27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
Jesus tells His listeners — those who attend to His Words — to love their enemies, to do good to those who hate them, and to pray for those who mistreat them. He does not tell His listeners — those who follow after Him — to hate, curse, or mistreat their foes.
The love Jesus calls us to is not lip-service. Love is not saying, “Oh you didn’t hurt me with your cruel words” or “you didn’t damage my life with your unfair actions against me”. Rather love recognizes the harm done and calls on us to turn the other cheek. Love demands we go out of our way to do good in response to evil.
Love does not hide. God tells us that perfect loves literally drives out fear. And, perfect love keeps no record of wrongs, reminds Paul. Love never fails, never angers, never gives up.
We are to persevere in the face of mistreatment. We are never to return an insult with an insult of our own. We are never to be bitter when evil appears to succeed. Rather we are to pray — and we are not to pray for our enemy’s demise, but we are to pray for our enemy’s benefit.
Here David presents God the Father as the loving parent who seeks out His child, bows His head downward so that His ear is close by, fully able and willing to listen to His baby’s voice. God even hears and fully comprehends His child’s “inward call.”
Alleluia. I loved the Lord; for the Lord shall hear the voice of my prayer. (Alleluia. I love the Lord; for the Lord hath heard the words of my prayer.) For he bowed down his ear to me; and I shall inwardly call him in my days (and I shall call to him in all my days).
What makes an “urgent request” powerful? James says that righteousness makes our prayers effective, i.e. “very powerful.” And what does James define as “righteousness?” He says that righteousness is the direct result of healing. How does James say we are healed? He says that healing comes from confession of sins.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.”
Simply put, don’t go before God the Father in prayer without first confessing your sins. With confession comes His healing, and with His healing comes righteousness, and with righteousness comes power.
“Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.”
Paul doesn’t say “rejoice in affliction.” He doesn’t expect himself or others to revel in misery. Rather he calls us to “rejoice in hope,” in the hope of our salvation primarily but even in our walk with God. He says to us, ‘yes, you have pain here’ but you must be patient as you tread through it, and “be persistent in prayer.”
Prayer is one expression of hope. As we pray, we anticipate a positive answer — and even if the answer is negative, we long for God’s listening ear and the quieting of His voice: “Be still, and know that I Am God.”
If we turn to the left, He whispers. If we turn to the right, He may shout. At least we know He is always with us, “even to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus hears of the murder of John the Baptist, takes a boat and withdraws ‘privately’ to a lonely place. People “come after Him in crowds by land from the towns.” (Matthew 14: 13) We don’t know how long the people wait for Jesus to return, but when He “sees a great crowd; His heart goes out to them.”
What does He do? He doesn’t pray for them. Instead, He heals those who are sick. (Matthew 14:15) Then He sees the people are hungry. Likely they waited for Jesus all day for the disciples complain that “the day is gone.” (Matthew 14:15)
Jesus wants the disciples to feed the crowd. He says, “There is no need for [the people] to go.” (Matthew 14:16) But the disciples don’t have much in the way of provisions. Jesus takes what little they have, and multiplies it — just like that. Everyone has more than enough to eat — even leftovers! Jesus feeds about 10-15 thousand people, given that men, women and children are in the crowd.
Jesus meets needs. He doesn’t stand afar off in the boat, and lift hands to heaven. He comes ashore. He heals the sick. He feeds the hungry. He loves strangers and sinners, men, women and children. He disciplines His disciples. He takes care of Himself, going away ‘privately’ to a lonely place.
Recently I’ve been convicted that prayers need not be long; they only need to be immediate. When a prayer request comes my way, such as: “My child broke his leg; please pray that he won’t be frightened by the doctors when they set it;” my conviction is to pray immediately and quite directly. I pray, “Father God, please help this child. Heal his leg; calm his fear. In Jesus’ Name, amen.”
Or, when I am aware of a need, I find that the time to pray is right then — not later. Sometimes this is hard, taking discernment as some people do not want you to pray for them. A simple, “May I pray for you?” should be sufficient. But, the key is not to go on and on. A straightforward request to God is enough. After all, He already knows the problem, the need, the solution. Jesus says, “When you pray, don’t babble like idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.”
Now I’m not saying it’s wrong to say, “I’m praying for you.” Or, “I’ll keep you in my prayers.” I do think, however, encouragement is given to the one in need if you advance the simple prayer then and there.
And, God gets all the glory as the answer becomes clear to the one for whom you’ve prayed.
I’m sure you’ve been in that situation where you are not certain of what you should say to the other — they’ve lost a child; their marriage is in shambles; they’ve done something horribly wrong and hurt others; they’ve utterly lost their way.
Solomon says, “The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (Proverbs 16: 23-24) He also warns that “without counsel plans fail.” (Proverbs 15: 22)
Often, when uncertain of what to say, learning from others is a wise course of action. “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” (Proverbs 15: 2) Therefore, “whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” (Proverbs 17: 27) Remember, “even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Proverbs 17: 28)
Solomon might say to us that perhaps it’s better not to say anything; rather the best solution is to pray with the person. I don’t mean pray for the person at some later date, but to actually pray with that person at that time. Lay out before the Lord the truth and leave it to Him.
“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans are established.” (Proverbs 16: 3)
“Wait for the Lord; be strong, take courage, and wait for the Lord.”
I can’t think of more comforting and yet challenging words than these. We are reminded that God acts; He is not idle. But the call to wait for the Lord, to be strong and take courage also implies that something difficult, even painful has entered our lives. We are staggering; we are fainting from woe. We can barely eat; we do not know the comfort of sleep. We each cry out, “I am wearied with groaning; all night long my pillow is wet with tears, I soak my bed with weeping. Grief dims my eyes; they are worn out with all my woes.” (Psalm 6: 6-7)
The comfort is that “though [our] fathers and [our] mothers forsake [us], the Lord takes [us] into His care.” (Psalm 27:10) In the Lord, “[we] find refuge.” (Psalm 7: 1) Yet, often we are left feeling abandoned, crying out: “When my prayer comes back unanswered, I walk with head bowed in grief as if for a brother; as one in sorrow for his mother I lay prostrate in mourning… O Lord, how long wilt Thou look on at those who hate me for no reason?” (Psalm 35: 13-14, 17)
We must remain “joyful in hope, patient in affliction” writes Paul. (Romans 12:12, NIV) This joyful hope as we wrestle with pain and a feeling of unanswered prayer is the essence of our faith, our belief in the essential goodness of our God. Without this faith, we are unable to “be strong” or to “take courage.” Without this faith in God’s perfection, we do not “wait for the Lord.”
Know that God is good, that He loves us beyond measure, beyond comprehension. Like the psalmist, we each must say: “But for my part I trust in Thy true love. My heart rejoices, for Thou hast set me free. I sing to the Lord, who grants all my desire.” (Psalm 13:5-6)
“You [O Lord] keep in peace men of constant mind, in peace because they trust in You.”
Daily, we renew our minds through the Word, prayer and the presence of the Holy Spirit. As our minds are changed, our trust grows. As our trust in God blossoms, peace is our fruit.
Jesus tells us that we “are strangers in the world” just as He is. He prays to the Father, “Consecrate them by the truth; Your Word is truth.” (John 17: 16 – 17) Jesus tells us that He gives us His “own peace, such as the world cannot give.” He commands us to “set your troubled hearts at rest, and banish your fears.” (John 14: 27 – 28)
The author of Hebrews calls us “that household of [Christ’s], if only we are fearless and keep our hope high.” (Hebrews 3: 6) We know that perfect love banishes fear, for fear has to do with punishment. If we fear punishment, we do not fully recognize the extent of God’s love of us.
God keeps us in perfect peace because we trust in Him.
“The Lord makes His unfailing love shine forth alike by day and night; His praise on my lips is a prayer to the God of my life.”
God’s love never fails; it shines on us, and from within us, both day and night — twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. God’s love is permanent. His love does not waver, fade, dilly-dally, pout, wander, hurt. His love is pure.
Our praise of Him is our prayer, acceptable to God even as we fail Him. Gratitude is our response. We are grateful for our lives, for His gifts, for His guidance, for our salvation, for His love.
When all else fails us, we know He does not. He is always present, always loving-kind. Open our lips: let us praise the Lord our God.