Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 26, 2009

Peripheral Compassion

   I just finished reading a challenging book by Dino Rizzo entitled, “Servolution: Starting a Church Revolution through Serving.” Rizzo is the founding and lead pastor of Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “Servolution” is the inspiring story of how he and his wife started a church to reach the poor and hurting and how God has used Healing Place Church to transform its community through practical acts of love and service. Rizzo addressed one of my favorite topics — what he calls “peripheral compassion.” He defines peripheral compassion as “the capacity to reach out and envelop the multitudes while noticing the tiniest need.” Peripheral compassion “is one of my favorite qualities I see in Jesus,” writes Rizzo, “and one I have always wanted to emulate.”

   Like Rizzo, we should all strive to emulate this quality. We need to intentionally work on sharpening our peripheral vision because unless we first see what’s there we will never be moved to respond compassionately. In the case of the Good Samaritan, the Bible says that “when he saw” the man who had been beaten and left for dead, “he felt compassion” (Luke 10:33). Seeing precedes compassion. However, seeing does not always result in compassion, as in the case of the priest and the Levite in the story who also “saw him” but continued on their way (Luke 10:31-32). So, how do we develop peripheral compassion? As I have thought about the answer to this question over the past few days, here are a few of the things that have come to mind. I hope these suggestions will help you to respond compassionately to what you see in your peripheral world.

Slow Down | Most of us are in such a hurry to get from Point A to Point B that we seldom consider the things that live in the blurry peripheral world. For example, we drive past hospitals but seldom consider those in the hospital. We drive past the guys begging for pocket change on street corners but seldom reflect on what they will have for lunch or where they will spend the night. We walk past people in our workplace and often miss the cues that signal they are in pain or carrying a weight of worry on their shoulders. So, slow down and take the time to look at who lives in your peripheral world.

Turn Your Head | Most of us are so focused on who or what is in front of us that we seldom turn our heads to see who or what is beside us. We get in our cars in the morning to drive to work or take the kids to school and easily miss the things along the way that indicate a need. For example, I have learned that the one house on the block that begins to show signs of neglect does not necessarily mean that I have a lazy neighbor. In some cases I have met widows or single moms living in those homes — nice people who have fallen on hard times and are struggling to make ends meet. So, take the time to turn your head to the right and to the left as you drive down the street in order to look for indicators of unmet needs.

Tune Your Ears | One way to sharpen your peripheral vision is by seeing with your ears! Learn to listen to what those around you are saying. You can discover a lot about what’s going on in other people’s lives by taking the time to listen to what they are saying. And, don’t miss the subtle clues. The writer of Proverbs said, “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, and the end of joy may be grief” (Prov. 14:13). So, learn to tune in to others. You’ll have a better idea of how to respond compassionately if you know why and how people are hurting.

Open Your Mouth | If you see or hear something that concerns you, then ask questions. On more than one occasion I have actually knocked on a door, introduced myself as a Christ-follower from Kingsland, and asked about whether or not there was a need we could address. And, I have learned that, sometimes, folks are just grateful that I took the time to ask them about what is going on in their lives. Asking questions is one way to let others know we noticed them and that we care. So, don’t remain silent if you suspect someone may be in need. Open your mouth and at least inquire. You may miss opportunities to respond in a compassionate manner if you fail to talk to others.

Roll Up Your Sleeves | Like the Good Samaritan, do something to help. You can’t do everything but you can do something. Don’t underestimate how God can use even the smallest act of kindness extended in Christ-like love to the people in your peripheral world. Rizzo writes, “Jesus lived His life seeking opportunities to turn His love for people into action — everything a servolution is about.” So, roll up your sleeves and be willing to help.

Pay the Price | Extending compassion to those in your peripheral world will cost you. It’s much easier to rush from here to there and to convince ourselves that we don’t have time to notice or to help. After all, who has time to help a stranger change a tire in the rain or to offer to babysit for someone who needs to find a job? However, we will not change the world unless we are willing to pay the price and to be inconvenienced. So, allow God to show you where people are and what they are struggling with and then be willing to pay the price to help them.

For more on peripheral compassion, read my post entitled Heather’s Challenge.


  1. I appreciated this article as I had an opportunity to experience “tuning my ears” and “opening my mouth” just this morning. I had an appointment with someone that I see somewhat regularly. She was sharing about a struggle she is having with her daughter. I smiled and shook my head because – it’s a struggle we ALL have with our children – she was telling a common tale. Before I left the room I asked her if I could pray for her. She was thrilled! She reached to hold my hands before I could reach for hers. She gripped them so tightly that it hurt! (But it was okay). I never miss an opportunity to pray for someone. The Word tells us to be generous, and we will get back in the same manner we give – but pressed down, shaken together to make room for more – and running over. So, why miss an opportunity for THAT? When we opened our eyes, hers were filled with tears. She said, “It is so nice to have someone reach out to ME. I am usually the one doing for others.” It’s not just the “down and out” who need encouragement. To make the story better – my appointment was last week but had to be cancelled. God knew that this week was a better day!

  2. Janet…

    Very cool. Thanks so much for sharing your story about this divinely orchestrated meeting. This is what it means to be Jesus with skin on. Thanks for being sensitive to this opportunity.


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