Hands down, one of THE most difficult commands or expectations given by Jesus is written in Matthew 5:43-44:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,..."
Over the weekend, Keith opened up about a difficult relationship. This particular relationship has always been difficult, but recently it has become exceedingly difficult. Keith would never call this person his downright enemy but he has experienced persecution throughout their relationship. Not the near death type of persecuting, but he has been treated unkindly and unjustly because of his age, religion, lifestyle, and career choices. I would describe this person's behavior towards and treatment of Keith as bully-like.
I've never responded well to anyone who messes with Keith. I'm protective of him and, while I know he is not perfect, my respect for who he is almost always makes it very easy for me to take his side. Plus, I love the guy and I cannot stand the thought of anyone treating him unjustly or unkindly. So as I listened to Keith share his most recent frustration, I fought feelings of anger and thoughts of revenge toward this individual.
But just like God so often does with me, He spoke directly to my heart at church on Sunday morning. The message was about the "E" word...Evangelism. And one point in particular struck a cord with me: We cannot talk to people about God until we've talked to God about people.
The only fact that has kept me from telling Keith to write this person off completely is the simple fact that the person needs Jesus (for the record in my heart I know that writing someone off is never God's will). Keith has had many spiritual conversations with this individual and has worked hard at demonstrating God's love. Yet, the person is still far from wanting any kind of relationship with Jesus. And just like you and I, Jesus is all this person really needs.
So as I sat in church, it was crystal clear what God was asking me to do: Talk to Me about this person and eventually Keith will have more and more opportunities to effectively talk to this person about Me.
Friends, I'll be honest it was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do in that moment. It felt like a waste of my time. I thought, surely there is something else Lord.
I argued: This person does not give a lick about Keith and treats him as such and You're asking me to spend my precious time praying for him/her. Every time I will try to pray, I am just going to think about how Keith has been mistreated and in my opinion, persecuted. Not sure I'm gonna be able to do this one Lord.
Those of you who are kinder and more forgiving than me might think I'm stubborn to resist this command. And you are right. But I'm just being real here.
When Jesus spoke the words regarding loving and praying for one's enemy, this was no easy command to follow. Cause it's definitely NOT easy for me in this situation.
Yet the truth is: Jesus understands that our flesh resists (to our very core) the idea but He also, through His Spirit, will equip us with the strength and courage to obey. For He that is in me is greater than he who is in the world! [1 John 4:4]
Thus...it's one foot in front of the other for me. One prayer after another. I'm hoping (and praying) that as I obediently talk to God about this person that God will give Keith more and more opportunities to talk to this person about God.
In conclusion, as I think about my children I know this is an important topic for me to pray over them. For they will surely have people in their lives who will bully and persecute them. I can only imagine how hard it will be for me then to hold back my inner mommy-bear, but I'll trust that God will equip me with whatever I need to keep control and to obey.
But I would like to pray for my children's response. I don't want them to respond foolishly to persectution, nor to harbor intense anger or bitterness, nor to retailiate by resorting to their own bullying and persecuting.
Rather, I want them to obey the command of Christ: to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them. This is a lofty goal but I choose to trust that God can give them the strength and courage to obey just like He is giving me.
Join me today in prayer,
Jesus, You understand persecution. And You are more than capable of equipping my children with ALL the strength and courage they will need to obey the command: Love your enemies and pray for them. So, today I pray that You would protect them from bitterness, anger, and retaliation when they are persecuted. I pray you would grant them the tenderness of heart to give grace and forgiveness coupled with fervent prayer for their enemy.