That feels strange to type. And I’m pretty sure I just put myself on some government watch lists. Or worse. Yikes.
That’s shocking. Radical. (And yep, used the word radical, so I’m definitely being watched now.)
Because it is. It’s weird and counter-intuitive. And my nature says “What?! NO. I don’t want to.”
But it is exactly what Jesus told us to do. No minced words.
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 33-34 NIV
The Message kind of rocks my world with this translation:
You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves….In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. Matthew 5:43-48 (MSG)
Love your enemies
I don’t know any group who fits in the “enemy” category more than ISIS – who just added to their destructive list the murder of more than 125 innocent, unsuspecting Parisians. It’s evil. It’s hateful. It’s everything I do not want in the world.
And here, here, Jesus calls me to love and prayer? Not righteous anger? Not justified retaliation?
I easily love and hurt for the victims. Prayers and tears for the suffering flow quickly and sincerely. But if I take Jesus at his word, how do I really, really find love for the ones who did it?
The only way I know how – our humanity.
Although our backgrounds and lives could not be more different, I’m a woman and a mom, and I know that, somewhere in a land I am so unfamiliar with, there are mothers there. Women who nurse their children, listen for their first words, get up with crying babies in the middle of the night, and potty train. That’s universal, right?
There are children who play soccer, pick up weird bugs, dislike taking baths, and try to make their parents proud, right?
The men are more difficult for me. They are the the ones with knives and behind guns. But they were once children, as innocent as any other person born on this earth before trying to figure out our world’s pre-arranged, uneven development and hierarchy. They were born into this.
If I deconstruct the solid-shape of an enemy into actual people, created by a good God as much as anyone else I know, it helps me to the second part: prayer.
Pray for those who persecute you
Jesus’s teachings are so good at making me so uncomfortable. This isn’t an off-the-cuff remark he made that got taken out of context through years of translations. This is SO JESUS, it’s ridiculous. He lived this. Even to the end, when he prayed for the men who crucified him.
How do I pray for enemies? I literally burned my biscuits thinking about it this morning.
Then I sat down with my children and told them what I was struggling with:
“There were some men who killed people yesterday in Paris, innocent people who were not at war. They took these people from their families forever. What these men did was wrong even though they thought they were doing what their God wanted them to do. The God mommy and daddy believe in is love and peace, and He thinks killing is wrong. And I’m trying to figure something out – even though I don’t feel like it, Jesus said to love our enemies and pray for them.”
Matter-of-factly, my 5-year-old said, “Then let’s pray.”
Oh, that’s how. You get started.
Our family’s prayer around the breakfast table was imperfect but earnest. Like real, honest conversations. Because I do know this: prayer has to be humble. Not self-righteous and condemning someone through your prayer-words. Prayer lifts up and elevates the other person. It wants something good for them.
“God, we pray for the families of the people who were hurt and killed in Paris yesterday. We pray for peace and for love, and that they feel all the love of the world rise up around them and hug them, and they know people support them and are sad about this too.
But God, we also pray for the men who did this. For the ones who hurt the innocent people. We don’t know how to pray for them, but we know your love is great and covers everyone on earth. We pray that they look at their families and mothers and fathers and feel love. We pray that their love will grow and take away the hate in their heart, that peace will grow and take away the anger. I pray they find their place in the world and a way to make their voices heard that doesn’t involve hurting other people. We want them to have good lives, happy lives; not war lives.”
I am not an ISIS sympathizer. They have murdered, raped, and destroyed, and might continue doing so as I type. The world’s governments have a responsibility to mobilize and respond accordingly.
But so do Christians. Everyday, normal, you-reading-this-on-your-iPad Christians. We have a responsibility to mobilize and respond accordingly – the way Jesus instructed us to. Love and prayer for the enemy.
Could you imagine, if Christians all over the world prayed for this enemy? Really prayed? Millions of us united in prayer for ISIS? Not that their destructive goals would be realized, but that their hearts would soften to love and goodness? That they would know the world wants a good and peaceful life for their families and their children?
Wow, that power astounds me. It gives me chills. All of us in our separate homes and jobs and cars thinking that there is nothing we can do to about these continuing, gut-wrenching tragedies: THERE IS SOMETHING WE CAN DO, FELLOW CHRISTIANS. Jesus told us plain as day: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
If it seems radical and strange, it is. It’s one of the ways God calls us to be set apart from our human nature. And I know this all sounds idealistic, but luckily I didn’t come up with it so I don’t have to take the heat for that part. They were Jesus’s words, not mine, my friends. Take it up with him.
Christmas is coming soon – I see it in the stores and on commercials and in the countdown Facebook posts. We revel in advent and warmly cook and give, celebrate and sing of the humble birth of our Redeemer.
What if we reflected on what this man called us to do, after the manger and the wise men and shepherds were long gone? What if we took this instruction seriously alongside our outrage and indignation and sorrow?
Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection changed the world, and the Bible says that we have that same power in us (Romans 8:11) – and I believe it can still change the world. Let’s find out, shall we? #loveenemies #prayforenemies