Hope-Filled Mama

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Tag: prayer

Loving Your Enemies

I have a hard time loving the people I love. I get irritated, frustrated, and often do not respond to them in love. I’m short with my husband, I yell at my kids, and I can judge when I shouldn’t.

And this is with the people I love, hold most dear, and for whom I want the best.

Image credit: Marcelino Rapayla Jr. / Flickr

So it’s very challenging to read Matthew 5:43-48:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (NIV, emphasis added).

Ugh. So hard! Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This means loving the person who cuts me off in traffic and the people who misunderstand my intentions and spread rumors about me—and even loving those who want to harm me.

How do I do that?

I think one way is to fight fear. I believe fear keeps us trapped in misunderstanding and judgment. As it says in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (NIV).

My husband I got involved in the nonprofit Prison Entrepreneurship Program a little over ten years ago. The organization goes into prisons and teaches inmates how to use their business acumen and entrepreneurial skills in legitimate ways when they are released. It is an intense program with a rigorous application process that seeks out people who are sincerely ready for change in their lives.

Initially, it was scary to think about visiting prisoners who have sold drugs, stolen, and murdered. But what we found instead were broken people who had a rough start to life and had a hard time loving others. Getting to know them and their stories helped us see them as individual people, desperate for a chance to redeem themselves.

This experience helped me love the thief who broke into our home about three years ago. He stole almost all our jewelry. We don’t have a lot of expensive jewelry, so he was likely disappointed. Most of our heartache was over the few pieces handed down over the generations that had sentimental value.

The police never caught him, but I can imagine some of what his life story might be like. Whenever I think of him, I pray that God might change his heart and grant him the opportunity, desire, and courage to change his ways. I like to think of my prayers as a redeemed form of vengeance.

Far more challenging is to love those who wish to harm me. Reading the news each day can make me fearful. Stories of torture, murder, and terrorism make me suspicious of others, and I want to shield myself and my family from the world and the unknown.

I recently attended a talk by author Fouad Masri, who was born in Beirut, Lebanon. The Lebanese civil war in 1975-1990 cultivated his hatred of foreigners and fellow countrymen. However, the war also prompted him to start studying different religions, including the teachings of Jesus.

It was a horrible tragedy, when his friend lost his wife and three children to a shelling accident, that led him to pray, ”The more hate there is in Lebanon, the more I want to be a soldier of love. The more war there is in Lebanon, the more I want to be a soldier of peace.”

Masri started to pray for his enemies. Now he lives in the U.S. and teaches others how to view Muslims as people who need to be loved by us. Masri helps people see Muslims as Jesus sees them, without fear, with a need for the truth, and a need for the Savior. When we reach out, we will find people like us: fearful of the unknown, desperate for connection and better understanding of each other.

I’ve begun to pray and plan for a time when I have the opportunity to befriend a Muslim. God, give me the courage and wisdom to know how to start a conversation, build a relationship, and speak words of truth when the timing is right.

Praying each time I hear discouraging news helps combat the feelings of hopelessness and despair. God, I pray for justice to prevail in this world. I pray for the hearts of those who commit these crimes. Please transform their hearts to know your truth and to act in love.

And most challenging is the call to forgive. God, please give me your heart of forgiveness. As Jesus forgave those who hung him on the cross, may I choose to forgive, with the confidence that your justice and mercy will prevail in the end.

Fight fear, love your enemies.

Note: This is a post I wrote for Estuaries in May 2016, which still feels very relevant for today.

When Prayer Doesn’t Work

The Western Wall in Jerusalem, also known as the Wailing Wall, is considered one of the holiest sites in Judaism. If there is ever a place to get your prayers answered, this is it. People have been praying at this ancient wall since the fourth century. They often write their prayers on small slips of paper and stuff them in the many crevices along the wall. When I visited the wall, I did this too. At the time I was very much in love with my boyfriend and I prayed with all my heart that he would be my future husband. Surely this prayer, imbedded in this wall, would have great weight with God.

Prayers

 

And maybe it did. It just didn’t give me the answer I wanted at the time. It me took me a few years to realize that God did answer my prayer. He answered with a “no”. It was the best answer He could have given. This “no” allowed me to search deeper within my heart to find a life-changing faith and led me to a husband that I love much more deeply than the love I knew previously.

I can now look back on that unanswered prayer with gratitude and thanksgiving. Kind of brings Garth Brooks Brooks’s song “Unanswered Prayers” to mind.

I pray that at the end of my life I might be able to look back at all my unanswered prayer with a grateful heart. But for now, there are unanswered prayers that weigh on my mind, break my heart, and keep me from trusting God completely.

Why won’t he bring home a runaway teen to her distraught mother? Why won’t he heal a mother from cancer who has two small children? Why is someone else healed and another isn’t? Why do we have such significant tragedy, terror, and loss in this world? The list goes on…

Obviously, I’m not the first person to struggle with these unanswered questions. People have been struggling with these questions since the beginning of time. Many have lost their faith over these questions.

But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you.

Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me? Psalm 88:13-14 (NIV)

When I was eight and a half months pregnant with our son, Joseph, we discovered that he was very sick with hydrops fetalis, a condition in which our baby accumulated water in body cavities such as the heart, lungs, and abdomen. We had hundreds of people praying for us. But those prayers didn’t work in the way we wanted them to. He wasn’t healed. Instead, he died in utero less than a week after we found out that he was sick.

His death has made me hesitant and uncertain in my prayers. I am not immune from loss, pain, and grief. Prayer does not guarantee success.

Yet in the midst of my grief, I can still say that God is good.

Losing our son has changed my understanding of God. He is not a benevolent Santa Claus waiting to bestow our fondest desires. He is an almighty God who has created an unfathomably complex world, which includes pain, death and loss. Yet, it’s beauty and vastness still astounds me. It is a great gift to live and experience all that this world has to offer.

If I want to partner in prayer with God for the good, I also need to partner with him in the bad. I need to accept the answer “no”. I need to accept the answer I don’t like. I need to wait when the answer is unclear. It takes me to a place of surrender, because I cannot understand all that God is and what he has planned for me. I need to embrace the unknown and trust that there will still be good in my life and in the world around me. I need to pray that his will be done, not mine.

“Our Father in heaven… your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-10 (NIV)

Becoming a mother who has lost a baby is not a club that anyone wants to join. But who am I to be exempt from such loss? I think upon the millions of people throughout history who have lost babies and children in more tragic circumstances than mine. I cannot imagine how they coped and survived. It has given me a deeper understanding and compassion for those who experience loss and grief. I hope that I can be a source of comfort when I’m able.

Mysteriously, knowing deep sorrow has in turn, heightened my joyful times. I have a deeper appreciation for the three children I still have with me on this earth. I can still say that I am blessed. I will continue to engage my God in prayer and trust that prayer does, in fact, work.

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:24 (NIV)

Lord, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God.” Psalm 38:15 (NIV)

 

For a more in-depth study of prayer, I recommend Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey.

 

This post was first published at Estuaries on March 10, 2015.

 

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