 verses 18 and 19), a work that marches on until full completion at His return. While God graciously includes us in His redeeming work, He doesn’t need us, and He will get the job done in the end.
There’s freedom in this truth for us – it’s actually not our job to fix the whole world and everyone in it. We are reminded of this when we come to Jesus, who offers rest for our souls. But in so coming, a second thing happens: we are reminded that it is grace that saves us, not our ability to show compassion.
It is through grace we are saved, not works
I wonder if sometimes we experience compassion fatigue because of guilt? We hear the sermons about how we should not become weary in doing good, and then we stoically set about trying to do good without letting up, lest we grow weary and get yelled at by the Apostle Paul.
But the truth is, part of coming to Jesus for rest involves realising that it is not our compassionate deeds that save us, but His grace. Titus chapter 3 verse 5 counsels us, “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” Not only is Jesus supremely compassionate, and totally effective at renewing the earth, but he is also eminently gracious.
We don’t have to do everything, just something
A final verse that represents balm for the compassion-worn soul is Matthew chapter 10 verse 42, in which Jesus says, “if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
Compassion fatigue is caused, often, by our belief that there is too much for us to do. The world is too broken, and we bemoan the fact that we can’t fix everything. But Jesus doesn’t expect us to do everything, just something.
Jesus doesn’t expect us to be perfectly compassionate in every situation, he just expects us to try our best. He doesn’t expect us to personally help every single person, he just expects us to help someone. To do something. Even to give a cup of cold water to one who needs it.
All Christians are susceptible to compassion fatigue. But each of us also has the chance to come to Jesus, the compassionate and caring King, in whom we can find rest for our souls, and renewal for our spirits.
Brent Van Mourik is the Queensland Church Relationship Manager for Baptist World Aid Australia and is a registered pastor with the Baptist Union of Queensland. He completed a Bachelor of Theology with honours in New Testament through Malyon College in Brisbane, where he now lives with his wife, Jane, and his young son, Joshua. In his down time, he enjoys making and drinking good coffee, and developing his theology of disappointment, whilst putting into practice Ephesians chapter 4 verse 26 (“In your anger do not sin”) on the golf course.
Brent Van Mourik’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/brent-van-mourik.html