The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. (Psalm 116:5 NASB)
He will have compassion on the poor and needy, And the lives of the needy he will save. (Psalm 72:13 NASB)
And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, "I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way." (Matthew 15:32 NASB)
The Bible also clearly indicates that a basic element of our walk with God is to reach out to the hurt and needy with compassion. Consider these verses:
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12 NASB)
For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles' feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:34-35 NASB)
Compassion. This word describes the heart of God, and should therefore also describe the heart of a believer in Christ. Loving others is not an option for those who have experienced the supernatural love of Christ. It is our trademark! Jesus described for us in no uncertain terms the telltale sign of a truly born-again disciple in John 13:34,35:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
When a lost and dying world looks for solid proof of our salvation through Jesus, the first thing they look at is our actions—especially in times of need and crisis. What sets us apart from the crowd is a heart that feels the same pain that God does for the needy.
There are millions of good and caring unsaved people in the world today who give their time, money, and talents to assist in caring for the needy. (And I in no way judge or criticize their wonderful efforts.) What strikes me is that without God indwelling their lives through the Holy Spirit as is described in the Bible, they are limited by human effort and driven on by human vision which sees life completely different than Christians do. This has been referred to as "the skim milk of human kindness." If this is what unbelievers can and are doing, just imagine the potential power of the Body of Christ when Spirit-empowered believers are unleashed en masse.
Every national church planting ministry with which Empower partners is deeply involved in some form of compassionate assistance to the poor, the destitute and the downtrodden. It is not just an add-on to their ministries, but an integral part of their mission to be like Christ and win the lost. They are not using physical gifts of mercy as an allurement to proselytize people of other religions, but instead are extending God’s compassion and love to anyone—saved or unsaved—who is lacking the necessities of life (food, shelter or clothing). They display to a watching world what comes naturally to those who have been born again.
In North America, some believers have interpreted Christ’s command to have "love for one another" as only applying to those within the Church. In other words, they take this to mean that it is our brothers and sisters in Christ that we are to "love," and all others we should just "like”. But stories from Empower’s ministry partners around the world who are experiencing outpourings of the Holy Spirit report that Christians are loving fellow believers as well as people from various religions. Why do Christ’s followers respond in this way? In an outpouring of God’s Spirit, a Christian's true colours shine brightly as we share compassion—with impartiality—to those who are uncared for by the world. And unbelievers are astonished!
Many years ago, I remember travelling with a leader of the Chinese house church movement. He told me that one night, as he and a small group of fellow pastors were travelling home from preaching in a distant village, they passed behind a hospital. To their surprise, lying on the ground in blankets and rags, were about ten (I can't remember the exact number) crying newborn babies that had been discarded because they were females. The pastors gently picked them up, carried them home, and quietly distributed the babies to Christian families who would nurse, care for, and raise these little girls. Remember, at that time in China there was a strict enforcement of a one-child policy and most non-Christian parents wanted a male heir. When I asked the leader why Christian families readily took these babies in, he responded, "Because believers in Christ immediately upon being saved view life completely different. We will sacrifice anything to save a living soul on earth, and now those little girls will grow up knowing Jesus and have eternal life as well."
This correlation between saving a life now, and saving a life for eternity, is critical in our understanding of what an outpouring of the Spirit looks like. You cannot separate the lostness of a human soul for eternity from loving that same person while on earth. This is why a vital component of caring is sharing. Sharing what? The Gospel of Jesus Christ with the person we are caring for. Why? Because we ourselves were lost and now have been found by Jesus. Because we were headed to hell for our sins and now are on the pathway to heaven. Because we once didn't know Love, but now have found Him who first loved us. Now Christ calls us to reach out in compassion to those who are spiritually blind that they might find Christ. Then, each and every follower of Christ can say with the blind man that Jesus healed in John 9:25, “…once I was blind but now I can see.”
This is why it is imperative to combine each opportunity to present the Gospel with loving, compassionate assistance of the essentials of life. People are hungry—not only for physical food—but also for spiritual food that will last throughout eternity. Times of intense need are opportunities of a lifetime! No unbeliever will thank us on the other side of Judgement Day if we withheld the Truth about eternal life from them, at a moment in their life when we had their undivided attention. A pastor friend shared with me this fitting example: imagine a friend's house is burning down while they are asleep inside and you watch from the sidewalk, afraid you might offend them by interrupting their sleep in order to save their lives. What type of friends would we be?
Over the years, some humanitarian-based Christian ministries have downplayed the presentation of the Gospel when presenting vital aid, while others have completely eliminated any element of evangelistic emphasis from their ministries. Some have done so in order to garner additional funds from unbelieving donors who do not place any value on the message of salvation through Jesus. These organizations feed the stomach but disregard the Bible's urgent message to reach the souls of the lost. At Empower, rather than parachuting in assistance and then leaving without a word of Hope, we always place such aid in the capable hands of national pastors who present to the lost and needy both a loaf of bread and a message about the Bread of Life—Jesus.
An Encouraging Update from India
Despite COVID-19, National Church Planters are Fearless
One small, remote mountain village in India is home to about 300 families. It is accessible only by foot, and has no electricity, roads, schools, health care or running water. Villagers must trek across the mountains for more than an hour to reach the nearest village.
Following a time of fasting and prayer, a national pastor/church planter felt a call to travel to various villages and share the Gospel. He realized there was a high probability that he would be attacked, or even killed by enemies, given the constant and increasing persecution of Christians. Despite the risks, he was determined to obey God. “Christ humbled himself by becoming obedient to death. I am a slave of Christ. Am I not? I will obey my Lord.”
He travelled from village to village praying that God would open hearts and doors. Then he heard about the mountain village and determined to take the message of God’s love to the people. The villagers were surprised to see an outsider enter their village, and the chief was especially suspicious. When he heard that the evangelist had come to tell the people of the one, true living God, he was infuriated. He cursed the Christian and told him to leave the village, threatening to kill him if he ever returned. The evangelist politely smiled at the chief, saying he meant no disrespect. And he left the village. On the outskirts of town, he tearfully prayed, asking God for the Gospel to take root in the hearts of the people of this unreached village.
Several days later, a young man knocked on his door. The smiling man was a member of the remote village and had been sent by the chief, asking the pastor to return. The Christian felt like this was a trap. “I was afraid. But, then I thought of the call of God to reach the unreached at any cost.” So, he took up his Bible and said goodbye to his wife, knowing he might not see her again.
Two other evangelists joined him on this trek, and they prayed all the way. They asked God to protect them but, above all, for God’s name to be glorified that day in the village. When they arrived, they were escorted to the chief’s hut and found him lying on a wooden cot. His body was swollen, and his breathing was laboured. The evangelists drew close, laid their hands on the chief, and told him, “We are not healers, but Jesus Christ is God, and He hears our prayers.” The villagers gathered to hear and watch. At the end of the prayer, the believers left with a promise to keep praying for the chief. “Trust in God! He is merciful. We will be back next week."
When they returned, they saw the chief in good health, standing to welcome them. He immediately asked for their forgiveness and requested they teach his villagers from the “holy book” they were carrying. "We want to know more about Jesus," he said.
Today, there is a newly planted church in this remote village for the first time in history. Thirty people regularly gather to worship our Lord. Their prayer is to see the entire village come to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what God is doing in India in the midst of COVID-19.