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A Little Empathy Goes a Long Way

Empathy is more than an attractive personality trait. It’s an instrument of healing. Jesus understood that better than anyone. He interacted with people from all walks of life—from wealthy merchants to tax collectors to blue-collar workers to the outcasts of society.

Jesus changed their lives because He first understood their lives.

 

In order to follow His example, we need to recognize a few truths about empathy.

Empathy requires heightened powers of observation.

The first step in developing empathy is noticing. That means paying close attention to the people around you—looking past their public face for signs of …

  • pain
  • loneliness
  • confusion
  • depression
  • insecurity
  • … or any other emotions they may be struggling with

In some cases, it might mean simply noticing people who are overlooked by society—the homeless, the addicted, the elderly. Being acknowledged in any way feels like empathy to someone who’s used to being ignored. That creates all kinds of potential and opportunities for us to make a difference in their lives.

Empathy is a drawing card.

Jesus didn’t heal every disabled or hurting person who came to see Him. Yet crowds still thronged to Him. Part of that certainly can be chalked up to the hope of winning the “healing lottery”—being chosen by Jesus for a hands-on curing of blindness, deafness, paraplegia, illness, demon-possession and occasionally death.

But part of it might also be chalked up to the simple fact that Jesus noticed them. He didn’t glance away or hurry past when He encountered hurting people. He held their gaze and searched their eyes. He took note of their circumstances. He felt their pain. He was incensed by their outcast status. He identified so strongly with them that He confused His other followers (see Matthew 25:35-40).

The hurting people in first-century Israel flocked to Jesus because they could tell that He cared about their struggles. They could sense His empathy. What was true for Jesus 2,000 years ago is true (to a lesser degree, of course) for His followers today. If people recognize Christ-like empathy in us, they will be drawn to us. They will invite us into their lives. They will give us a chance to make a difference.

Empathy works social wonders.

Empathy is the key that opens the door to meaningful conversation—the kind of interaction that can change lives. The very nature of empathy, trying to understand the thoughts and feelings of another person, leads to openness and transparency. The right questions, asked with sensitivity, sincerity and empathy, can draw people out in surprising ways. Knowing that someone cares enough to ask the questions is the beginning of healing for many people.

Empathy also goes a long way toward de-escalating conflict. If people sense that you’re trying to talk them out of their opinion, they will almost certainly keep their guard up. If, on the other hand, they sense that you’re trying to understand their point of view, they will be more likely to open up.

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Related Articles:
Four Bible Passages That Leave No Doubt Importance Empathy
Eliminating Divisions Between Us Them
Five Ways You Can Make Gods Love Real To Others

 

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Pastors stand ready to meet the needs of their flock at a moment’s notice, and Thomas Nelson’s Minister’s Bible  is here to help offering time-saving guidance for weddings, funerals, baptisms, and more – all within the pages of Scripture. This is the only Bible containing the complete text of the bestselling Nelson’s Minister’s Manual conveniently set between the Old and New Testaments.

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Think About It:

What are some ways God is calling you to show understanding and empathy?

11 comments on “A Little Empathy Goes a Long Way

  1. Diana McLean says:

    Empathy is a strong emotion. You may have sympathy for someone but until you have experienced it, you cannot have empathy. I have great sympathy for married couples who want children but can’t have them. I cannot empathize with them as I have not had this experience. Showing care, love, acceptance and a listening ear with great compassion goes with sympathy and empathy.

    1. Dixie Eddy says:

      The pain and loss associated with not being able to have a child can be empathized with even if you have never experienced that loss. Empathy is not limited by matched circumstances.

    2. Dan says:

      Diana, this is something that I think should be corrected in our society, as I believe Empathy is the more deeper and meaningful emotion. And maybe our society has come to believe that as well…but the strict definition of Sympathy vs. Empathy is : Sympathy may refer to “feelings of loyalty” or “unity or harmony in action or effect,” meanings not shared by empathy. In the contexts where the two words do overlap, sympathy implies sharing (or having the capacity to share) the feelings of another, while empathy tends to be used to mean imagining, or having the capacity to imagine, feelings that one does not actually have.

      So strictly speaking, Sympathy is when you have experienced it…empathy is when you simply imagine what it would be like.

      It’s strangely nuanced, but it seems like dictionaries always describe Sympathy to be the “superior” emotion.

      I mean, sharing is clearly stronger than imaging, but as I mentioned…I’ve always felt Empathy was stronger. To me, it is a powerful emotion where you are able to put yourself in another person’s shoes and feel what that person is feeling…or at least feel what it would be like if it were happening to you.

      I almost view Sympathy as being experienced by someone that doesn’t quite grasp what someone is feeling unless they have also experienced it.

  2. Chris says:

    Sorry, I missed the verse where Jesus refused to heal any one who came to Him?

    “Jesus didn’t heal every disabled or hurting person who came to see Him.”

    1. Obed says:

      Jesus healed all of them who came to Him.

    2. Canon David Catterall says:

      The author didn’t use the word “refused”. An interesting sideline to this issue is Luke 4: 25-27.

    3. Natalie says:

      Chris,

      It’s not that Jesus refused to heal anyone, Jesus did not heal every sick person who came to him. As you’ll read here in Mark 6:56 the only people healed were those who touched his garment.
      Hope this helps.

      Mark 6:53–56
      Jesus Heals the Sick in Gennesaret
      53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.

  3. David Kwesi Bansah says:

    I think you guys are doing very great job. May the good Lord continue to strengthing you all.

  4. Janine Searles says:

    How much is the Thomas Nelson Minister’s bible?

    1. John at Thomas Nelson Bibles says:

      Hi Janine,

      The Minister’s Bible from Thomas Nelson has a suggested retail price of $79.99. It is often sold at a reduce price depending on the retail store. The best thing to do is call our local Christian bookstore. You can also check online at places like Amazon, ChristianBook.com, FaithGateway.com, and Lifeway.com. I hope this helps!

      Thanks,
      John from the Thomas Nelson Bibles Team

  5. Peter says:

    Well I know, Chris, but it is implied. Think about the narrative of Jairus and his daughter who lay sick. He made his way through the crowd to get there (Matt 9; Mark 5; Luke 8:40-56). But again you may object and say, “What about the woman subject to bleeding?” I think the bigger picture is that his works gave testimony to being the Son of God (John 5:36; 10:25).

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