Gossip and judgment are nasty habits– what happens when they creep into our prayer life?
I’ve sometimes struggled with the idea of praying for those who have hurt me or mistreated those I love. We are commanded to do it, but often, I am tempted to pray about my enemies instead of praying for them. As if God didn’t know what they had done; as if he needed me to alert him to their bad behavior, and remind him of how I was slighted, misunderstood, or powerless to bring justice to my friend or family member who was wronged. I want to tell God how to treat them– how to punish them, or abase them, or bring them to feel remorse. I want to hang on to the indignation and sense of victimhood–after all, God is going to make it right in the end, vindicating me and humiliating them, right? Except that’s not how it works in God’s economy…My vindication does not come at their expense, but through the blood of the truly innocent Lamb of God. Let that sink in. God is not in the business of torturing others to make himself feel more righteous. If I want to follow Christ, my actions, and my prayers, should be full of his Grace, not my bitterness.
I am not alone in this– and I’m sure I have been “prayed about” often enough. Even saints and matriarchs of old have done it. And King David was guilty of it as well–several of the Psalms include angry, even vicious rants against David’s enemies. It’s understandable; it’s only natural for us to feel indignant, angry, and hurt in the face of injustice, unkindness, hatred, and abuse. And it’s not inappropriate for us to cry out for justice, or pour out our hurt and frustration. But it is wrong to stand in judgment and unforgiveness when we come before the throne of Heaven.
I believe that these are the difficult prayers that teach us to know God better– as well as ourselves. To pray for those who have hurt us means that we must move beyond what they have done– not to deny it, or to excuse or forget about it, but to give it over to God –and deal with who they are. They are lost exactly as we are lost, but for the grace of God. They are redeemable, not because they can undo or atone for what has happened, but because God says that whosoever trusts in Him can be saved. They are precious in God’s sight. When we stop focusing on who hurt us, and how, we can instead focus on who heals us, and how he wants to heal others.
These prayers also serve to remind us that our true “enemies” are not the people who say or do unkind or even wicked things. Our true enemies are not the ones who can hurt our feelings, or even our minds or bodies. Our true enemies are the ones who would steal our souls– who tempt us to hold on to rage and despair, to hopelessness and doubt, to bitterness and shame.
It is so easy to write these words, and to “know” the right thing to do. But it is a painful, heartbreaking, humbling, stumbling uphill climb to DO the right thing. I still catch myself so often praying about certain people, instead of praying for them. God knows my heart–he knows if my prayer is sincere. And, as I struggle, I am reminded that the change I would wish to see in someone else mirrors the change I should wish to see in me The same Grace that God sends to heal and comfort me is the same Grace he offers to everyone who will take it–even when they choose not to accept it.
So I hope I am learning to pray for those who sneer at me; those who lash out in their own pain, anger, or thoughtlessness. To pray for their health and safety, their well-being, and their wholeness. For their sake–for the sake of the One who loves them eternally. And in the hope that healing and restoration will triumph over what lies in the past.