I used to have to deal with a guy I didn’t like. I felt like he was a conceited liar who purposely instigated fights even to the point that he caused people to hate each other. It baffled my mind that others couldn’t see him as the snake I believed him to be. I let my anger drive my hatred for him. If I’m being honest, I kind of hoped he would die. I wish I could express to you how much I am not proud of that fact. As far as personal relationships go, it was a low point for me.
My wife and I were hanging out with a couple of very close friends, and I was expressing my disgust for this guy and everything he represented. My friend listened carefully, and when I finished ranting and raving, he asked me, “Have you prayed for him?”
Excuse me? Pray for him? Yeah, maybe pray that he gets a job offer in the frozen tundra and has no choice but to take it. That is how I would pray for him! I cringed every time I saw his face and loathed hearing his voice. Is there a word strong enough to express how much I did not want to pray for this guy?
My friend continued, “Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies.”
Oh thank you, oh wise and knowledgeable fancy-pants. I’ve only grown up in the church since I was an embryo and have been a Christian since I was three years old. I’m pretty sure I knew that already, thank you very much. I verbally patted him on the head and said thanks for the sage advice, fully intending to not follow it. I mean, pray for that guy? You can miss me with that suggestion next time.
I had some minor discomfort in my spirit that night. Then the next day I had some major “heart burn,” and I’m not talking acid reflux. The words of my friend swirled in my head. I fought every inclination to even consider doing him the favorof praying for him. Justification after justification sprang up in my mind. I was doing my best to convince the Holy Spirit that my hatred and anger were righteous indignation, reminding Him of David in the book of Psalms (in case He forgot) saying, “Arise, LORD! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked” (Psalm 3:7). Now that’s a prayer for your enemies!
I finally searched to see what Jesus actually said about praying for our enemies. Maybe there was an asterisk in there somewhere that my fancy-pants friend had missed. Just as I suspected, there was something I had missed.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ [I told you, Mr. Fancy-pants! HA!]
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you [Wait, what?], that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
There are several other areas in that same section of Jesus’ words that command me as a follower of Him to love my enemies in various ways. There’s even one part that says I’ve committed murder in my heart if I even hatea person. I’ve committed murder in my heart?That’s something I’ve never thought about.
My “heart burn” turned into a flame that convicted me, even to the point of tears. I had grieved the Holy Spirit with my hatred for one of God’s creations. The thought that I once wanted this guy to die now burned my soul like a hot poker. I couldn’t believe I could be so callous.
In my shame, I started to pray for the guy. It was pretty difficult at first, even considering Jesus’ words about loving him. Over the next days and weeks, however, I found myself seeing him not as my enemy, but as someone who was really lost. As I prayed for him to be blessed with good health, success, and safety, I also began to feel compassion for him. I prayed that Jesus would interrupt his world and change his heart just like Jesus was changing my heart.
Our worlds went different ways and I still disagree with him on several things, but my hatred for him is gone. I see him as just another person, like me, who needs more of Jesus in his heart. An unexpected blessing of my prayers was a release of the feeling that I had to expose him for the “snake” he was. A weight was lifted off my shoulders. Every time I felt hatred for him start to well up, I started to pray for him. Did you know it’s almost impossible to hate someone that you’re praying for?
In today’s political climate, this lesson seems especially applicable. This is obvious to some, but others have disconnected what Jesus commands us to do with our actions or words just like I did. Sometimes we feel a sense of righteousness swell up inside us when we see things we perceive as a violation of God’s moral law. Instead of wishing demise or harm to come to a person, pray that the Holy Spirit will show them the things they are doing. Pray that conviction will cut right through all the other stuff and penetrate that person’s heart. I find myself praying for many politicians in all the camps. I don’t agree with them, but I refuse to commit murder in my heart again. Jesus can do far more than my words ever will to change their hearts and lives. I should trust Him to do what He needs to do and pray that He has more opportunities to do so.
Will you join me?