Tender & TOUGH
by Cynthia Hyle Bezek
I’ll never forget the first time I prayed—I mean really prayed—for an enemy. It felt like I was dying. In fact, I refer to that late night spiritual battle so many years ago as my Gethsemane. I cried. I groaned. I struggled. I looked for a way out. Finally, I released my offender to God. Then, at last, I was able to forgive and even pray blessings on the one who had wounded me.
Up until that time, my method of dealing with enemies had been to ignore them and distance myself from them mentally and emotionally (and if at all possible, physically). I rationalized that my Herculean efforts at restraining the urge to answer back or retaliate were good enough . . . noble even. But I was wrong. Although I’d heard the Scriptures from childhood, I’d never taken to heart what Jesus said about enemies: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:44-45, NKJV).
This was more than restraining the urge to lash back—it was 180 degrees from my natural inclination. This was asking God to bless the one who hurt me! The concept raised so many questions for me: Why do I have to bless my enemy? What if my enemy doesn’t deserve to be blessed? What about truly evil people and nations—wouldn’t it be better to pray for justice than for blessing? What does it mean to pray blessing anyway?
Sons of Your Father in Heaven
While meditating on Jesus’ death recently, I saw myself kneeling at His pierced feet, gazing into His anguished, beautiful face. He looked directly into my eyes, and in my spirit I heard Him say, “Father, forgive her for she does not know what she has done.” I wept.
In that split second, it all became clear. I had offended God Almighty . . . and hadn’t even known it. Oh, sure, I knew I’d sinned— I’m human—haven’t we all? But I hadn’t thought much about my sin’s effect on the heart of Jesus. The cost of His forgiveness toward me had not sunk in that deeply.
This realization totally changed my perspective on praying for enemies. Jesus prayed for me, loved me, and died for me, while I was still an enemy of God (Lk. 23:34; Ro. 5:8). He wants me to be like Him in that way. Perhaps that is why Jesus stood up at the right hand of God to receive Stephen as he prayed for his murderers, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:55,60). Stephen was being a true son of his Father in heaven. Saul of Tarsus was one of the people Stephen prayed for that day—an enemy of Christ if ever there was one. It makes me wonder: was Stephen’s intercession for Saul that day the prayer God acted upon to turn the religious tyrant into a friend of God? In any case, we’re never more like Jesus than when we are praying for our enemies.
Mercy Triumphs over Judgment
Even after this realization, it wasn’t easy for me to pray for people who clearly didn’t deserve mercy. I mean, I know all of us have sinned, and none of us “deserves” God’s mercy. But praying mercy for the Adolph Hitlers and Saddam Husseins seems like a whole different thing. How can I advance God’s kingdom and righteousness by praying blessings on cruel enemies like these?
Jonah had the same question. Nineveh, the capital of ancient Assyria, was one of the most brutal of Israel’s enemies. Nevertheless, God called Jonah to be a prophet and intercessor for Nineveh. Reluctant to convey a message of mercy to his people’s relentless foe, Jonah protested: “You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jon. 4:2). In other words, “But God, You’re too merciful; You probably won’t give them what they deserve!” But the Lord reminded him of the human souls at stake: “Nineveh has more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left. . . . Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jon. 4:11).
We, like Jonah, need to understand that while God hates evil and oppression, He also takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rhater [desires] that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezk. 33:11).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who eventually was murdered by the Nazis in 1945, struggled with these same issues. As he read Scriptures like Ps. 58:6, in which David prays regarding his enemies, “Break the teeth in their mouths, O God,” Bonhoeffer wondered if he could or should pray the same way. Ultimately, he decided against it: “What right have we, we who are ourselves guilty and deserving of God’s wrath, to call for His vengeance against our enemies, without expecting this same wrath to be called down upon us?”
It is true that God is a righteous judge, who “knows how to… hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment” (2 Pet. 2:9). One day the angels will sort the righteous from the unrighteous, and judgement will follow. At that time we will rule with Christ and judge with Him. But that will be then, and this is now. Today is the day of repentance. Today is the day of mercy. Today we serve the Lord as priests and intercessors for the ungodly, allowing mercy to triumph over judgement in our prayers (Jas. 2:13).
Used by permission of Pray! Copyright © 2003, Issue 38, The Navigators. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. www.navpress.com.