When my friend Karen was a director for a film festival, she hired an office assistant named Terry. Although Terry interviewed well, before long she was slamming doors, yelling, crying, and ignoring Karen's requests.
Karen told me that her repeated attempts to talk with Terry about her attitude did nothing. Finally one night, when Terry called Karen's home to complain that she'd had enough of her boss' "demands," Jim, Karen's husband, answered the phone. Terry was so rude to him that Karen said, "Tell her I've had enough. She does not need to come back to work." Terry flew into a rage and slammed down the phone.
At first Karen told me she didn't feel anything but anger toward her "enemy." After all, Terry deserved to be fired. But in sheer obedience to a Bible passage she'd read in Matthew 5:44, "When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer" (The Message), Karen began praying for Terry. As she prayed, her anger dissipated. She sensed there must be a wounded person behind those outbursts. Three months and many prayers later, Karen invited Terry to lunch. There Karen learned about how Terry had been the victim of severe abuse and neglect while growing up. Both women cried; they experienced reconciliation, and amazingly, began a friendship.
Sooner or later, you'll be confronted with a person who rubs you the wrong way, as Karen did. Despite your best intentions, another person becomes your adversary. Perhaps she talked behind your back at church, mounted a campaign against you in the PTA, or hurt you in other ways. She could be your mother-in-law, a neighbor, or former friend.
What's in It for You
As difficult as it is to pray for your "enemy," here's why it's important to do so:
You're drawn closer to God.
Several years ago, I had an unexpected conflict with a woman during some preparations for a community event on which we were both working. Although I intended no harm, I inadvertently offended Kim (not her real name) by something I said, and she told me so in no uncertain terms. While I apologized, Kim remained aloof and unfriendly and said some hurtful things about me behind my back that I eventually heard. God and
I had a few conversations about Kim. I would have loved for him to change her. In fact, I asked him to several times! But instead, he suggested I pray blessings on her life whenever her name came to mind. One day I said, "Lord, you could have reconciled us before now. What's up?" His quiet whisper seemed to say, You wouldn't have come to me nearly so much lately were it not for Kim!
Nothing's changed yet with the relationship— but I've realized praying for her is drawing me closer to God.
You experience heart-change.
Because of her commitment to prayer, by the time my friend Karen met her "enemy," Terry, for lunch and heard her story, she actually wanted to hug Terry! Three months before, Karen was nowhere near that response. In following Jesus' command to "pray for our enemies," God slowly filled Karen's heart with his love for Terry. She felt compassion when all she'd felt before was hurt, anger, and frustration.
You see God at work.
When Karen invited God into her rocky relationship with Terry through prayer, he did more than she could have asked or thought (Ephesians 3:20) by paving the way for a friendship where hostility had once existed. Often this is what God does when we take our hands off and give a person or situation to him. When Karen saw in a tangible way how God could turn a bad situation into something good, her faith was boosted enormously.
You find forgiveness.
Jesus says in the Lord's Prayer (Luke 11:2-4) that by the measure we forgive others, we're forgiven. Praying for our enemies teaches us a real-life lesson in forgiveness. As I prayed daily for Kim, I was able to release my hurt instead of hold onto it. God gradually replaced my anger with forgiveness. No, it wasn't overnight—but in the process of praying for my enemy, God reminded me of how much he had forgiven me. And the conflict made me become aware anew of how much I need God's mercy and forgiveness every day.
You feel better emotionally and physically.
Studies show that one minute of anger can sap the emotional energy of a normal eight-hour period. And most of us need all the energy we can muster!
Elaine, a woman I know, learned through a painful divorce that she couldn't live with resentment. She experienced the physical toll of anger. As things got worse between Elaine and her ex-husband, she was plagued by insomnia, depression, and high blood pressure. It took months of counseling for her to deal with her anger, forgive her ex, and get her blood pressure back to normal.
So later, when a coworker named Bonnie spread lies about her, Elaine knew where to go—to her knees. Praying each morning before work, Elaine gave God her hurt feelings but also asked him to fill this woman with his peace. Although the barbs continued for several months, Elaine could sleep at night. And eventually she was promoted to a position that took her out of Bonnie's line of fire.
As You Pray
I've found the following tips help you when resentful feelings boil up:
Take a "time-out."
Consider writing down the specific offenses and how you feel about them. Don't try to sugarcoat the situation or your feelings. Then commit the list to God, asking him to heal your heart—and the other person's as well.
Put feet to your prayers.
As you pray, listen for God to tell you what action steps to take. In Elaine's case, when Christmas rolled around several months into her praying for Bonnie, she felt God nudging her to do something kind for her. She decided to buy a gift book by Bonnie's favorite artist and give it to her for Christmas. Another friend, Melinda, was betrayed by her best friend, Jane. Months passed with no communication between them. Even though she didn't "feel" like it, Melinda prayed for Jane's life. Then, after several nudgings by God, she decided to write a prayer of blessing and send it to Jane.
After receiving it, Jane called Melinda, and the walls between them crumbled. She thought Melinda had assumed the worst about her, but now saw how she really cared. Gradually the two women are re-building the relationship, but it was the prayer of blessing that brought the breakthrough.
Jesus declared that when we follow his way of dealing with our enemies, we'll never regret it. That's why he tells us to "live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we're at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind" (Luke 6:28, 35, The Message).
When we obey Christ's command to pray for our enemies, we not only receive rewards in heaven, but blessings in this life. We'll be freer emotionally, healthier physically, and more able to experience the joy of Jesus. We'll draw closer to him, see him work in amazing ways, and experience the power of forgiveness in our own life.
Cheri Fuller is a speaker and the author of numerous books, including When Couples Pray: The Little Known Secret to Lifelong Happiness in Marriage (Multnomah).
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