Let me start off by being honest. I get weary. I get anxious. I get overwhelmed. I panic. I panic a lot. My faith sometimes takes a blow and my trust buckles under the tremendous pressure of difficult seasons. For whatever reason, when these seasons of testing and wildernesses come, I so easily become blinded to the reality of the presence of God in my fire and the One who surrounds me in the battles and challenges I face.
We slowly transition into some dark seasons. Whether it's been the manifestation of repercussions as a result of past decisions, or a battle with sickness that rapidly deteriorates, or a shaky relationship whose cracks finally cause a cave in and the relationship all breaks apart entirely. Other times, the thick darkness of a blazing fire and dark night of the soul come so so unexpectedly. Like that one phone call that no one ever wants get or that visit from a doctor, a family member, a police officer that comes in and brings your world crashing down.
Perhaps you will read this and think, "Yep. That's me." Or perhaps you'll begin to remember those you love, friends and family who are right now going through a dark season who are weary and can't see or feel God.
Merriam Websters' dictionary defines compassion as this:
Sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it
Through many of my own mistakes along this journey of exercising compassion, I've come to slowly learn that christianese isn't comforting. It isn't compassion in action. No one needs to hear the "Everything happens for a reason." "This will work out for good." "One day you will laugh about this." speech. It simply doesn't help.
Perhaps that's the follower's spiritual defense mechanism. To pull out every scripture, sometimes at the wrong time and in the wrong tone. Perhaps that's how we attempt to alleviate others' questioning and pain by trying to defend God. Sometimes our go-to response is christianese because we are caught off guard by the weight and intensity of some peoples' pain and christianese is the easiest escape from having to really walk with people through pain, doubts and questioning. Perhaps there's a better path to follow.
Extending everyday compassion to those in our lives means having a sympathetic consciousness to their distress and living present in the moment with them. I love the second part of the definition: 'With a desire to alleviate it'. I can think of at least a handful of people right now that I would do anything to take away the pain that they are carrying. I'd do anything to see them have joy and peace of mind again. I'd do anything I could so that they wouldn't have to walk through their present dark seasons.
Sometimes, we will have the opportunity to partner with heaven and practically help them. Just by showing up, by sitting with them, calling or texting them, letting them mourn, and mourning with them. We may get to help by making their lives easier in any way possible, through lessening their load, cooking, cleaning, bringing meals, babysitting, bringing groceries, pledging to cover some of their bills or expenses and giving sacrificially to their needs. Other times we will have the opportunity to intercede. To pray with them in the present and go back into our prayer closets and continue to pray for them daily.
I am an introspective investigative observer (Hello INFJs). I'm a feeler. I'm constantly observing people and asking God what they are thinking about. Recently, on a particularly gloomy Friday afternoon, I observed the myriad of shoppers around me as I sluggishly pushed my cart out of the store. I thought about what pain they may possibly be carrying. Who had hurt them. Who they had hurt. Who they missed. What they regretted. What disappointment, pain, guilt or shame haunted their souls. What insecurity or lie tormented their minds. What fire they may possibly be battling with. What battle presently surrounded them that weighed heavily on their hearts. As I kept observing, my heart was overwhelmed. I scurried towards the store exit to stop myself from crying on the spot and ending up being the strange petite girl experiencing a public meltdown.
Truth is, those are things I have increasingly began to think about over the last few years. People's pain. People's need for an encounter with the Savior. The more I've reflected on these things and interacted with some of these people, I've come to humbly recognize I don't have all the answers. It breaks my heart any time I see anyone go through any pain. I know I can't alleviate it. But I promised myself every opportunity I could, I would remind someone that they are not in their fire alone and pray that they may see and experience the God surrounding them in their fires and fighting their battles for them.
Because on several occasions, I have been the one that needed that reminding. I've been the one on the receiving end.
I'm grateful for people who in my own wilderness seasons and dark night of the soul, have helped me regain vision and who have reminded me of the God who is fighting for me and is with me when the intensity of the fire blinds me to the presence of a Savior. I'm grateful for safe spaces that have allowed me to rant and that have allowed me to cry. I'm grateful for the simple words of encouragement and Truth. No christian-ese. No spiritualizing things away. No trying to come to God's defense.
We need people. We need friends. They see things we don't and they have the ability to call us back into seeing when we can't. We get our fight back through others using their voices to help us regain vision. We allow others to speak into our battles and fires.
As we live in community and in relationship with others and as we remain sensitive to the broken world around us, we may find ourselves in close proximity to another's furnace of affliction. There are times we will be called to go into the fire and pull others out. Other times, God will want us to step back as He loves on them, heals and delivers them and our sole compassionate responsibility and response will be to use our voices. Use our voices to call out to these people from the outside of their fire and battles. We will have the opportunity to remind them of who they are, whose they are and of God who is with them even though they currently can't see or feel Him.
He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!”
While the intention of King Nebuchadnezzar and his servants in Daniel 3:25 was not point out the presence of the fourth man in the fire to encourage the Hebrew men, I couldn't help of thing of the times in my own furnace of affliction that God has used certain people to remind me that He is on the inside of the fire with me. These same people have prayed for God to open my eyes to see the One who surrounds every battle waging war against me.
We were always designed to see, to have vision of God, but in difficult seasons, with fire and what feels like armies up against us we need reminders. We need reminders that God is with us. We get to remind people that God is with them. We pray people through tough situations so that they may see God with them in their battle. That they may sense His ever present nearness in the furnace of affliction. We help them see again.
I have the strongest friends walking through some of the most unimaginable pain. I've seen their strength and often stood in humble admiration. I've seen God in them. I've seen God's preservation and protection. I've seen a strength in them through trials that could only have come through God. And so many times, as we process and converse, they will admit to their doubt, questioning, anger and pain. Yet to me, the outside observer could almost literally sense the presence of God with them when they cant feel Him or see Him themselves.
"Lord, give them eyes to see when they don't see. I don't have the ability to take away their pain. I don't have the strength to carry them out of their fire. I don't have the ability to fully fight their fight but I ask that you may help them see you with them and see you around them."
Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha
2 Kings 6:15-17
We all need an Elisha. We all need someone who helps us see the God who is for us when the overwhelming situations around us overwhelm us. We need encouragers. Encouragers who pray for our vision to be restored, the friends who remind us of the one who is in our fire with us. On the outside of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego's fire were people who had front row seats to the spectacle. People who could see the fourth man in the fire. I've pondered whether these three Hebrew men could see the fourth man. In retrospect, I've come to truly believe that there HAD to have been a fourth man in some fiery trials I've gone through. I never knew He was with me until I was already out but I am reminded of those who stood with me and every so often, would compassionately remind me I was not alone.
Sometimes as we are waiting to hear God's voice and presence in our battles and fires, God uses other people as His mouth piece to encourage us, and it keeps us going.
We are the keepers of our brothers and living in community and proximity with them, we get to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Being present for the people in our lives and exercising compassion will sometimes call for us to be compassionate encouragers. To encourage both followers of Christ and those who do not follow him but share in humanity.
For whatever reason, you've ended up on this blog post today and it has reminded you of someone you know who is right now in the middle of a fire, storm or battle. Friend, remind them of the One who is with them and with them. Pray for them. Or maybe it's you. Maybe you are weary, tired and in a difficult life season. Breathe in. Breathe out. I'm reminding you today of the fourth man in your fire. I'm praying that the Lord opens up your eyes today to see the God of angel armies surrounding you.
You've made it this far.
You're doing better than you think.
You're not alone.
God's with you.
God sees you.
God's surrounded you.
He hasn't forsaken you.
He's right there in the furnace with you.
Love you friend.
Have a great week.