For Those It’s Hard to Pray for

Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash

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.

God’s Grace Revealed in Us

My hands were shaky, my stomach queasy. I’d been to the bathroom five times in maybe twice as many minutes as my jumble of nerves worked against my courage to obey. Having given my word, committed to this thing, I knew I couldn’t back out.

Though the thought had crossed my mind over a dozen times.

The strength to obey. For the apostle Paul that meant facing incredible persecution—beatings, floggings, imprisonment … the continual threat of death. I may never endure such hardship for Christ, but that morning, I felt like I was facing a kind of death—death to my reputation.

And yet, like Paul, I knew I’d been entrusted with the gospel, and my story, as ugly as parts of it were, revealed the power of the gospel within me.

I knew. As much as I hated it, as much as my pride fought against it, I knew, God wanted to use my testimony to bring hope and healing to other women. To do this I’d need strength—the strength to die to myself. And only He could give me the power to do that.

Determined to surrender to God’s leading, trusting Him to show Himself strong on my behalf, on the morning in May of 2012, I took several deep breaths, checked my appearance in the mirror one last time, and left the safety of the bathroom to unveil all to women I considered friends.

Certain they’d hear, clearly, the message of God’s unyielding love and grace. Equally certain that, by the time I finished, I would lose any ounce of respect or admiration they’d held for me.

It’s easy to share our triumphs, and perhaps even our struggles. But to reveal our ugly, the deep secret shame that hinders our freedom until Christ intervenes?

That’s hard. That takes courage, a decision to “die to one’s self,” and leaning hard on Christ.

Sharing my story, as a high school drop out and former homeless girl, was rough. But not nearly as rough as Paul’s must have been. He was part of the ISIS or NAZI soldier of his day, deemed powerful by some and evil by others. A man who witnessed incredible brutality and “agreed completely with the killing” (Acts 8:1) The kind of man mothers warn their children about and whose very name must’ve caused countless Christians to freeze in fear.

The very group of people he now spent most of his time with.

What must it have been like to carry a past like that around? What kind of shame would such a history cause?

To what lengths would a tyrannical murderer go to, to keep that past hidden?

What kind of love—for God and mankind—would it take for such a man to open up and share all?

What kind of love would it take for us to do the same?

We all have stories, testimonies of God’s grace and faithfulness—of the power of the gospel revealed in us. That is why our testimonies have such power, so that, as we share, “others will realize that they, too, can believe in Him and receive eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:16).

As I close, I can anticipate some of you thinking, ‘But what about me? I don’t have a dramatic God story. I was never homeless, on drugs, or murderous. I grew up in a strong Christian home, was connected in church all my life. Does my story still have power?”

Absolutely. My story, and Paul’s story, give a glimpse of the darkness that comes from living out of step or apart from Christ. For me, though I belonged to Christ when I went through my rough years, I certainly wasn’t living as He desired, and my life was characterized by darkness. For Paul, he didn’t have the light of Christ at all.

Your story is probably different than mine and Paul’s, but it can still show the beauty and love and freedom that God intends, when we turn to Him, He works in us and our circumstances, and when we live with Him. Our world needs to see both, and our Savior speaks through both. And besides, our stories aren’t truly about us anyway but rather, they’re about Christ in us. When we remember that, and shift our focus off ourselves and onto Him, He overpowers our fears and insecurities with His strength.

The strength to make Him known.

Take a moment to write out your testimony, either of when you first came to Christ or perhaps when He did something significant in your life that revealed His love, grace, and mercy. Who might God be calling you to share your story with?

Before you read today’s suggested Bible passages, I wanted to provide some background information. Stephen, the man mentioned in Acts 7, was the first Christian martyr, and prior to our passage, he publicly shared the gospel and how the Old Testament pointed to Jesus.

For those participating in our 1 Timothy study, here’s today’s suggested Bible reading: Acts 7:54-60, Acts 8:1-3, and Acts 9:1-22. Pop over to our FB group to join the discussion! Our memory verse for this week is Psalm 105:1

“Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim His greatness. Let the whole world know what He has done” (Psalm 105:1, NLT).

And … before you go, I’ve got fun news! Today is Healing Love’s release day! You can check it out HERE! (I’m not sure when the print copy will go live, but it should be within a day or two.)