Last Friday night I was putting the final touches on a talk I would be giving the next morning to a group of ladies in my community. We’d be talking all about kindness and gratitude and what it can look like to live those things with our families.
I read through part of the scripture I’d be covering again where Jesus tells us, “Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43). And suddenly, in light of the chaos of Paris, Syria, and around the world, really, my talk on kindness to others (including strangers and refugees) seemed so radical.
I went to bed praying for people affected by terrorism around the world but was unsure what to do with the rest of my thoughts, so I just left it at that. I tabled the ideas i was having regarding what it would look like to love my enemies, because suddenly they felt very close and I was afraid. Afraid for my safety and my kids. Afraid for our country. Afraid for the world and where things could be headed, filled with ideas about worst-case scenarios of where we could go from here.
Love your enemies.
Do good to those who would persecute you.
I woke early the next morning with one man’s name on my mind: Paul.
I got up, made coffee, and opened my Bible to read again about this man who terrorized the early church, who first went by the name Saul. His story is found in Acts 9.
A Pharisee, Saul was a fierce advocate of eradicating this new religion called Christianity. He approved of the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr, and afterward went on a rampage, searching out Christians in their homes and villages and throwing them into prison. He caused those who were Christ-followers to flee to other countries for safety.
But all that changed when Saul, on the road to Damascus to find more Christians, is unexpectedly stopped:
“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless.” (Acts 9:3-7)
Saul, blinded by the light, is brought by his men to Damascus, where he is met by Annais, a Christian, who prays for Saul to receive his sight once again. Saul stays with the disciples for several days and then begins to preach in the temples about all that has happened to him.
Following his conversion, Saul (later renamed Paul) went on to become one of the greatest advocates of the early church the world had ever known. He is the writer of many New Testament books and spread the gospel of Jesus to Gentiles (non-Jews) like few others in his day.
His effect on our faith today is profound.
And after reading about him on Saturday morning, I felt like I gained a way to pray for my enemies.
Because, somehow, praying for my enemies’ demise doesn’t feel quite right to me. Instead, I began to pray for their redemption. If God can turn the heart of Saul, one of the first terrorists, then he can change the hearts of men today.
I am all for justice being served for crimes committed, but taking someone’s life doesn’t eradicate hate. It won’t change the course of families or generations in a positive way. It won’t bring people closer to God or love or peace. Only Jesus can do that.
Maybe you, too, have had the same concerns. Maybe you’ve wondered how to start praying for our enemies. May I suggest that you consider, as I have, that it’s time we pray for their redemption, for their own experience with Jesus, on their own roads to Damascus?
It all comes down to this: Do we believe that God is just as capable to change hearts and lives in our generation as he was in Saul’s? Either we believe God’s grace is capable of reaching every person today, even those we would call our enemies, or we run the risk of refusing its power to touch anyone.
I’m tired of letting fear dictate my life. Or my thoughts. Or even my prayers.
I believe that God’s love is the greatest force this world has ever and will ever know.
Love Wins. Every time.
Lord Jesus, we thank you that you remain in control in a world that at times appears out of control. We pray that you would turn the hearts of our enemies towards you. Show up in dreams and visions and, as you did with Saul, stop those who are turned toward evil in their tracks, shake them, and draw them to yourself. Change hearts as only you can. Lord, would you also calm our fears at the same time? Would you give peace as only you can? And would you also protect those in the world today who are seeking refuge and safety? Provide shelter and security and care as only you can. Finally, Lord, would you show us how we can help? Give us courage to be your hands and feet, even now. Thank you that you are always good, always faithful, and always loving–even when we are not. We love you, Jesus. Amen.