“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Matthew 5:44
Love My Enemy?
We all, at some time, have people in our lives that we feel could fit the description in that scripture. “Enemies.”
Jesus was talking to people who had faced very real enemies for centuries; from their time of slavery in Egypt to their occupied state by their newest, despised enemy, the Romans. I can just imagine the shock-ripples going through the crowd as Jesus spoke – “he wants me to love my enemies?”
Perhaps, to put Jesus’ words into perspective, we could imagine Jesus standing in modern day, war torn Syria, after a chemical attack such as the one this week; saying to the families of the injured “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.”
Or to bring it even closer to home, picture Jesus walking among the loved ones gathered at the site of a suicide bomb attack in a British or American city. Touching each one gently on the shoulder as they lay flowers near the site, weeping for their dead and maimed, hear Jesus saying to them “love your enemies…”
It seems like too big a command sometimes; too hard to follow, doesn’t it?
Jesus set an example for us
Jesus doesn’t expect us to do something He didn’t do Himself.
When someone hurts us, the natural response is to strike back. We feel justified in letting them have both barrels. Even if it’s only verbally. It seems a really tall order to have to love them – to pray for them.
Jesus set an example for us. He was persecuted, ridiculed, scorned, rejected and ultimately crucified;
Did He ever want to snipe back with a snarky comment? He may have been tempted to, but he didn’t ever do it. We read in Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Jesus’ last words regarding those who had persecuted, scorned and crucified Him were in the form of a prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
Why Pray for Our Enemies?
Why not send them a bunch of flowers, or order them a nice gift from Amazon with a hand written (insincere of course) note?
Because it’s easy to paint a fake smile on our faces, show pretend kindness to someone we dislike, while in our hearts we have no real desire to see God bless them. We might be able to fool people, but we can’t fool God. When we pray it’s a whole different arena; we’re in the presence of God – the one who knows us and sees into the deepest recesses of our hearts. There’s no pretending when it’s just God and me.
Praying for someone who has hurt us, with a genuine desire to see God to bless them – whether it’s a terrorist, a family member or someone in church, brings healing to our own hearts. Something begins to shift, deep in our hearts. Bitterness is uprooted like the weed it is; it’s choke-hold on our lives broken.
“That’s all very well”, some might say. “But I’ve been hurt really badly; what if I don’t have a genuine desire to see them blessed?”
How Do We Pray For An Enemy?
Start by forgiving them:
Have you ever been hurt and then felt you’re completely justified in being angry? You certainly don’t feel like forgiving that person do you? But forgiveness, like love is a command, a non negotiable with Jesus. This is because unforgiveness is a lose-lose situation for the one carrying it. If you’re struggling to pray for someone who has deeply hurt you, talk to God about it. Ask Him to help you to forgive the person. Unlike your friends, God won’t agree with you that the person who hurt you is a terrible person who deserves to be zapped by a lightening bolt. But He will give you the grace you need to forgive.
By making the conscious choice to forgive and to speak that forgiveness out aloud, in the presence of God, we take the first step in Jesus’ command. Forgiveness is powerful!
Stephen’s Loving Prayer For His Enemies Left a Spiritual Legacy.
When Stephen was being stoned to death, he prayed out loud for his killers
“falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Acts 7:60
Stephen’s prayer is a powerful example of blessing someone who persecutes you. There’s nothing fake about his prayer! Stephen could have prayed quietly as he lay dying. Imagine the agony as every stone struck his head and body. He could have curled up into a tight ball to protect himself; whispered his prayer privately to God, with what little strength he had left. But love enabled him to find the strength to shout his prayer out loud with his dying breath so that his killers knew that he’d forgiven them.
Stephen’s loving act was to have far reaching results. There was one man in particular, that God wanted to reach; Though the man was an enemy of the early Church, and in fact he spearheaded the persecution against the early Christians, I believe Stephen’s prayer deeply effected him – planted a seed in his hate-filled heart that he found increasingly difficult to ignore.
His name was Saul: Acts 8:1–3
Of course we know that Saul later became the Apostle Paul, after his dramatic conversion to Christ on the road to Damascus.
Who would have thought, looking at the angry young Christian-hating Saul, that he would become a champion for Jesus? Paul, who’s deepest longing it became, to see his people know Jesus.
“Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved.” Romans 10:1
We can never underestimate the power and legacy of praying for our enemies! God’s ways and plans are always so much better than ours!
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