NOTE: IF this applies to you, great. If not, help me, and those to whom it does apply, to grow in grace. Thank you.
Jesus says in Matthew 5. 44-48 "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
I am guilty of wanting to pick sides. No, I take that back, I take sides. When people call friends of mine heretics or false teachers, it hurts. I get angry and I want to defend them. But my goal isn't to be justified in my anger or resentment. My goal is to be more and more like Jesus.
It does no good to simply love the lovable. It does me no good to like the likable. If I am going to be like Jesus, then I must love the unlovable and unlikeable. And apparently, if I am to be like Jesus, I must do good for them, too.
What does it look like to pray for those that persecute us? I am convinced that if we cannot not take this seriously here, we will not be able to help anyone else when they come against this type of thing in their own lives.
I would like to offer some thoughts and get some feedback on doing this. Without it, I fear I will not be moving toward Christ-likeness, but away.
1) Praying for a person does not mean wanting their mission to succeed. It does mean praying for them to experience the fullness and richness of God's love in that person's life. It means praying for them and their families. It means praying for them like you'd wish they were praying for you.
2) Praying for them may bring up bitterness and anger regarding the pain they other party has inflicted upon us. In those times, it is best to look inward and see what God is trying to show us about us. We are the ones that are reacting to the bitter diatribes. What have these attacks revealed about the condition of our own souls? When that is revealed, what needs to be surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ?
3) Prayer means asking for new eyes. I am reminded that if I cannot love those whom I have seen, how can I love the one I have not seen? In the eyes of Jesus each person is cherished and valued. Each person, though damaged by sin and its consequences, carries with them the image and likeness of God. It is too easy to look at those that are attacking us with a jaundiced eye. I need new eyes to see the value of these people.
4) Prayer, at least in this case, is not about fixing 'them' but healing us. How could Jesus hang on the cross and ask for forgiveness for us? First off, how galling for those that knew they were doing right? Second, how amazing that that should be his prayer. Persecution, name-calling, and hurt will come, but it will only last this lifetime. I want the ability to look into my persecutors face and love them, whether or not they ever change.
5) Prayer like this is never easy. Obedience to the call to love is counter to our nature. It is counter to all that we 'know' about good and evil. This takes surrender, persistence, consistency, and courage.
6) Praying for those that persecute us is to pray to be more like Jesus. If I cannot learn to love, forgive, and pray for those that persecute me with words how can I ever love, forgive and pray for them when I am brought before anyone to suffer for the Name above all names?
Luke 21:12-19 "But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 This will result in your being witnesses to them. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 All men will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By standing firm you will gain life."
The ball is in your court. What do you think? What can we do?