Earlier this summer, our family made a pilgrimage to the ultimate summer vacation destination, Disneyland. As we navigated the crowds, I noticed a common trait among our fellow mouse-eared tourists. With the exception of a few overstimulated toddlers and stressed-out parents, everyone around us was smiling and laughing. The strangers...
My co-worker’s words were unkind and untrue. How could Beth say such a thing about me? She’s a Christian. She should know better. All day her words simmered in my soul. Each time my mind hit the replay button, my eyes narrowed and my jaw tightened.
That night as I lay in bed, I thought about what I’d do the next time I saw Beth. Avoid her? Confront her? Pretend nothing had happened?
At some point during my mental rant, the Holy Spirit reminded me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:44: “Pray for those who spitefully use you…” (NKJV). Humph. I’d rather tell Beth exactly what I think and complain about her to other people. I’d rather harbor a grudge and avoid her. But the Holy Spirit kept poking me: If you want to do what pleases and glorifies Jesus, pray for those who hurt you.
“Lord,” I said, “please show me how to pray for Beth with a sincere heart.”
Be Honest with God
The next morning I settled into my favorite chair to have my devotions, but my heart was restless. First, I wrote Beth’s name on my daily prayer list. Then I admitted my feelings to God. “Lord, I don’t like Beth or what she did to me. She’s difficult to get along with anyway, and now she’s spreading gossip about me.” God knew what had happened. I didn’t need to airbrush what she’d done or camouflage how I felt about it.
Next I confessed my unwillingness to change my attitude. “Lord, I can’t get over this. I’m too angry, too hurt. I don’t want to pray for Beth, but I want to obey you.” I reminded myself that Jesus’ blood had washed away her sin as it had washed away mine. God loves her as much as he loves me. I said, “Lord, help me see what you see when you look at Beth.”
Use God’s Words
After I prayed, I opened my Bible to Matthew 5. I read Jesus’ words in verses 43-46:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”
“Okay, Lord,” I prayed, “work in my heart and in Beth’s. Show us that we’re on the same team—your team. Heal this wound in my heart. Heal the wounds in her heart. Help us both to be the daughters you’ve designed and redeemed us to be.”
Next I turned to Colossians 1. I often pray verses 9-11 for my children, so why not use Paul’s prayer as a guide for this situation with Beth?
“Lord, Give us wise minds and spirits attuned to your will. Help us to move toward a thorough understanding of how you work and how you want us to work together. Enable us to make you proud of the way we honor you in our workplace. Give us the strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy” (MSG paraphrased).
In the days that followed, I continued to incorporate God’s Word into my prayers for Beth. When I read Psalm 37, I asked God to give her the desires of her heart (v. 4). When the day’s reading was James 1, I asked God to give her wisdom (v. 5) and to help her be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (v. 19). I prayed the same things for myself.
Wait for Him to Work
As I prayed for Beth, my anger and resentment decreased. At work, when we passed each other or sat in a meeting together, I greeted her with less animosity churning in my stomach. I asked about her kids and her husband. Yes, the conversation between us was awkward at first, but gradually we both relaxed.
Several weeks passed. One day Beth and I were both working in the copier room. She seemed agitated when I said hello, so I asked, “How’s your day going?” As she revealed details about an ongoing trial, I realized why she might have misjudged me, why she’d misinterpreted some of my actions and words. I recognized that I’d misjudged her too. The Holy Spirit nudged my heart. See? Aren’t you glad you’ve been praying for her?
When Beth finished her story, I could honestly say to her, “I’ve been praying for you, and I’ll keep praying for you.” She smiled.
Pursue Peace through Prayer
…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8,10)
Though we were opposed to him and all his ways, Jesus died for us, removed the barrier of our sin, and brought us into relationship with God. Because his reconciling love now resides within us by his Spirit, we can extend that love to others. God no longer counts our sins against us, so we no longer hold other people’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:17-19).
Our attitudes toward those who offend us won’t change overnight. Sometimes the adjustment takes months, years, or maybe even decades. But God will be faithful to change our perspective as we come to him in prayer. Praying for those who have hurt us is not only obedience to God’s Word, but also opportunity for him to work in our hearts and within other people. He will help us move beyond our sinful attitudes about others and toward his love for them.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he wrote,
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister….Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (Romans 14:13, 19, NIV)
Because I was honest with God, prayed his Word for Beth and myself, and waited for him to change my attitude, God healed my hurt and softened my heart toward her. He helped me avoid putting obstacles in her path and seek the attitudes and actions that led toward peace. He freed me to extend the love of Christ to her, as he first gave this same peaceable, forgiving love to me.
People are bound to hurt us. But if we take those hurts to God, he can help us pursue the path that will glorify him and edify others.
Do you need to add someone to your prayer list?