But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.1 Corinthians 12:24-27
One of the interesting things about being a pastor of a church is that even when things are going great in your own life, you know at least a dozen situations in other people’s lives that are going horribly. Even when your marriage is in a great place, you know a number of marriages that are falling apart. When your family is doing well, you know many that aren’t. Even when you have one of those days that are full of life, joy, and purpose, in the back of your mind is the awareness of a number of people you care about who are having a terrible day. Now multiply this when your own life is struggling.
This is true of many of the helping professions. The main difference is that, in the helping professions, they are taught to keep a professional emotional distance from those they are helping. There is a wall of professionalism that allows the doctor or therapist to help in a way that doesn’t get too personally involved. Pastors don’t get to do this. Those we are helping are our good friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ that we’ve known personally for years.
Paul said of the church, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). In order to do this well, without being buried under the pile of pain the church is experiencing collectively, it requires the discipline to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn“(Romans 12:15). This discipline is impossible if we base our rejoicing off of circumstances.
We can’t wait for our life and everyone else’s life to be good before we are able to rejoice. It won’t happen. We have to be able to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoicing in the Lord will give us access to joy at all times. Even when we know ten people going through hard things, we’ll be able to rejoice with the person in front of us because the source of our joy is the Lord Himself.
This is true for mourning as well. Our mourning can’t be based entirely on situations in our life or the life of others. It has to come from the compassion of Christ. If the person in front of us is hurting, we can mourn with them because of the compassion of Christ, even when we know there are others who are celebrating moments of victory.
Our life circumstances and the life circumstances of people in our church community are like waves in the seas. They are constantly going up and down; they will constantly change. Our emotional state will be chaotic if our hearts churn with the waves. Instead, our hearts need to be anchored in Christ–in His joy and His compassion.
The call to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn is not a call to react to the situation in front of us. Instead, it is a call to respond to the heart of Jesus for the situation in front of us. And that difference makes all the difference. It is an invitation to tap into the joy of the Lord and the compassion of the Lord for the sake of our friend.