I find it difficult to pray for my enemies. I mean, it’s obvious that it wasn’t meant to be easy, but, Jesus instructed us to. What I find most difficult about that instruction is, where do I draw the line with praying whether or not God gives unto my enemies 10x what they did to me (if that’s even biblical at all?) Most importantly, HOW, do I pray for them?
When God says, “Love your enemies,” every single person in the world has a story of why that can’t possibly happen.
If you and I were to sit face to face across a table over coffee, and you were to explain your story, I would be tempted to agree. Most times I am tempted to get in a car and go Tony Jaa all over that guy who hurt you.
Here’s the thing: when we use the word enemy, we’re saying some person who is a one-dimensional horrible evil monster that twirls his mustache at night and dreams of ways to torture you. But besides the rare historical exception, that person almost never really exists.
Most of us are multi-layered, struggling, conflicted, confused people, and when humans collide, our natural tendency is to 1) protect our own interests, and 2) let our sinful tendencies react first. Hence, we get enemies.
When Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” he had a very different picture in mind.
He is saying, “You know, before you had a love for me and for the things of God, you were pretty much an enemy of the cross. You did what you wanted apart from me even though this was hurting you. But I loved you anyway. I knew about all the stuff that you did before and I still loved you; I know what’s coming and I will love you always.”
Jesus, who knows your motives, methods, secret thoughts, and the actions you’ve forgotten, still has a crazy love for you. He has a holistic vision of who you are AND who you could be. Jesus found that the best way to destroy his enemies was to love them, regardless of their response.
God wants us to see each other with a God-Sized Vision because there is hope for every one of us. He wants us to see not just for the next few weeks or months, but with a heavenly perspective. I know how difficult this is, but to go the other way is to become unstable, hostile, and harmful, and God has way better for you than to become that person.
I understand this is difficult in practice, and no one expects perfection. You’re allowed to feel what you feel. But you know, I’ve heard tons of stories about divorce, lawsuits, streetfights, gang fights, wrongful job termination, and competing businesses: and in all these things, I recognized a simple truth.
How could we NOT pray for our enemies? How could I NOT love them?
Because assuming this other person never changes, you still need wisdom in how to handle them. You still need strength, resilience, patience, and compassion going forward. You still need a loving heart greater than your flesh so you don’t choke on contempt. Even a “casual hate” is going to kill you from the inside.
Can I tell you: I’ve been going through a situation only recently where I’ve had to love the “enemy” in full force. And so far, besides yelling in my own car all the things I would like to say, I’ve been able to act loving. No, I don’t feel like it. But by simple obedience to the Spirit, I’m praying for them. And it’s been keeping me out a dark place that would only make things worse. God is being glorified, even amidst the worst of humanity, and actually: as hard as it is, I love them.
People can change too though. Prayer can change them, because God can change them.
If we start dismissing people as incapable of change, we’re also suckerpunching the sovereign grace of God. There are some really difficult people in this life, but in God’s unfolding story, you and I were just as selfish, stubborn, prideful, and hurtful until His love knocked us out of our self-glorifying orbits into His Glory. I’m eternally grateful for that, and if God could love a dude like me, then surely I want that for these other dudes too.
Forgiveness, by the way, does NOT mean you’re letting them off the hook. It’s a divine gift of releasing the pain and anger so that you’re not keeping the knife in your wound. Don’t let someone who hurt you keep hurting you. And sometimes, you’ll need to forgive daily, everyday, for as long as it takes.
I’m not at all condoning the things that have been done to you. I’m not diminishing your pain or downplaying human evil. There must be justice, whether by law or by God, and some people will realize they are wrong — for eternity. But in the mean time, we want to pray for that glorious moment when someone’s eyes are opened in the middle of their darkness, that they would repent and be restored.
It might never happen, but don’t you let what someone did to you also define you. You are not what has happened to you. Don’t let the poison of hatred and bitterness drown you. Keep loving on these people because that’s who you are now. You no longer wield worldly weapons. Your new weapon is love.