I stood before a group of Christians and was about to close our session in prayer. I said to them,
“Let’s do something a little different. Close your eyes. I want you to picture in your mind the face of a person who’s hurt you. They’ve either gossiped about you, slandered you, betrayed you, or a little of all three. Now, I want you to pray for them.”
The pain and hurt in the room was palpable.
After a minute or so of heads bowed in silence we said “Amen” and dismissed.
One person approached me afterward and said, “I couldn’t do it.”
I replied, “Do you know what that means?” They said, “What?” I said, “it means you’re perfectly normal.”
They were brave enough to be gut-level honest and say out loud what the vast majority of us feel.
So, you can imagine how it must have gone over with the crowd when Jesus taught them,
The pain and hurt filling the crowd must have been palpable. Words like this from Jesus caused many of his listeners to turn away and stop following him. It was no easier to love enemies then as it is now.
Like you, my family has suffered many cheap shots, slander, and malicious gossip over the decades – tragically, most of the time from “God’s people.”
Jesus wasn’t saying to ever trust those people again. He wasn’t even saying we have to like those people.
What he was saying is this:
“Holding onto the pain gives your enemies control over your mind. Let me have control over your mind. Talking to me will deeply affect your heart. It will lighten your load. Give your pain and hurt to me so I can free you from the bondage you don’t even know you’re in.”
Doing this – and there’s not one thing easy about it – has nothing to do with changing the person(s) who’ve hurt us, rather it has everything to do with changing us.
“Doing good” doesn’t mean taking them out and buying them dinner. It means not giving in to “hitting back.” It means being cordial when crossing paths with that person. It means understanding that hurting people hurt people.
Praying for those who’ve been hateful to us doesn’t mean we pray that God blesses them, per se. Rather, it means we ask God to reveal to them the pain and damage their behavior has caused. It means we give our pain and anger over to him who knows full well how to deal with everyone involved, in the right timing and in the right way.
Make no mistake: Jesus isn’t saying “do as I say, not as I do.”
The disciple and eye-witness of Jesus, Peter, put it this way when writing about the example Jesus gave us to follow:
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” – 1 Peter 2:23
Frankly, I don’t even like writing about this topic, much less preaching or teaching it. It’s hard. And it’s convicting. Why? Because, even as I write this, I am reminded of when I have been the one who did the hurting.
“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? If you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit?” – Luke 6:32-33
In essence, Jesus is saying,
“You love and pray for your friends? So what? What if I only died on the Cross for only those who loved me?”
According to Jesus, it’s possible – “we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength” – to love our enemies and pray for those who’ve hurt us. (Psalm 55 is a prayer to God by David after he was betrayed by a friend. David’s pain is on full display.)
A.W. Tozer offered this piece of wisdom:
“It is possible to love people in the Lord even if we do not like them in the flesh.”
I return to that evening when I asked a group of people to pray for their enemies and I leave you with this: give them to Jesus, even if you have to do that again every day. And be free.