Last fall, several of us started a prayer ministry for people on death row called Operation Life. We are assigned to specific inmates who are within 3 months of their execution (although that often gets stayed repeatedly), and we commit to daily prayer for them. Initially – I had a list of approximately 5-6 inmates. I knew their names. I had Googled them to see their picture and to read about their crime and their victims, so I could pray for them as well. Each night, I would list off my inmates’ names and pray collectively for them. I would pray that if they knew Him, He would love on them and encourage them and help to take away all their fear. I would pray if they didn’t know Him that He would save them before it was too late – using whatever method He possibly could. I would pray for protection for them. For support and comfort and healing for their families and their victim’s families. I would pray for an end to the death penalty. And then I would be done. It took me 5 minutes, maybe 10.
For months, I felt God weighing on my heart to write to one of my inmates. After three months, I finally gave in and wrote. Shortly thereafter, He placed it on my heart to write to every single one of my inmates and to commit to writing to each person as they were assigned to me from thereon out.
And then I started getting letters back. Suddenly they weren’t just names or faces to me. They were human beings – with feelings…..with regrets…..with hurts…..with suffering…..with challenges…..with needs…..with fears…..with faith or lack thereof…..with family and friends. I immediately knew them in a way I never had before. They became my friends……people I cared deeply about.
And in an instant – I couldn’t just lump them all together anymore. I couldn’t just list all of their names off, say a prayer, and move on. I loved them – and I loved them individually. I knew what they needed. I began to pray individually for each inmate…..for everything they were personally going through……for their prayer requests…..for their specific needs.
Over time – this one gave my letter to that one and asked him to write back to me when he couldn’t……this one asked me to write to that one because he needed a friend…..and my list has grown to 13 people. Now instead of it taking me 5-10 minutes……it takes me 45. I have to spend time on each one of my friends – making sure their needs are prayed for. If my list ends up at 26 – I’ll pray for an hour and a half if that’s what it takes. Now that they are so individually precious to me – I could never bring myself to lump them together again just to save time.
Through this – God has taught me infinitely more than I could have ever imagined about His love for us, and in turn, His love for Jahar. To our heavenly Father, Jahar is not just one of those prisoners…….one of those terrorists….one of those lost causes. Our God knows every little thing about Jahar. He knows his every thought….his every fear….his every need. He knows every tear that falls from his eyes. Jahar isn’t just merely a name or a face to God……he is His beloved child – uniquely precious to Him.
“Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing. O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles? O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?” (Isaiah 40:26-27)
If the God of heaven and earth knows each and every star by name – how much more does He know and care for all of His children individually? Take heart. Jesus calls Jahar by name. Our God will not just ignore Jahar’s needs or generalize to fit him into a mold or category. The King of the universe knows Jahar intimately, and He has a perfect individualized plan that is exactly what Jahar needs to lead him home.