Jesus taught that we’re to pray for our enemies, but I tend to skip over this verse. For one, anything that I might consider persecution would pale in comparison to the deadly attacks on Christians and the church around the world. And secondly, I don’t think I have any real enemies. To my knowledge, no one is trying to get rid of me. So ... I skip over this verse.
But what do I do with those who have offended me? I’ve certainly worked with people who have said untrue things about me and have diminished my contributions. Those times are hard to swallow and they often sting for days, weeks or months. I know better than to respond in anger or launch a counter attack, but my mind (or ego) still nurses the offense. I take action to protect myself by creating distance and establishing boundaries. Once bitten, twice shy, right?
There's a dear, wise man in my life whom I meet with every other week. He’s got more trail miles in his Christian walk than I do, so there’s much I can learn from him. In sharing with him once about an offense I was struggling with, he asked me straight up: “Do you pray for that person?” (Did you notice the emphasis on for?)
"Do you pray for them?"
"Honestly, no," I replied. "My first reaction is often to pray against them. That they'll get transferred to a different department or choose to pursue another line of work. But then eventually I settle down and pray for myself. I pray that I would respond with grace. I pray that I would exhibit Christ-like character. That I would not choose fight or flight, but instead respond with patience and even perseverance."
"That's great. That's a good thing to pray for yourself. But if it's good to pray that for you, wouldn’t it also be good to pray that for the other person?"
Aha. So this is where Matthew 5:44 applies to me. No more skipping that verse, I guess.
Jesus said, “Do unto others as you want others to do for you.” (Matthew 7:12) A logical extension of that would be to pray for others as you would want them to pray for you. Now it took a while for this to work its way to my heart, but when it finally did, I found my heart changing toward my offender as grace began to overwhelm the offense. I find that it’s really hard to nurse a bitterness against someone you pray for every day.
When we bring our hurts and offenses to God in prayer, not only will He transform our hearts toward the offender, but He also has His own way of remedying the situation. As it turns out, His antidote for hurt and bitterness happens to also be a key ingredient in the recipe for Christ-likeness: prayer for others.
Think and pray
Consider the person (or people) you avoid because of the way they’ve treated you. Now take a moment and think of three things that would be for their highest good and petition God for those on their behalf. See if God doesn't change your heart, change their heart, change the situation, or do all three.
Jesus, this is easier to read about than it is to put into practice. Give me Your heart toward others. Help me to want what is good for those who frustrate and offend me. Let even my prayers be aimed at building others up according to their need. You alone can give me the grace to do this, so I need Your help. I pray this in Your name. Amen.
Brent Vawter is the Area Director for CBMC Oklahoma. Having spent the first 30 years of his career helping several Fortune 100 companies with their marketing and operations, he now focuses his efforts on helping businessmen grow in their relationship with Christ and discover greater purpose in life and meaning in their work.