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!

Flee!

As we bid goodbye to September and enter October, we are entering the season of Halloween and horror movies. I’m not too fond of this cultural phenomenon–I don’t like horror movies, and, while I don’t mind handing out candy to kids dressed up in clever costumes, I’m not thrilled about kids and adults “celebrating” witches, vampires, zombies, etc..

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While I don’t watch horror movies, or read horror novels, I have noted what others have told me about them. One of the strangest phenomena they report is the seeming inability of innocent people to escape the horror stalking them. This is sometimes part of the horror and the plot, but often, the “victim” has many chances of running away– but never does! (Or they wait until it is too late.) In fact, movie-goers often report the audience will sometimes yell at the characters to, “Run!” But they simply stand, fascinated or paralyzed by fear, waiting for their doom to catch up to them. Of course, this adds to the suspense of a fictional scenario, but it sets a terrible example for real life.

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Recently, I heard an interesting and disturbing parallel in reports about real “victims” from a public safety official. He said that in various crime scenes, like those involving a violent confrontation or an active shooter, many people who could reach safety, don’t. This is because they continue to watch the horror unfolding around them. They do nothing to stop it; nothing to avoid it; nothing to protect themselves. In fact, some of them take out their phones and start filming it–creating their own “real-life” horror movie. Instead of taking common sense precautions, they seem more interested in watching the “story” unfold, as if it had no power to touch them. Normally compassionate people will watch someone else being bullied, tortured, harassed, and even killed without calling for help or protecting themselves or others who could be pulled into the violence.

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There is nothing “entertaining” about violence and evil. There may be something instructive about watching evil being defeated, or violence being stopped, but there is greater wisdom in avoiding evil and violence in the first place. Evil should not make us curious– it should repulse us, and make us want to flee. Seeing a rattlesnake coiled and hissing should not cause us to reach out and try to pet it! Watching someone waving a loaded gun around should not cause us to whip out our phone and record it for later viewing.

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As Christians, we are warned to “flee from temptation” in the same way we are urged to flee from danger and horror. When we know something is evil, harmful, unwholesome, corrupt, poisonous, and unholy, we are to have nothing to do with it. This is not because we feel powerless in the face of evil. God is with us in any situation. But we are to stay away from situations and relationships that threaten our ability to do what we know to be honest, compassionate, and “right.” Jesus warned His disciples to “watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41 ESV) And in The Lord’s Prayer, He prayed that we would not be led into temptation, but delivered from evil. (Matthew 6:13) Jesus wasn’t saying that we should live in perpetual fear; rather that we should make it a priority to avoid ANYTHING that would draw us away from the goodness and mercy of God. Even in our prayers, we should ask God to keep us on the path of righteousness and keep us away from temptation and failure. Common sense alone will not keep us from dangerous behaviors like flirting with sin or dabbling in danger. God will provide a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13), but how much better to avoid the need for constant rescue!

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As this season approaches, I pray that God would keep me far from the path of evil. I don’t want to be like the “victim” in a horror film, paralyzed by fear or fascination, while sin and death come stalking. Nor do I want to be the bystander, filming someone else’s pain and torture instead of seeking help and protection. The spirit indeed is willing– willing to fight against evil; willing to grapple with it; willing to learn more about it; willing even to flirt with it. But the flesh is weak and vulnerable to deception, traps, and failure.

We are not to follow after the empty promises of temptation–“thrills and chills,” titillation, “secret” knowledge, “spine tingles,” etc.. Instead, we are to seek the sure promises of a Loving God– His guiding presence, His joy, His eternal Love, and His abundant Life.

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Flee temptation; Run to Jesus!

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.

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.

Running the Race

I am NOT a runner. If you ever see me running, I’ve either just encountered a snake, or there’s a wild animal chasing me. So I don’t know a lot about running a marathon, or even a 5-or 10-K race. Even in my daily life as a Christian, I prefer to use the term “Christian Walk!” But the Bible uses the imagery of a race to describe the Christian life. In our pursuit of Christ-likeness, including our pursuit of prayer, we need to think like a runner.

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For those of us who don’t run, this may pose a bit of a challenge, but the Bible gives us clear principles that provide good guidance.

  • Keep moving forward: “12-14 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” (Philippians 3:12-14 The Message) Runners don’t worry about what is behind them. They are focused on the goal– reaching the finish line. We need to stop focusing on our past, or the anxieties about the road ahead, and keep our focus on the ultimate goal.
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  • Travel light/Get rid of the baggage: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us..” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV) What is weighing me down, that I need to let go of, if I want to keep running with endurance? I wrote earlier this month about the expectations attached to the “model” woman in Proverbs 31. Expectations, guilt, unforgiveness, shame, wanting to please other people, even our own self-talk can weigh us down, slow us down, and wear us out. It’s time to let go!
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  • Run with the pack: Running alone can be good for meditation, but we need the challenge and the encouragement of others if we want to train and grow stronger. Reconsider the passage I quoted above in its larger context: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV–emphasis added) We need to surround ourselves with companions, role models, teachers, friends, and others who can encourage, sharpen, comfort, and help us in our pursuit. And we need to remember that NO challenge or opposition we face is unknown to Christ. He is our ultimate role model, and, along with the Holy Spirit, our greatest coach!
  • Run/train with purpose: “25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.” (1 Corinthians 9:25-26 NIV) I know many people who “know” a lot about the Bible; they’ve grown up in the church or attended seminary; they’ve memorized scripture or studied theology– only to leave the church and their faith. I know many others who have a “faith” that bears little resemblance to the Bible’s teaching– it is based mostly on their “feelings” about God and a “truth” that is relative to their circumstances and changing emotions. Pursuing the Christian life involves discipline– being a disciple–and that involves all areas of life– studying the Bible, and putting it into practice. It’s not enough to “know” about doctrine or to “feel” like a Christian. We must pursue Christ-likeness in our words, prayers, habits, relationships, etc..
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  • Don’t run on “no fuel.” “29 He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, 31 But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31 NKJV). It is tempting to run on an empty stomach (see traveling light above), or to start running without stretching or warming up. Anything we do in our own wisdom and power– even “good” things like prayer and Bible study, can leave us empty and worn out. We need to come back to our source of wisdom and power–(See Hebrews 12: 2-3 again!)
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Running a race isn’t easy. Walking through life is a challenge, too. Pursuing Christ-likeness in our habits, including our prayer life, takes dedication, discipline, guidance, and endurance. But God is faithful to provide all that we need to finish the race and gain the prize!

God’s Mysterious Ways

I write about prayer as a pursuit. Prayer is, at once, both simple and mysteriously complex.

It is a simple thing to pray–to direct one’s thoughts and words toward God. It is no more difficult than having a conversation with another person.

And yet it is not the same as talking to another person. God’s ways are not our ways. He is Holy, Sovereign, and Almighty. We come to God in need, but God has no “needs.” He has no need to confide in us, or ask for our help, or plead with us. Instead, He chooses to share with us His promises and His plans. He allows us to be part of His great work, and asks us to be His hands and feet and voice in this world. He pleads with us to come and spend time with Him and walk in relationship with Him.

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I spent some time recently reviewing the life of George Muller. https://www.georgemuller.org/ George Muller was born over 200 years ago. He was, by his own admission, a liar and a thief in his early years. But when we came to Christ, his life changed dramatically. His life was a series of miracles that attested to his great faith and active practice of prayer. Muller founded several orphanages in England, and he did all of it through prayer. He never did traditional fund-raising: he never asked anyone for money or donations, he didn’t take out loans, he didn’t find “partners” or “sponsors” to pay for any of the needs. He simply prayed. He prayed for money to buy buildings. He prayed that God would send workers. He prayed for food and clothing and furniture that the children would need. And he vowed to take in any (and as many) children who came.

The stories of George Muller’s faith are legendary. He prayed for money to start one orphanage– he ended up with enough for several! He prayed for supplies– people came and gave furniture. Milk wagons broke down and the milk was donated to the orphanage. One story states that there was no food one morning. Muller prayed. Shortly afterward, he went to the door, and there, on the doorstep, lay a 50-lb. bag of rice. No one knows who left it or how it got there. God showed up in miracle after miracle in Muller’s life. And that doesn’t mean that his life was without struggle or heartache. He agonized over friends who were unsaved; he prayed for them over a period of years. One close friend remained unsaved until after Muller’s death. He experienced the heartbreak of losing his wife. But he was consistent in his witness about the power of prayer.

Muller prayed about everything– as we all should, all the time. (Philippians 4:6, 1Thessalonians 5:17) Little, seemingly unimportant things; huge, seemingly impossible things. God cares about them all. He is the Almighty– there is nothing so big (or so tiny) that He cannot do it! There is no heartache or struggle that He doesn’t want to hear about! Nothing can separate us from His Love (Romans 8:38). No matter what we’re going through, we can bring it to God.

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But God’s ways– powerful, compassionate, miraculous– remain mysterious. We can trust that God will hear our prayers. But we cannot predict how, or when, or if He will let us see the answers we seek. Nor can we predict how God will use our simple prayers to impact the world around us! George Muller’s orphanages helped more than 2,000 homeless children survive, grow, and in many cases thrive and contribute to the lives of countless others. And the stories of his faith and the hundreds of small but significant miracles he experienced have inspired generations of people for more than a century and a half! And his story is not unique–we have an amazing “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) throughout history testifying to the power of God to hear and answer prayer in mysterious, miraculous, even mischievous ways! From finding lost keys to feeding multitudes; from protecting kittens to rescuing captives; from stretching budgets to saving souls– God’s ways are mysterious, Holy, and wholly good.

Prayer can be such a simple thing– and it can have eternal impact!

As Iron Sharpens Iron

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17
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Do you have a friend who “sharpens” you? Someone who keeps you honest? Someone who challenges you? Someone who holds you accountable? The Bible has much to say about relationships that we form– and some of it may surprise us. Earlier in Proverbs 27, the writer says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” (v.5 NIV) and, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (v. 6 NKJV).

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I don’t know about you, but I want friends who encourage, friends who make me feel good about myself; friends who make life more pleasant and uncomplicated. I don’t enjoy hearing criticism, or having my beliefs and ideas challenged. I don’t enjoy conflict, and I tend to avoid it whenever possible. However, I also know the truth of verse 6 from experience–I can trust the constructive criticism of a good friend, even when it stings in the moment. A loving friend will take the risk of saying what needs to be said, and not just what I want to hear.

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There are three points that struck me recently as I came across these verses:

  • “Iron sharpens iron”–nothing gets sharpened by a marshmallow, and an iron blade that is left unsharpened will either lose its edge over time, or rust from disuse. We may not like conflict. But we need to be disciplined, and that means that we need to be held accountable. We need to be challenged and sharpened, or we will grow dull or rusty. God can use the “fire” of circumstances to soften our hard hearts, but He often uses other people to “spark” us into action. Left to my own devices, I can grow rusty and useless. I can feel sorry about a bad or sinful habit– I can confess it, and make plans to change. But I am more likely to grow and develop positive habits and actions if there is someone keeping me honest. I can have good ideas; I can know what the Bible says– but I can also fall into deception, lazy thinking, and pride. A good friend can help keep me “sharp” in both actions and thinking. We are not meant to do life alone, and God does not want “Holy Hermits.” He also does not want us to be so timid and accepting that we fail to sharpen others. It is really hard to risk a friendship by speaking the truth–but NOT speaking is sometimes more damaging to the friendship– and to our friends!
  • “Iron” is what sharpens “Iron”–We need to seek out truth and wisdom, and that’s what we need to offer others, as well. We should not waste time on petty disagreements, trying to “win” every point in an argument, or pointing out every minor fault. We also need to have mutual respect; being willing to listen, willing to let a few sparks fly, and willing to respect another’s strengths as we develop our own. This verse is not about letting someone else dominate you or shut down your voice, just as it is not about dominating or “fixing” someone else by forcing your opinions (even if grounded in the truth) down their throat.
  • “So one person sharpens another.” Notice it doesn’t say whether the person is a believer, a dear, personal friend, or a relative. Any person can “sharpen” us. I may disagree with another person– a coworker, a peer, a neighbor–and still respect that their ideas, their words, even their criticism.
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How does this tie into our pursuit of prayer? Conflict and testing can make us better or bitter–in this analogy, it can make us humble or it can make us brittle. A humble person will be shaped and sharpened. A brittle person will snap or break.

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When I am challenged or criticized, do I take it to God or do I take it to heart? Do I ask God to reveal truth or have I already decided what I want to believe? Not all criticism is constructive; not all challenges are meant to sharpen us. Do I react in anger? Do I become sullen? Do I crumble into a puddle of doubt? Or do I see it as an opportunity to become sharper, to change course, or to refine my thinking? Conflict and criticism do not happen in a vacuum–God is as close as a prayer, and willing to give wisdom, discernment, and strength!

How do I react to the other person? Do I become bitter toward them? Do I seek for ways to repay them with criticism or prove myself to them? Do I pray for THEM to change, without looking at my own responsibility? Do I appreciate the risk they may have taken to speak up? (Or do I appreciate the reasons they may have for feeling or thinking as they do, even if I am convinced they are in error?) Can I offer thanks to God for the way He may be using that person to sharpen me–even if that is not their intent? Can I pray for God to bless and strengthen them, even if we don’t agree?

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This is all easier to write than to put into practice. But I can say from experience that God has often used the most unlikely people to “sharpen” me in unlikely ways and unlikely moments, and I am so grateful for the “faithful” (and temporary!) wounds of friends. I am also grateful for others who challenge me to defend the Faith, and who open their hearts to me– even when we clash sometimes.

Objects In the Mirror…

“Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear…” This notice is on the side rear-view mirror of my car. It serves to remind me that I cannot judge distances by what I see– that my mirror is meant to show a wide-range view, rather than one that is precise and in-scale.

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Many things in life are similarly distorted. The actual objects in my rear-view mirror don’t appear distorted, but if I back up without considering the warning, I am likely to run into an object and “distort” my back bumper!

The Bible also warns us about distortion and mirrors. In James, chapter 1, the Apostle writes:

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:22-27 (NIV)
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We can easily read what the Bible says; we can easily hear the truth; we can even recite Scripture– and still be deceived and following a distorted version of God’s Word. As I write this, I can quote James, or another passage of Scripture, and walk away from the keyboard only to spread gossip, or snap at my husband, or in some other way distort what I know to be true about myself and about God.

The Apostle Paul also references mirrors in 1 Corinthians:

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13: 8-12

Even though this chapter is famously known as the “Love” chapter, it also addresses our need to be alert, humble, and committed to acting on what we know to be true. We can speak of love, even perform acts of self-sacrifice, yet distort what it actually means to practice Love. If we glance at our lives in the distorted mirrors of pride or worldly comparison, we will lose our perspective and our proper focus– and end up damaging more than just a bumper!

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This distortion can also infect our prayer life. We can pray on “auto-pilot”– looking at things in a distorted mirror, instead of focusing on God and putting things in their proper perspective. How many times have I prayed that God would help those in need, without ever considering how He might want me to DO something? Have I asked locally if there is a need I can help meet? Not just with money, but in time or service? Do I pray “globally” but ignore those right in my own back yard? Sadly, I must answer than I have been guilty of such distortion. Or how many times have I been in the one in need, praying for a miracle, while refusing the practical help that someone has offered? Have I prayed that God would “change” someone else’s attitude, without seeing that mine needs to change as well (or instead!)? Have I confessed a sin, without really repenting? There is temptation, waiting in my rear-view mirror– and much closer than it appears!–but I want absolution without discipline. I want help without humility. I want to love others– when it is convenient.

Thankfully, God WANTS us to see clearly. He gives us warnings about the mirrors we tend to use, and His Word helps us correct our focus.

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God wants us to see things as they really are– both the horror of our sin and rebellion, and the wonder of His Grace. And sometimes, that means grappling with the distortions in the mirrors of our own making.

Of Yeast, Mites, and Mustard Seeds

God is interested in the little things. We praise Him for his glory, majesty, and power–rightly so–but He is also the God of atoms, and quiet moments, and insect wings and snowflakes.

animal antenna biology black background
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God celebrates with us in our smallest victories–biting our tongue instead of bragging, shaving a minute off our 5K run, not burning the dinner rolls, remembering to put gas in the car for my spouse.  He also sees our smallest sins–when no one else is looking; when no one else knows our motives or inner struggle– God sees every detail, every motive. God hears our prayers– not just our big urgent prayers, but our whispered secret prayers; our quick cries for help; our relieved sighs of gratitude; our shameful confessions.

photo of woman looking at the mirror
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God often uses yeast as a metaphor for sin–just a tiny bit can ruin everything.  One tiny act– a fib, passing along a rumor, snubbing a neighbor at the store, watching “soft” porn on TV, hanging out with the “fun” crowd and taking dangerous risks, gambling “for fun” with money you promise to pay back later, drinking a little too much just a little too often, spending more time with that co-worker who “understands” your marital woes better than anyone…Most of us don’t set out to become addicts, thieves, adulterers, bullies, sexual predators, rage-aholics, embezzlers, or compulsive liars.  But Jesus warns us that big sins start small: “murder” really starts with disdain and anger and hate (Matthew 5:21-22);  adultery begins with lust; and the love of money (greed) is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).  Selfishness, pride, envy, rebellion– they lurk in little lies and delayed obedience and easy justification we allow in our daily lives.

But God is not only watching us under a microscope, waiting to catch us in some small act of sin.  In fact, that is not His primary desire in watching us.  God is searching  eagerly for signs of obedience, faith, goodness, love, and kindness.

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Jesus used parables about small things– a lost coin, a mustard seed, a pearl, a speck of dust, the eye of a needle, a narrow door/gate, a lily of the field– to illustrate joy, faith, self-control, obedience, trust, and even the kingdom of God.  Small things are important, sometimes even glorious, in God’s eyes.  Even some of Jesus’ miracles started with small, humble, simple things– water, five loaves and two fish, a few quiet words, a few tears.

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Today, I want to pray that I will see God moving– not just in grand gestures and eloquent sermons (though I love to see Him move in those ways, too!)–but in the small moments.  I pray that I will be sensitive, not to the world’s crushing words of hatred and deception, but to the still small voice of encouragement; to the hopeful smile of a stranger; to the rushing wind that lifts dust mites to glory in the sun; to the unshed tears of a widowed friend.  I want to plant the mustard seed of faith and watch how God will grow it.  I want to be that cheerful giver of my last coins in gratitude for the riches of Grace that cost me nothing but cost my Savior everything.

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