When life gets crazy and hard, when I’m afraid and feel threatened, and especially when I sense those I love might be hurting or in danger, I become diligent—fervent!—in prayer. I beg God to intervene and rescue me or those I care about.
The last thing I want to do is pray for the offender. But when, by God’s grace, I put aside my will and all the negative emotions that go with it, and, out of obedience, pray for the very ones who are causing me or my loved one’s pain, something happens within me.
My heart softens. The anger lessens. The fear and tension and all the other gunk that can keep me worked up and distracted are abated. And maybe, just maybe that is, in part how I experience the peace that “surpasses all understanding,” (Phil. 4:6-7) as Christ promised.
Because in that moment, I became more like Jesus, who, as He hung on the cross, prayed for the very ones who were persecuting Him. (Luke 23:34). I believe we can see this same agape love in Paul in 1 Timothy chapter 2. He’d just been released from prison and was, in 1 Timothy 2:1-6, telling his young friend to pray for their leaders. For those who were persecuting them and the entire Christian community. And probably even for those false teachers in Ephesus who were creating so many problems.
Because Paul knew those leaders would never change unless they came to know Christ, and maybe he remembered that he was once just like them.
He and Timothy were living in terrifying, desperate times, under the authority of one of the world’s cruelest and most insane leaders, a man by the name of Nero. Each day, whether they went to the market, or the temple, or simply walked through the streets of ancient Palestine, fears had to arise. Was that the day they’d be imprisoned? Or stoned, flogged, or perhaps even executed?
I can’t help but wonder how I would’ve responded in that situation. Actually, I think I know. I fear I would’ve gone into hiding. I would’ve prayed—a lot! But sadly, for myself. That God would protect and save me and make all the chaos go away.
But not Paul. Instead, Paul focused on others, not just those he loved, like Timothy, but for all people—the betrayer and betrayed. The oppressor and oppressed. Those who believed in Christ and those who didn’t.
And notice, he doesn’t just ask Timothy to pray for them. Paul urges him to do so. Can you sense his passion, his love?
The same love we saw in Jesus when, on the night before He was betrayed, the night before He was to suffer unspeakable pain, when even those closest to Him would flee, He prayed not for Himself but for them. Knowing, as He was praying, that in a short while, the very ones He prayed for would abandon Him. The men He’d poured Himself into, day in and day out, would flee, during His darkest hour. (Matthew 26:20-35)
Maybe you’ve been there. I have, and it hurt.
I’d walked beside a woman, invested in her, prayed with and for her, and had done all I knew to help her grow and be successful. But then, she turned on me and quickly turned ugly. The injustice of it all pricked against my pride. How could she, after all I’d done for her?
And so, I stewed, growing more and more indignant. More and more angry, all the while sensing God’s gentle but persistent tap on my heart: Forgive. Love. Pray.
Still fighting negative thoughts and emotions, I closed my eyes and out of obedience, did the latter. At first, it felt unnatural, like words forced through gritted teeth. But the more I prayed for this woman, the softer my heart became toward her. I began to see her and the situation differently, not through the lens of my pain but instead, through the lens of hers. I caught a glimpse of the healing and growth God wanted to bring about in her.
And suddenly, I understood—this wasn’t about me. It never had been and it never will be. It’s all about Jesus Christ saving and transforming our broken world. Paul understood this, and this understanding drove him, and I believe, gave him the strength to keep pouring himself out to others, as His Savior had, so that God’s glory could be seen and lives could be saved. Paul longed for his dear friend, his son in the faith, to have that same focus and passion.
I believe God has the same desire for us.
When have you been in a time of need and sensed God asking you to pray for someone else? What made that hard? If you were obedient, what helped you to obey? Share your thoughts here or visit our Facebook page to discuss today’s Bible reading: John 17:6-23 and Matthew 26:14-74.
Before you go, can I share a fun and encouraging review of Healing Love with you? I saw it floating around Facebook yesterday, and it really touched and encouraged me! The reviewer begins her review with this: “Readers beware: this book is going to touch your heart in ways you didn’t think possible from a book.”
You can read it HERE.