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I was 40 years old. It was my first Bible study (Disciple 1). We made it through the Old Testament and were venturing into the Gospel of Matthew, learning the lessons Jesus taught. We came to Matthew 5:44:
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
“Hmm,” I thought, “I don’t have any enemies. I used to, in high school, but that was a long time ago. My life has moved on.”
However, thoughts of the mean things my enemies had done came back to me. It had been more than 2o years, yet reliving those memories made me thankful I lived far away and didn’t have to encounter them any more. The events were in the past, but my feelings were not. Over time my heart had hardened against those who had tormented, harassed and threatened me repeatedly all through high school. Because of that, those enemies still had a hold on me. I had to let it go.
I knew I had to forgive them, but that was easier said than done. They should have to acknowledge what they had done and ask for my forgiveness, right? That wasn’t going to happen. I realized I had to forgive them anyway. I tried, but couldn’t do it.
Matthew 5:44, the verse that started this mental struggle, said to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. Really? Not only do I have to forgive them, but I have to love them, too? The second part of the verse said to pray for them. I would try that.
The first few days of trying to pray for them was hard. All I could eek out was a generic “God bless them.” Then I remembered that one of my enemies had apologized during the last week of our senior year. At the time it seemed too little, too late, but now it meant a lot. This recollection enabled me to pray for her, really pray. In the coming days, I was able to start praying for the others, too. As I prayed, my hardened heart began to soften. I started to genuinely care about them, hoping they were living good lives and doing well. I actually wanted see them again sometime so we could put the past behind us. I forgave them, and was finally able to let it all go. They no longer had a hold on me.
This transformation of heart didn’t happen because of my efforts, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. This was nothing I could accomplish on my own. It happened only by the grace of God.
Matthew goes on to say that it’s wrong to just love those who love you, even corrupt people do that. If we only greet those we love, we are no better than others. After all, God’s love is for everyone, so our love should be for everyone, too – even our enemies.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and one the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? (Matthew 5:44-47)
In recent years, some of us have connected through Facebook. It’s great to see photos of their families and know they’re doing well, and even better to be connected as friends.
Almighty Father, thank You for showing me the way to begin loving my enemies was to begin praying for them; and thank You for changing my heart, helping me to forgive, and enabling me to let go of hurts and hard feelings from my past. They are no longer my enemies. They are my friends. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
For more on what the Bible says about enemies, love and forgiveness, go to http://www.BibleGateway.com Enter those words as Keyword searches. You can bring up the Book of Matthew to learn more about the teachings of Jesus.