Despite my introverted tendencies, I love being around people. It can exhaust me after an extended period of time, but I still love it. It does my heart good to spend time with others.
That said, there is one surefire way I can grow cold in my love for other people: by isolating myself from them. I’ve noticed that if I spend too much consecutive time on administrative or creative work, without any face-to-face people interaction, my love for others grows dim. Rather than solitude leading me to yearn for the pleasure of social interaction, it often does just the opposite. I can get so caught up in my own world and the work I’m doing that I subconsciously think of relationships as more of a nuisance than a joy.
The cure for this is easy: I simply have to spend time around people once again. The self-centered walls of my heart come tumbling down when I’m confronted by the presence of others. More specifically, when I’m confronted by the pain of others. My affection for others is stirred when I see the pain their lives are filled with.
In Matthew 9:36 we read of Jesus, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” He saw a group of people who had been fearfully and wonderfully made, yet were afflicted, weak, and helpless to save themselves – and He had compassion.
This account in Jesus’ life relates to an experience I had once. It was the kind of day when my heart had grown hard and self-focused. While driving to Starbucks for a meeting, weighed down by thoughts of work left unfinished, I wasn’t as joyful as I should have been. But before my meeting started, something changed within me.
Standing in the back of the coffee shop, looking out over all the people sitting there, I saw that some were busily typing away on their laptops, others were engaged in conversation, at least one was caught up in a book, and I was struck by the thought that all of them had something in common.
Every single one of them was suffering.
Maybe that’s a strange thing to think, but it was true. All the people there who didn’t know Jesus were afflicted by slavery to sin and separation from their Creator, while the Christians among them suffered from their still-present sinful flesh. Such problems manifest themselves in a variety of unique ways in each of our lives, but in every case the pain is real.
That moment at Starbucks, God used the suffering of others to soften my heart. He poured fuel on the weak flames of my love. He moved me to a place of deep compassion as I pondered the truth that many of these people were “sheep without a shepherd,” and even those who did have the Good Shepherd guiding them would still face the wolves of life.
Believers and unbelievers alike bear the burden of living in a fallen world. Each of us has our own sin, the sin of others, and the brokenness of creation working to feed us a daily portion of suffering. Suffering for which the gospel is the only sufficient answer.
Through the gospel we can bear the burdens of others, because we have a Good Shepherd who bears all our burdens. Through the gospel we can joyfully endure all suffering, because we know that every ounce of it equals future glory. Through the gospel the weak are made strong, sinners are made saints, and love endures.
Suffering is relentless, so our devotion to remembering the gospel must be as well. In considering Jesus’ compassion toward the “harassed and helpless,” we are reminded that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. It’s His love, which never grows cold, that each of us must cling to in the face of suffering. And as we do, we’ll find fire in our hearts that drives us to love like our Savior.