Why Should I Pray for My Enemy?

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Matthew 5:44 (ESV)

The obvious answer to the question in the title is that Jesus commands it. But what practical and spiritual reasons are there for such a counter-intuitive action? Jesus himself continues:

43-47 “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 supple moves of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

Matthew 5:43-47 (The Message)
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If we are following Christ and asking His Spirit to help us grow in Godliness, we should be acting– and reacting– like God. God makes the sun shine and the rain to fall on everyone. He is Mercy and Grace personified. That takes away nothing from His ability to exact justice. But His true desire is to show mercy– and that includes mercy THROUGH us!

But there are other good (and related) reasons to pray for our enemies.

  • Such prayers put things in perspective. If I focus on the injustices that my enemies have done (or continue to do), they become larger than God’s power to restore and redeem. If I focus on God’s power, the injustices, while still real, take their proper place. God is bigger; God is greater; God is wiser; God is Sovereign.
  • Such prayers remind me that I am not immune from causing pain and distress to others. It is natural for us to see our enemies as completely different from ourselves. “They” are evil, callous, and deserving of punishment. But, if we are honest– we are also deserving of punishment. We, too, have been callous, careless, selfish, angry, or bitter with someone, somewhere, at some time. God has dealt with us mercifully. How can we be grateful for His mercy and fail to pray for others who need it?
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  • Praying for our enemies may not change them, but it will change US. Praying for my enemies forces me to release my anger and bitterness, so that I don’t become trapped in a cycle of letting my enemy become my obsession or even my role model. I say this from negative experience; NOT praying for someone I considered my enemy led to me say and do things that were unkind and vicious– because I thought she “deserved” the same treatment she had given me and others. One day I woke up and realized that I was slowly becoming like her– letting her behavior determine who I was in return: suspicious, hard-hearted, critical, and vindictive.
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  • Praying for others reminds us that our true enemies are not other people. Once again, it is easy and natural to create a monster out of the person who is our “enemy.” They have often caused very real and very intense pain and suffering– personal, physical, psychological, emotional, financial, and sometimes chronic and catastrophic–sometimes, they show no remorse; sometimes, they refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. God knows all this. He sees all this. He aches for our pain– and for their rebellion. But the root cause is not a person– no matter how involved they are in delivering the pain. The real cause is Sin and Brokenness. That’s why WE can’t fix it. That’s why WE don’t have the power or authority to administer righteous judgment over it. And that also means–
  • Such prayers can free us of the burden of guilt, shame, bitterness, and hurt of the past. That doesn’t mean that we must deny the very real hurt we have felt. But we no longer have to be bound and shackled by it. When we can lift up our enemies and our past, and give them to God– really let go and give them to Him–He will carry that load, and let us run the race before us.
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One caveat here. Loving your enemy; praying for them– these are not the same as believing their lies or consenting to their abuse. There may be people in your life that you must pray for– from a distance! You can love someone, and still set clear boundaries to protect yourself and others. God will never abandon us. But He doesn’t call us to enable others in their evil actions. This is especially true in cases of domestic violence. Love your enemy, but get help and healing. And continue to pray!

The Greatest of These…

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

2 Peter 1:5-9 (The Message)
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Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8;13 (NIV)
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In 2 Peter, the Apostle gives us a list of character traits that we should develop as believers in and followers of Christ. The last two seem similar, but there is a reason both are there, and both at the end. As we follow in Christ’s footsteps, we should develop traits that mark growth in our relationship with God– faith, patience, hope, etc. But we should also show growth in our relationships with other people. We should interact with others as God interacts with us– we should show compassion, forgiveness, concern, generosity, and selfless Love for others. “Brotherly kindness” is what we should be ready to show to everyone– neighbors, strangers, and even enemies, included. “Generous Love” is not just a feeling of deep affection or even good will. The Love we should develop is selfless and giving beyond what we can offer in our own hearts. It is the culmination of all the other characteristics we are developing as we seek to become more Christlike.

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“We love Him, because He first Loved us.” 1 John 4:19– It is Christ’s example of Love, coming from Himself (Father, Son, and Spirit) that teaches us what Love really is, and causes us to be able to love in truth and fullness. Christ came to serve–He did not live for His own whims and gratifications. He gave audaciously, loved lavishly, forgave freely, and lived humbly. The Apostle Paul underlines what Peter says in his letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13. We should learn to have faith and hope, but in the end, Love is the greatest characteristic we can develop.

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My one-time choir director once asked us to do this exercise: Write out 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8. Now substitute the word “Jesus” for each instance of the word, “Love.” Because God is Love (1 John 4:8) this is a valid substitution. “Jesus is patient. Jesus is kind. He does not envy,” etc… Think about how Jesus demonstrated what Love is as He interacted with His disciples– including Peter’s denial and Judas’s betrayal– and with those in the crowds. This is our model, and our assignment– this is how we should Love. Now comes the real test…substitute Your name to see how closely your life and actions resemble those of Our Savior. Can you say that your are patient and kind? That you don’t hold grudges or become easily angered? That you always hope? Always persevere? Of course, there will be instances when we don’t live up to Christ’s example– but are we becoming more Christlike? Are we growing in Love? Type this passage out three times– in its original text, with Jesus’s name, and with your name. Print it out and hang it somewhere where you will be reminded, convicted, and encouraged to live out Christ’s Love. If someone else reads it, they should be challenged, as well.

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Bringing this Bible Study back around to prayer– are we praying through these characteristics? Do we come with faith, obedience, understanding and discipline, patience, wonder, compassion and love? Do we expect God to do OUR will, or are we eager to see His will be done? Do we believe that God rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6)? Do we rejoice in the truth, and always hope, even in the moments of pain and injustice? Our prayer life will follow our growth in all these areas. I pray that we are all growing more like Christ each day. Let today be the next step in that growth– turn from yesterday, let God take care of tomorrow, and grow in this moment.

Brotherly Kindness

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

2 Peter 1:5-9 (The Message)
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I’ve been taking some time to contemplate the encouragement given by the Apostle Peter in this passage. Today, I’m looking at the phrase “warm friendliness.” It is also translated as brotherly affection, or brotherly kindness. If we want to pursue Godliness (of which the pursuit of prayer is an essential part) we must look at these characteristics, and put them into practice. Last time, I looked at reverent wonder, which would seem like the acme of such a list…after all, what could be better or more important in following Christ than to live in constant awe of God’s Holiness, Majesty, and Power? Peter answers this question with the last two characteristics– brotherly kindness/warm(th)/friendliness, and generous/selfless love.

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We cannot claim to follow Christ and fail to follow His example in our interactions with others. Jesus Christ was a friend of the friendless. He radiated kindness and integrity and brotherhood– even to those who despised Him. Kindness and friendship, on the surface, don’t seem to be characteristics that require faith, spiritual understanding, or deep reverence. We can be kind to animals, we can have a lot of friends, and not be a Christian– or even be particularly spiritual. But this passage is talking about a different level of warmth and friendship. It doesn’t just happen because we like interact with someone who is likable, or worthy of warmth and friendship. It comes because we have had an encounter with the author of warmth and friendship– and Love. Jesus drew others to himself by His gentle warmth, His generous spirit, His genuine good will and compassion. Those who disliked Him were often upset at His treatment of the lowly, the marginalized, the “others.” Didn’t Jesus realize how sinful or despicable they were? Didn’t He care that they had leprosy, or that they were “unclean?” But that was the point…Jesus DID know. He knew them better and more intimately than anyone. And He wanted them to know that they were loved; they were worth dying for! Not because they were “clean” or “righteous;” simply because they were created in His image and the objects of His eternal passionate love.

Once we have matured and developed the fundamental characteristics of faith and patience, understanding and reverence, it should become more natural for us to radiate kindness, gentleness, warmth, loyalty, integrity, and friendship toward others. That is not to say that we become people-pleasers, or compromise our Spiritual Understanding and Faith. Instead, it means that we speak the truth in love; that we forgive easily; that we are eager to show compassion, strength, wisdom, and encouragement–especially where they may be in short supply.

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This world needs more warm friendship and brotherly kindness– more positive encouragement and less cold criticism; more open arms and fewer closed fists; more hope and less despair; more earnest help, and fewer patronizing handouts; more honest conversations, and fewer dismissive “easy answers.”

We know the source of the greatest warmth, friendship, help, and hope in the universe! Let’s not “lose a minute” in making it part of our day, today! Pray for your neighbors, your co-workers, your families, your enemies, and all those who need a friend. Reach out to someone with hope and affection–be the arms and hands (and feet and smile) of God to someone today. It’s the next logical expression of the awe and reverence we owe to our Creator and Savior– to embrace those He Loves so dearly!

Passionate Patience

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

2 Peter 1:5-9 (The Message– emphasis added)
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I’ve seen lots of posts recently about the “-ber” months–September, October, November, December–and the excitement for some as this season comes ’round. September in Michigan is filled with ripening fruits and changing colors. October brings pumpkins, apple cider, and frosty mornings. November is often spent thinking of and planning for Thanksgiving– bountiful feasts and time with family. And December brings the Christmas season– snow, caroling, giving and receiving gifts, and families gathered around trees and fireplaces, sharing old memories and making new ones.

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Part of this season of summer morphing into autumn and “falling” into winter is anticipation. The first apple harvest; the first frost; the first snowfall; those eager moments of wondering what will be under the Christmas Tree…we know they will come, but when, and how?

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My birthday is at the end of November, and as a child, I always loved Thanksgiving. It meant that family would gather, and at some point, they would sing “Happy Birthday” and there would be a cake among all the wonderful Thanksgiving desserts with my name on it! Four weeks later, Christmas would come, and the same excitement filled the house. It was difficult to be patient, but I learned that everything special was worth waiting for. In fact, sometimes, the anticipation is part of what makes such times more wonderful. There is no fun in rushing through precious moments or “ruining” the surprise of what is to come; nor is there any virtue in losing passion for what is possible, just because we can’t see the outcome, yet.

The Apostle Peter gave early Christians a list of attributes and spiritual traits that they should be developing in increasing measure. One of these attributes is “passionate patience.” In other translations, it is also called “perseverance,” “endurance,” “patience,” and “strength to keep going.” I like this wording, “passionate patience,” because it reminds us that patience isn’t just passive and meek. Especially as we work on building our spiritual understanding and alert discipline, patience becomes a powerful trait– one that distinguishes Christians from those around them. Some people are marked by impatience, anger, and dissatisfaction. Others are marked with complacency and resignation. Christians are asked to be passionately patient! Our faith and hope should radiate, even as we endure trials and anticipate God’s movement in the world around us.

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Jesus modeled “passionate patience” in His ministry on earth. Peter was witness to Jesus’ endurance in the face of rejection, unbelief, misunderstanding, and injustice– both to those around Him, and personal injustices. Jesus remained faithful, passionate for the truth, and compassionate toward others. He did not give in to despair, or waste His energy in anger or revenge. He did not make excuses for inaction, but He did not “burn out” in useless activities, either. He confidently did what the Father told Him to do– no more and no less.

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How do I reflect “passionate patience?” When I look around me and see injustice, do I explode in anger? Do I shrug my shoulders in resignation? Do I lose faith and passion? Or do I remain positive and faithful in doing what I know to be right and speaking up for the truth? Do I spread compassion or consternation? Antipathy, anger, or aspiration? When my life circumstances are filled with pain or hardship, do I endure? Do I persevere? Do I thrive? Or do I complain? Do I remain passionately hopeful, or give in to anxiety or despair? Do I wait for God’s strength and wisdom, or do I try to “fix” things in my own power? Do I accept help and guidance when I need it, or resent others’ efforts? Do I spread hope and healing? Or do I spread doubt and gloom? Do I grow bitter or better? I’d love to say that I respond with the kind of endurance, patience, and fortitude that Peter spoke of. And sometimes, with God’s help, I have. But I have much to learn, and room to grow!

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I pray that God’s spirit will help me grow in “passionate patience,” as I actively seek to follow Christ and reflect His love today.

Be Ready!

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

2 Peter 1:5-9 (The Message–emphasis added)
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Do you plan for emergencies? Most people have some basic idea or plan for expected circumstances; a first-aid kit for home accidents; a small store of food or water; perhaps a generator in case of a power outage… But how many of us have a plan for the unexpected? Not just a vague idea of “what if…” but a plan. Some people have a stock of toilet paper and bottled water for their house or apartment, but no plan for what to do if they need to evacuate or relocate due to a flood or hurricane, or if they lose electricity for more than three days due to a storm, or if their building should catch fire.

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On September 11, 2001, when airplanes flew into the Twin Towers in New York City, several thousand people had to be quickly evacuated from the burning buildings. There were some plans in place; most had been misplaced or forgotten. And the chaos and confusion led to mixed messages– “stay put and wait for help…”,” don’t use the elevators…”,”get out as quickly as possible…”,” the stairways are unsafe…” But the vice president for corporate security at Dean Witter/Morgan Stanley, Richard Cyril Rescorla, was prepared for the worst. He had been planning and rehearsing for years after the failed attacks in 1993. He quickly implemented his detailed plans, ushering hundreds out of offices and into the stairwells, where they descended to safety in spite of the smoke and panic. He went back several times, checking to see who else needed help and guidance. Regardless of where they worked or who they were, Rescorla came with calm reassurance and authority, sending them into the path of rescue workers who could then offer greater assistance. Rescorla himself never made it safety– as he kept going up to get others out, he became trapped and perished when the towers fell. However, his years of planning, and his dedicated efforts on that fateful day saved the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people. (See more here: https://www.911memorial.org/connect/blog/recognizing-war-hero-who-led-wtc-survivors-safety-911 )

We may not be called on to face another disastrous day like 9/11, but we are called to be alert and ready as we follow Christ. Those who followed Christ during His earthly ministry were called disciples. The name comes from the same root as discipline. They literally “walked” with Christ. They went where He went; they ate what He ate; they slept where He slept; they did whatever He asked them to do. If we seek to follow Christ, we must be ready to live lives of alert discipline. This comes after we take our first steps of Faith, and build on our character and understanding of God’s will. Our actions should not just be spontaneously “good” in the short-term, but patterned on the need to be prepared for the kind of challenges and trials we should expect to face. Just as Jesus was prepared for those who came to challenge Him with trick questions and false accusations, we need to be prepared to be challenged, rejected, and subjected to persecution. And we need to be prepared to respond, not with haughty complacency, outraged panic, or defensive tantrums, but with calm confidence and compassion.

The Apostle Peter, earlier in his letters, urges believers to be ready to give an answer (or a reason) for the hope that they have in Christ. (1 Peter 3:15) And this should not be a knee-jerk reaction to being challenged, or a snide commentary on doctrinal matters. We should be ready to be witnesses for the Majesty, Power, Grace, and Love of God as it has been experienced in our life and the lives of those around us. God never asked us to be His defense lawyers. He asks us to be faithful witnesses–not just of the facts about Him, but about our relationship WITH Him.

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We also need to be prepared to be relocated or evacuated from lives of comfort, complacency, and expectation, in order to GO into the world and spread the Gospel. We will not all be called to be “missionaries” in the traditional understanding of the word, but we ARE all called to be on mission– to be ready to share our hope, our resources, our time, and our love– with others, near and far.

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Today, I pray that God would continue to teach me as I live in obedience…that I would be alert and ready to speak, to walk, and to serve where and when and how HE sends. May I be ready to usher many others to safety as I share and live out the Gospel of Christ!

For Goodness’ Sake!

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

2 Peter 1:5-9 (The Message)
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What does it mean to be “good?” This is a question that Jesus posed to the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18:

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 

Luke 18:18-19 (NIV)
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Jesus went on to list several Biblical commandments– you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, etc.., but even when the young man answers with confidence that he has kept all these commandments, Jesus says, “you still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come, follow me.” (v. 22)

Civil Rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gesturing during sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church. (Photo by Donald Uhrbrock//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Being “good” is not a matter of avoiding evil. It is more than being “correct” in our principles, and upright in our actions. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his famous address in 1963 said that he dreamed of a day when his children… would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the “content of their character.” Character, and more specifically the “good character” mentioned by Peter in the above passage, includes thoughts, principles, actions, and habits by which we are judged. I may never commit murder in the literal sense, but I will be judged wanting in character if my words and actions are vicious, snide, malicious, sarcastic, and brutal. I may never be convicted of theft, but I may be judged harshly for being ungenerous or miserly toward those in need. Dr. King wanted his children to be judged–positively–for their character, not for something as superficial and arbitrary as skin color, nor for whatever they hadn’t done.

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The young ruler in Luke’s story, not willing to give away his possessions, went away disappointed. But he missed the more important calling– “Then come, follow me.” Jesus wasn’t being self-effacing when He asked, “Why do you call me good?” Far from it! Jesus WAS good– He was (and is) the embodiment of Goodness! It is not through ritualistically following the commandments that anyone becomes “good.” It isn’t even in the self-sacrificing act of giving away one’s possessions. It is in the humble act of following the Master! To follow Christ is to step out in faith, and to walk in goodness.

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Peter makes the natural connection that James also makes in his epistle– that Faith, while fundamental, must build good character through our actions, words, and habits. Faith, without works, is dead. (James 2:14-26) So the next building block is developing a good (or Godly) character. Our lives should reflect the Goodness of Christ. We won’t be perfect. But we will be given strength and guidance by the Holy Spirit to walk in Goodness. And as we walk, we will build on that foundation with the next step…Spiritual Understanding. (More about that next time.)

Today, I pray that God will show me how, and His Spirit empower me, to develop in goodness; that I would become more like the “Good Teacher” who is also my savior and Lord. For Goodness’ Sake!

Don’t Lose a Minute…

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

2 Peter 1: 5-9 (The Message)
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The Apostle Peter was writing to people in the early church– people who were under enormous pressures and persecution. The Epistles of 1 and 2 Peter are filled with dire warnings– and urgent calls to action! Earlier in his first letter, Peter spoke of prayer: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7 New Living Translation). Prayer is primary, but it must be paired with action. In this passage, Peter lays out a progression of characteristics to pursue. We must actively chase after a Godly character. It will not develop in a vacuum. We must build on our foundation, and keep building up– so that we can build up others as well!

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The foundation is basic Faith. We need a bedrock, solid and sure; unmoving and capable of handling stress and pressure. In our own power and our own wisdom, we will crumble under the kinds of stress and persecution we may face in modern circumstances. We need to trust God– and seek to trust Him more completely–before we can advance in Christlikeness. We will be tempted to doubt– that is normal in a broken world. But we must continue to bring those doubts before the power of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Doubts, like other challenges, will test us. The challenge of doubt is particularly tricky, because the more we try to wrestle in our own mind, the more doubt (aided by pride) can take hold. It is counter-intuitive. The more I try to answer every doubt and every contradiction– the more evidence and reassurance I require before I am willing to trust, the less I am likely to find faith. Faith is like a muscle– if you never exercise it– you will hardly know it’s there. But when you need it, you’ll wish you had worked out more! Faith is not fully developed overnight. God will NOT answer every question, settle every niggling doubt, solve every seeming contradiction. But He HAS promised not to leave us alone, without hope or help. And when we do exercise Faith, we will learn to trust more. As we learn to trust God’s wisdom and provision, we will develop our other muscles…like goodness, self-discipline, and self-sacrificing love!

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I like the above translation, because it stresses the urgency that is a core of all Peter’s writings. “Don’t lose a minute…” Don’t waste time in second-guessing, excuse-making, distractions, or empty arguments. Don’t lose the opportunity to see God’s work unfolding as you take baby steps of Faith! Don’t become complacent, and lag behind, losing momentum and focus! Chase after Faith! Cling to the “hem of His garment”

20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

Matthew 9:20-22 (NRSV)
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We may not see the instant miracle of this woman, but our faith WILL make us “well.” It will change our perspective, open our eyes, and chase away doubts like a breeze chases away a cloud of smoke.

Peter’s list is worth exploring more deeply. I’ve looked at Faith today…next time, I want to explore good character (also translated as “goodness,” or “moral excellence.”) Today, I pray that I would build on the gift of Faith, and strive for a deeper faith, aided by the Holy Spirit, as I face whatever challenges life brings.

Laundry List Prayers

Do you ever feel like your prayer life has become an endless pile of laundry lists?

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I keep a prayer journal, and I have daily “prayer points” that help focus my prayers, but I have to be careful not to let my prayer life become all about “ticking the boxes.” It’s easy to see a list of names or a topic on paper or a screen, and make prayer about what is written in my journal, or making sure I don’t “miss” someone on the list. Prayer is a conversation, and it should flow like one. I would not like to have a conversation with someone who came to me with a long list of requests and nothing else.

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That doesn’t mean we can’t bring our requests to God– we should! And sometimes it makes sense to list them out methodically and specifically. But it’s also important to remember that God already knows all the concerns of our heart. He is eager to hear from us— not just our concerns, but our other thoughts, too. He wants to hear our excitement and joy over small triumphs; our questions and ponderings; and all the little things that make us go, “hmmm.”

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When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He didn’t have a list of names or specific situations. He asked that “Thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matthew 6:10). He asked the Father to “give us this day our daily bread,”(v.11) without specifying when or how. And He asked, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,”(v.12) without naming names or reminding God of the debts involved! Sometimes we need to be reminded that that God knows our needs, our neighbors, and our universe far better than we do!

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Today, I want to put aside the “laundry list” and just spend time conversing with my Savior. I hope you will, too.

At Just the Right Time..

But when the right time came, the time God decided on, he sent his Son, born of a woman, born as a Jew, to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law so that he could adopt us as his very own sons. And because we are his sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, so now we can rightly speak of God as our dear Father.

Galatians 4:4-6 (Living Bible)
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I went to the local farmer’s market the other day. All the “in season” veggies and fruits were on display– peaches, zucchini, sweet corn, some late raspberries, onions, tomatoes, various flowers, peppers, summer squash, pickles, and more! This is the season that we seem to be almost drowning in certain veggies– tomatoes and zucchini seem to top the list–and something needs to be done with them all. Canning, freezing, making jams and jellies, and baking double batches of zucchini bread, making salsa…it is a busy time.

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It got me thinking about God’s timing. Sometimes, we might question– why does it seem that so many veggies all ripen at the same time? And yet–I enjoyed blueberries back in July; asparagus earlier in the year, and I’m waiting for apples and pumpkins to ripen later in the fall. God has made every good thing in its own season. There is a “just right” time for each veggie and fruit. And even in times when we might feel overwhelmed by the produce of one season, we have an incredible variety of other produce to fill out the year. And the abundance now, properly preserved, will carry us through the long days of winter.

God created seasons– and not just for fruits and vegetables. We go through seasons of life– childhood, becoming an adult, parenting, empty-nesting, aging– and each season has its own “fruit” of growing, learning, and changing. But God lives outside of human time– His “seasons” include the rise and fall of empires, and the wide and sweeping changes of the centuries.

So when God talks about Christ coming at “the right time,” we can be assured that God knew precisely, exactly when the time was “right” for that series of events. Christ will return at precisely, exactly the “right” time in God’s plan. Just like a flower that seems to take forever to bud, and then seems to open up overnight; so God’s plan seems mysterious to us on this side of time. Our perspective is so narrow that we tend to see only a small part of the whole picture.

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This is true in our personal seasons as well. “When will I be older so I can…?” “When will I find the time to…?” “Where did the time go…?” And yet, everything comes according to God’s plan at the “right” time. This can be a comforting thought, in the midst of confusing circumstances. The same God who waited for the “right” time to enter human history controls all the “times” of my life. What ripens in my life– relationships, opportunities, even tragedies–comes at the exact moment the God has decided. Never a moment “too soon” or a nanosecond “too late.” While I may not understand or be prepared for events or circumstances, God is NEVER taken by surprise or shaken by “unexpected” harvests.

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My job in going to the farm market is not to choose which fruits, vegetables, or flowers will be available. My job is to choose which ones I will purchase and use from what is already there. My job in going through life is not to control my circumstances and their timing, but to use God’s wisdom and provision to keep going, growing, and producing His “fruit” along the way!

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I need to keep this in mind as I pray each day. God wants to listen to my heart– all my joys and all my concerns. But He already knows the end from the beginning. My job is to take it all to Him, and then trust Him (AND His timing) as I travel on. Everything will ripen in its season.

“I Would Prefer Not To..”

Years ago, our high school class read a classic short story by the American author, Herman Melville. Bartleby the Scrivener tells the story of an unusual clerk– one who begins as a good worker, efficient and conscientious, but ends up dying in prison, hopeless, ruined, and broken. His tragic downward spiral begins one day when the lawyer for whom he works asks him to examine a short document. This is a commonplace request, much like asking a writer to proofread her final draft before submitting it to the editor. However, Bartleby responds by saying “I would prefer not to.” The startled lawyer decides not to force the issue, and gives the task to someone else.

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Bartleby’s refusal to do what is expected of him escalates until he no longer does ANY work. He refuses to work, refuses to leave the office, and refuses to eat. He isn’t angry or violent, but he remains defiant until the very end.

So it is with us when we are living in sin and rebellion against God. It may start out small– some little habit or attitude. We know it is wrong, but instead of obeying God’s word, we calmly say, “I would prefer not to…” not to tell the truth, not to turn away from porn, not to help my neighbor, not to agree with God about my behavior.

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8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:6-12 (ESV)

God is patient. He is gracious and kind. He does not treat us as our offenses deserve. He gives us the chance to repent. He offers forgiveness. But every time we say to God, “I would prefer not to,” we get a little more like Bartleby– isolating ourselves, wasting our potential to be all that God created us to be, growing more defiant and more rebellious, until we waste away into a prison of our own making, and, finally, death.

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One of the things that makes Melville’s story so disturbing is that the narrator keeps trying to explain away Bartleby’s defiance–perhaps he is having trouble with his eyesight and doesn’t want to admit it; perhaps he was traumatized at a previous job; maybe there is a reason for his passive aggression. But in all of his attempts to understand, the narrator cannot save Bartleby from prison and death.

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Understanding sin cannot change us. Excusing sin does nothing to stop its consequences (see Romans 6:23). No one killed Bartleby, yet he died because he “would prefer not to” do the things he needed to do to live. His small act of defiance, which starts out singular and almost heroic (after all, who wouldn’t like to tell the boss, “I would prefer not to,” every once in awhile?), sounds innocuous. Such a little thing to refuse. Surely God would not punish us for so small a thing…until one small thing leads to another…and another; a bigger rebellion; a numbing complacency; loss of perspective; a heart of stone; isolation; starvation; imprisonment; death.

What am I refusing to do for God today? What am I refusing to give up? Refusing to admit? Refusing to listen to? Am I excusing myself? Do I tell myself I am not in rebellion because I have been polite in my refusal to obey? Do I comfort myself that my rebellion is really just a matter of “preference,” and will not be consequential? That God’s Holiness is less important than my comfort or convenience?

Many people coast through life in the belief that God is SO merciful and SO loving that He can’t also be Holy and Just– that His commands are really suggestions; that His wrath is mythical; that our own wisdom is sufficient for living a “good” life and pleasing Him. But God isn’t concerned about whether we live a “good” life– He wants us to have an abundant life– filled with joy and peace, love and relationship, both now and forevermore. In fact, He would “prefer not to” punish us. He is not “willing” (i.e. desirous) that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), but that everyone would some to repentance. That doesn’t mean that He won’t punish those who refuse to obey Him, or those who refuse to turn from their rebellion and trust Him; only that He will continue to give us the opportunity to recognize our need for forgiveness.

10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15:10-15 ESV– taken from biblegateway.com

God has made it possible for us to be more than servants. We don’t have to respond to God as Bartleby responded to his boss– though God has the ultimate authority to demand our loyalty and obedience. Through Jesus, we are sons and daughters and friends! When God gives us commands, like “Love one another,” they are still commands. But His heart is that we should trust that all of His commands are righteous, life-giving, and in our eternal best interest. But some of us are still saying, “I would prefer not to.”

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