Jesus is really good at taking an issue to the extreme, am I right? Did that guy take your coat? Well, give him your shirt too! (Luke 6:29) Did you think about that woman with anger? You just killed her in your heart! (Matthew 5:21-22) You think you are following the Law? YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE LAW! (pretty much the whole first four books of the New Testament)
I’m pretty much a recovering Pharisee myself, so when God brought my attention to this verse, it really grabbed me:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45 ESV)
As believers – especially if you grew up in the church – the phrase “pray for your enemies” has become so mundane and overused, it hardly means anything anymore. But in true Jesus fashion, He isn’t really referring to our general enemies (e.g. terrorists, the opposing political party, someone with different beliefs than you). If you think about it, it’s pretty easy to pray for these nameless, faceless generalizations. Jesus is always about the heart issue. He makes it personal. He makes it real.
We all have a person in our lives that makes us cringe when we see his name pop up on our phones. We all have a person that make our stomachs go in knots when she is brought up in conversation. We all have a person who causes physical exhaustion at the very thought of an interaction with him. Jesus is talking about this person.
Friends, I’ll be real with you. I don’t want to pray for that person in my life. “My person” has held the honor for 15 years. She has hurt me more deeply than either of us probably even realize. She is generally hard to interact with.. And frankly, I’m sure I’m not the only one whose “person” she is. And I have prayed for her. I have prayed for 15 years for our relationship. It has been exhausting. It has caused great sacrifice on my part: in my heart, with my time, and with my other relationships. I don’t want to waste good prayer time on her anymore. I want God to remove this relationship from my life!
As believers, we are called to be like Jesus. This includes seeing people the way He sees them. This includes all people. This includes my person. For this reason, I believe He placed on my heart to pray I could see my person the way He sees her.
Do you know who was amazing at this? King David. I’m not saying go read all of 1 and 2 Samuel – actually, yes I am, you’ll thank me later – but basically the entirety of 1 Samuel is King Saul actively and emphatically pursuing the death of David. He even launches his spear at David with the intent of impaling him…on two separate occasions. Do you know how David responds? He doesn’t. I mean, yeah, he runs and hides safely waiting for the Lord to raise him up at the right time. But he was given several opportunities to end Saul and he did not. He always defended Saul as the Anointed King of Israel even though he was a sinner who fell away from the Lord. He sincerely wept and mourned at the news of Saul’s death. And he treated Saul’s remaining family literally as his own when he came into power (extremely counter-cultural and politically dangerous at that time). In fact, he didn’t treat Saul as an enemy at all. I hardly even think the thought of considering Saul his enemy even crossed his mind. He was a man who truly understood the heart of the Lord. My own experience pales in comparison.
So what has been the result of my conviction? I’m not going to tell you this relationship has been healed completely. In fact, sometimes it seems for every step forward, we take two steps back. However, I do have a renewed heart and attitude toward one of God’s creatures. I have relief from a 15-year burden I have been carrying. And also, it has carried with it the opportunity to point back to Him in so many ways. For example, a few weeks ago I was told I was being “too nice” about my relationship with my person. Am I being too nice? Maybe. It does look weird. But the Bible is full of references about believers looking strange to others:
- John 13:34-35
- John 17:14-15
- Romans 12:2
- 1 John 2:15-17
- 1 Peter 2:11-12
- Matthew 5:46-48
And to put in perspective, was Jesus being too nice when He left literal paradise to come to Earth? Was Jesus being too nice when He innocently endured torture to the point of death at the hands of the people who claimed to be His followers? Was Jesus being too nice when He took upon Himself all the wrath of God for our own sakes? That would be putting it mildly.
By praying to see my enemies the way God sees them, I’m reminded that they are His creation, wholly and dearly loved, worth the same sacrifice He made for me. I’m no better than they are and I need Him no less than they do. This is not an easy task. I know my heart is very hard. However, I’m convinced this is the first baby step to becoming more like Christ. I challenge you to pray God will open your eyes toward your enemies the way He sees them.