As a Christian, as a Christian blogger, I like to let everyone know how serious I am about obeying God, and living according to His word. However, I was thinking on a few things and it occurred to me so clearly that this is a way that I am actively disobeying God – by refusing to pray for people who have crossed me in some way or the other, people I would consider my enemies (around 99% of whom would be professing Christians, naturally!). I rarely link to/quote from the King James Version of the Bible because of the very old English that is used. However here it expresses the point so vividly : (Matthew 5v44)
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;…”
and here it is no less a Bible personage than Jesus Himself telling us this, that we should love our enemies, and we should pray for them.
And yet you know what, I don’t do it.
Why I have refused to pray for them
Let me please make it clear that here I am examining for myself why I fail to obey God for the sake of changing. Disobedience to God is not something that I can ever allow myself to cultivate but rather I have to aggressively uproot it from my life.
This then is the reason why I never pray for these people – it is sincerely a simple matter of insufficient time. That is, that there just is not enough time as it is even to pray for people who have been kind and gracious to me, or to pray for different issues around the world, to pray for the salvation of my friends and loved ones, to pray for world evangelisation – and I will take what scant resources of time I do have available, and lavish them in prayer over people who have treated me disdainfully?! I don’t think so! However, God apparently does think so – and that is the point!
I believe that prayer is a gift that you give to someone, the gift of your time, and your earnest interaction with God on their behalf. I have thought for a very long time that prayer is the most precious gift that anyone could give me. And to think that I would take this precious gift, and bestow it upon the very last people who deserve anything from me, frankly – and yet this is what God says. If I had “all the time in the world”, and plenty of time to pray for everyone, and everything necessary, then please believe me that in all sincerity I would pray for these people. I would swallow my animosity and I would spend time thinking of all the exciting and beautiful things that I could think of to pray for them (perhaps admittedly, stopping a fair way short of the prayer requests I make for my own life – I am after all a human being!)
Anyway, enough excuses, time to align my practices with the Bible!
So I was thinking away on this, and I was remembering once again why this kind of prayer is so good and important for the person praying it. And here is the point, that when I pray this prayer, the person who really benefits, is me! I have known this for so many years, possibly four or five years, and yet, I have been so busy.
This is how it benefits me: When I sit and I sincerely pray for these people, remembering our common humanity, thinking with compassion on the ways that they are like me, in the many mistakes that I have made, and the ways that I too have hurt others, there is simply no way that bitterness and hatred can continue to exist in my heart. As long as I am genuinely sincere in facing God about this, it will be essentially impossible to carry on nurturing any secret malice towards this. In this way, prayer works to recognise the thoughts of my heart, and replace them with the thoughts that God would want me to cultivate. Everyone who has ever hurt me or stepped on my toes is a precious and valuable human being, just like anyone whom I myself have ever hurt. Every last one of these people is loved desperately by God. He has an amazing plan for each of their lives. He made the awesome sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, for the sake of winning each of them individually, and all of them collectively, into His Kingdom forever. As I write this, I am so ashamed that I have wilfully held on to my own anger, rather than pursuing love and tenderness and forgiveness as you would expect from a genuine follower of Christ.
Furthermore, it is as if God just opened my eyes to help me connect the dots: for me, anger and bitterness are often a doorway to pride and arrogance, and comparing myself to other people, puffing myself up. So if I can reliably get rid of the anger and bitterness, then by God’s grace through that I will also be neutralising the temptation to pride in my own heart.
As I say, I have known this for so many years. I was recently reflecting on the true fact of my own busy-ness, and then it hit me: God knew I would be this busy before He gave this commandment! God knew that I would have so many things to do and not enough time to adequately do everything – and yet He still commanded this. So this thing is still essential for me even in my busiest times.
This is how I plan to deal with this now – and now it seems so obvious. I am going to simply carve out a time in my prayer schedule to pray for everyone who has hurt me, or anyone I might consider my enemy. I am going to throw myself into sincerity regarding this, not allowing the slightest trace of negative emotion to rest in my heart as I think of these people. I shout so much about my faith, I am so proud of my God and of the privilege of being called by His name – I am finally going to put my money where my Bible is about this!
Red chili image by Petr Kratochvil at http://www.publicdomainpicture.net