Heart for People
By Jill Briscoe
When you read of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, you hear his heart. You hear his tears talking: “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37). We can pray about people’s stubborn pride. Jesus and Jeremiah did.
Prayer that is effective is prayer that is specific. Jeremiah didn’t get on his knees and pray fervently, “Bless Israel!” He got down to specifics. He prayed about the root problem, and he prayed about the repercussions of the problem. If we will be effective in our prayers, we must do our homework so we can intercede with an intelligent understanding of the situation.
Prayer also prepares the ground before the seed is scattered on it. The sowers scatter the seed, and our tears water it. Prayer is the place where God softens our hard hearts toward difficult people who may be giving the sowers a hard time. And our prayers soften their hearts, too.
Jeremiah prayed plenty of “I’ve had it with them” prayers. When he stayed in the presence of God long enough, however, he began to catch the heart of God for these same people, and soon he would be weeping for them instead of wanting vengeance. There is little hope of nursing a heart of vengeance if you are engaging in a viable prayer ministry. A heart for people is developed on your knees.
I am struck with Jeremiah’s likeness to God. The prophet’s heart yearned for the people to repent and turn to the Lord, just as Jesus’ heart did. Jeremiah’s troubles were chiseling him into the likeness of God. “Perhaps they will bring their petition before the Lord, and each will turn from his wicked ways, for the anger and wrath pronounced against this people by the Lord are great,” he says (Jer. 36:7). God’s tears were on Jeremiah’s face. God’s compassion was in Jeremiah’s heart. God’s mercy was evident in the words Jeremiah was praying. God’s love was being offered freely to His people throughout Jeremiah’s life.
The secret of a heart of compassion is a secret prayer life that no one else knows about. What are you and God secretly doing together? Are you talking to Him regularly about all the people who are bound for destruction if they don’t repent, or could you not care less? You don’t grow compassion in public; you grow it on your face before God in the secret place.
Not long ago I spent some time asking God to show me an area of my devotional life in which He wanted me to grow. Unmistakably the answer came back, I want you to care.
“But I do care, Lord,” I remonstrated. “I spend every living moment attending to your work.”
Where are the tears? He asked me quietly. I had no answer because I had no tears. It was time to let Him do His work in me in the secret places of my heart.
If there are no tears, I will not be putting my life on the line. I will not be taking risks, pushing boundaries, attaining heights, taking new initiatives. There will be no late-night candles burning at both ends because people are dying without Christ.
Compassion moves you from the comparative safety of your own house into the marketplace of the world to shout out the message from the housetops. Compassion gets you off the evangelical donkey and into the ditch or, if you like, into the trenches. If you are moved with compassion, you didn’t ride past someone in trouble as the scribe or Pharisee did in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37). You get down from your high horse and attend to the one who has been robbed and beaten by thieves. We must not leave this sort of compassion to the Jeremiahs of this world. We all need to develop a heart for people.
When’s the last time you shed real tears for the people around you? Ask God to give you a heart of compassion for others—and start on your knees!