“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.”
In his book, “Life Together,” Christian martyr and Minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that “a Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.” Truer words were perhaps never spoken.
I have seen quite a few bumper stickers and facebook postings lately that include the reminder to “be nicer than necessary for everyone that you know is fighting some kind of battle.” Great advice. You know, the truth is that most people (even when they behave poorly) are not evil. In truth, it is a natural human tendency to excuse our own rude behavior as a byproduct of some unfortunate external life circumstance with which we are dealing, while at the same time making negative assumptions about the motivation of another. In fact, sociologists have long known that in the absence of information, humans (regardless of culture) will make negative assumptions about 80% of the time. This means, of course, that when someone else treats you poorly and you are unaware of the circumstances that prompted their behavior, you are about 80% likely to make negative assumptions.
Perhaps this normal tendency is the very reason that Bonhoeffer’s advice is so important for us today. I have no doubt that you have borne the brunt of someone else’s hurtful behavior, probably more than once and certainly in a way that would justify your own hurt and anger in response. That said, there is something powerful that happens when we pray for those who have persecuted us. Sometimes, in the midst of those prayers, God opens the eyes of our spirit to the life of someone else who like us, is fighting some kind of battle and has failed to handle it in the best way possible.
Though it may be difficult, I would encourage you to spend some time this week interceding for someone who has treated you poorly in the past. If you do, you may just experience a very special kind of healing that only God can provide.