Praying for an enemy (part 2)
Words are cheap.
Words are easy to say, but sometimes they are hard to follow through with.
During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has this to say about how those in the Kingdom of God should act toward enemies:
Matthew 5:43-45 You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of our Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Last time, we wrestled with this passage and what Jesus is instructing us to do. Someone who is actively plotting our downfall, someone who takes pleasure in seeing us fail, someone who harasses us without end – that is not the person I am generally interested in showing love to or want to pray for.
As we look at what Jesus taught here about prayer…it almost feels too big.
All sorts of defensive thoughts and emotions come to mind when I imagine praying for those who persecute me. However, the core of all those thoughts and emotions is my own self-centeredness. Even when recognize this truth, I’m still unsure of how to pray for an enemy.
Thankfully, we have an example.
Within about a 12 hour timeframe, Jesus was betrayed, falsely accused, slapped, spat on, beaten, repeatedly mocked, savagely whipped, crowned with thorns, and had three metal spikes viciously hammered into his wrists and feet. After all that, and while he was suffocating to death on the cross, Jesus said
Luke 23:34 Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.
In the midst of excruciating pain, less than a few hours before death, after all he had been through – Jesus petitioned God for their forgiveness. Jesus kept his enemies’ most important need in mind, despite the circumstances.
That’s something I love about Jesus. He never asks of us anything that he couldn’t do or wouldn’t do himself.
Everything he went through in those 12 hours, we have also experienced, to some degree, at the hand of an enemy. On the days when I feel betrayed by those closest to me, the days that someone’s words leave welts and wounds on my heart and in my mind, or when I am antagonized to the point that it feels like they have ripped open my flesh – Jesus has been there before. There are times when we’re getting run over by someone who is purposely out to make our life miserable (or worse). Let’s be honest, there are people like that in the world. They go beyond just being self-centered, and they are actively looking for ways to take us down.
It’s in those frazzled, exhausted moments that we need to be praying for our enemies. Just like Jesus did, we must remember that their greatest need – God’s forgiveness – is greater than our greatest pains.