“Where is the evidence of your love?”
His words pierced my heart.
“Where is your love for the broken, for those who face injustice?”
I felt offended and hurt by my friend’s quick and harsh reproach, and wanted to remonstrate in my self-righteousness. But my breath caught in my throat, because deep down, a part of me knew that he was right. Where was the evidence of the love of God I proclaimed to identify with and embody?
To be sure, I love those around me who are easy to love, like my family, friends, and fellow believers, and I make effort to pray for and reach out to those around me who are going through difficult times.
But how about those whom I have no particular reason to love—like strangers living halfway across the world?
The conversation with my close friend forced me to examine my life with a clear and sober eye, and to ask myself, “What have I been doing?” More specifically, what have I been doing, in the face of crises around the world—the suffering, persecution, and injustice faced by hundreds of thousands of millions of people?
Nothing. Not only was I not doing anything, I didn’t want to know anything.
As a journalist constantly tuned in to the goings-on in my home country Singapore, I’d become desensitised to bad news. I felt drained of any emotional or spiritual capacity to care about all the daily happenings on our island, let alone the sheer magnitude of catastrophes around the world. I was indifferent and helpless to what was beyond my control.
When my father told me about a church bombing in Surabaya, Indonesia, which killed 15 churchgoers on 13 May, I felt a pang of shock and sadness. Yet my prayer for those devastated by the attack went unfinished in my head, as my attention turned to something else more immediate.
And when I visited Perth, Australia, for a holiday at the same time US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shook hands in Singapore on 13 June, not once did I glance at a screen to find out how the summit went—even though this could potentially be a monumental first step for millions of North Koreans living in both spiritual and material poverty. Even the miraculous Thai cave rescue in July came across as a mere feel-good read, as I barely batted an eyelid throughout the dramatic search and rescue operations spread out across those few days.
With enough happening on our own shores, the refugee crises and political corruption, the terrorist attacks and bombings, the nuclear threats and natural disasters, fellow Christians being persecuted and afflicted for their faith, the inexhaustible list of small-scale injustices to migrants, single mothers, orphans, the poor, the environment—everything just became just too much for me.
I had slowly and subconsciously retreated into my oyster, hardening my heart to the hurts of this world. After all, I justified, there’s only so much I could feel and do with my limited time and resources—especially when world crises are so conveniently distilled into distant images and headlines on a screen as I sit safely ensconced in comfort.
Yet that isn’t the kind of attitude Jesus had, neither is it the kind of disposition we are to have as His followers and as recipients of His salvation. Instead, he wants us to serve the “least important” who are often overlooked by society: by meeting their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, such as by feeding and clothing the poor, and by caring for and lending a listening ear to the marginalized and forgotten (Matthew 25:34-40).
Even though God clearly calls us to love and serve others—and I’m reminded of this time and time again through His Word—I often have difficulty obeying.
Yet James warns us of the danger of being mere listeners who forget His Word, thereby deceiving ourselves; and whose faith, when not embodied in deeds and acts of service, is actually dead. And this frightens me: that my self-imposed ignorance and uncaring disposition is a sign of my self-deception and dead faith.
As I was listening to Hillsong’s “What a Beautiful Name” on YouTube, a comment caught my eye. A man had commented, asking for us to pray for Christians in Egypt.
“We are going through difficult times, yet it is times of blessing. Pray for the weak of souls; pray for those who lost a son, father, mother or wife just because they are Christians.
“How lucky we are to taste some of the Christ’s sufferings for our sake. The Lord bless you all.”
I was chastened—but this time, it was by a man living halfway across the globe—a nameless, faceless man undergoing persecution for his faith, yet who was declaring the beauty of the name of Jesus, and standing firm in prayer and praise unto Him, who alone knows every name and face of His chosen ones.
His testimony stirred something within me, and spoke to me of what it really meant to be a part of the body of Christ, as His united people and church, commanded by our Lord and Saviour to love and serve others with both our hearts and hands. And this prompted me to reflect on how we ought to respond when faced with crises in the world.
The simplest yet often most overlooked action is to acknowledge that God is powerful, omniscient, and unlimited by all human constraints and constructs. God doesn’t call us to lay the weight of the world on our shoulders, He calls us to acknowledge and surrender it to Him.
That’s what all the holy men and women of God—the kings and prophets, the weak and afflicted—did in the Bible, and what His people throughout the generations have been doing: acknowledging the sovereignty and power of God, and surrendering our helplessness to Him. Doing so reminds us that though the multitude of world crises we face seems unsolvable and unending, they are under His control, within His will, and ultimately for His purposes.
Ask God to break your heart for what breaks His, so that you would care for what He cares about: the oppressed, the unwanted, the vulnerable (Isaiah 1:17). This commandment to care about crises is essentially distilled in the royal law that we love one another, be it those within His church or outside of it (James 2:8).
For this reason, we ought to pray that God would shape our hearts to love as He loves, and to save those in need and deliver them from harm. Not only that, we are also to pray for His leaders and shepherds who oversee and care for His flock, and for the persecutors themselves. After all, if we trust that God hears and answers us when we pray for our own needs, would He not also take heed of our prayers for others?
As John Calvin once said:
Our prayer must not be self-centered. It must arise not only because we feel our own need as a burden we must lay upon God, but also because we are so bound up in love for our fellow men that we feel their need as acutely as our own. To make intercession for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them.
One simple way to start is by praying for a headline crisis that appears on your newsfeed or newspaper. International Christian Concern also publishes articles about the various happenings and needs of fellow brothers and sisters across the world.
Support those who are actively involved in the work of solving these crises and helping the needy, whether through prayers and supplications, raising awareness of such issues, helping with funding and donations, or volunteering in a suitable capacity. As Paul wrote in Galatians 6:10, we are to do good to everyone as we have the opportunity to do so, especially our fellow brethren. And this means acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with the Lord (Micah 6:8).
I’m still learning to do just that—starting with aligning my will with the Lord’s, by praying for those beyond my immediate social circle, attending my church’s monthly prayer gathering, and committing to the Lord people and situations beyond my control.
As we learn to acknowledge our limitations and God’s omnipotence, as we make the intentional choice to pray for His will, healing, and salvation over this world, and as we do what we can with what we have, I pray that God would open our eyes to see how He is without rival or equal in this world, and that we would fall in worship before Him, in spirit, truth and deed.
First published on 27 September 2018 on YMI.