Living Supernaturally - Empathy
By Pastor Jason Johnson
As we walk through our series on the book of Colossians, we come to where Paul writes about personal feelings for all the believers in Colossae. He starts out in verse 1:24 by saying something completely crazy: “I am glad when I suffer for you”. Yes, you read that right… glad. Now how on earth is that possible for someone to be glad for suffering?? Well, this is one of the things that makes the Christian life supernatural.
Let me explain. Paul had this great love for the Colossian Christians and felt the persecution they had been facing in their culture. But he felt this way because he understood what it was like… in fact, he wrote his letter to them from a jail cell where he was put for his faith. This gave him what we would call ‘street cred’ with the Colossian believers. Jess Lair once defined empathy as “Your pain in my heart”. This is what separates empathy from sympathy. For example, “I feel for you” is sympathy whereas “I understand how you feel” is empathy. Let’s face it, in our most difficult life situations, we crave empathy over sympathy.
Some years ago, after the great Fort McMurray wildfire that consumed a quarter of that Northern Alberta city, I was flown in as a keynote speaker to a group of hurting pastors in the area. Why would they call me? Well, does the 2013 Southern Alberta flood ring a bell? The town I was living in at that time, High River, was destroyed by that same flood only 3 years earlier. I gave a presentation on ministering to post-catastrophe communities. I felt privileged to be able to say to the group of hurting clergy, “I know how you feel… I understand where you are at.” I even shed a few tears out of a sense of kinship with what they were going through.
Hebrews 4:15 shows us that Jesus came in the form of a frail human so that we could have a shepherd who can actually empathize with our weaknesses, yet never caved to sin! All this to say that Paul took joy in his suffering because it enabled him to empathize, it gave him street cred with the Colossians that allowed him to minister directly to their suffering because he had shared in it. However, there are no shortcuts to empathy. It is a result of walking through the heartache of life and enduring. It’s one of the great things that puts a supernatural purpose to our own weaknesses, so that we can take the suffering of another and share it in a way that gives back to them the actual comfort of Christ Himself.