Have you prayed for those you hate?

There’s plenty of hate in the air these days.

We can feel the hate pulsating through social media; we watch front row as people struggle with fickle friends, nasty bosses, and difficult situations. We cringe as love turns into hate within marriages gone sour. Hate for what we are experiencing, hate for what’s been done, hate for what might happen. And hate towards those who are, or seem to be, responsible for it all.

In the conversations I have, people often feel a tension between justification for their feelings of deep pain and loathing and acknowledgement that fostering bitterness will only hurt them and others. We feed the hate, yet fear its toxicity.

So what is the way forward? How do you move away from hatred and towards peace?

Before we even get to truth and reconciliation, before we can even begin to touch on justice and mercy, before we can openly question or determine our actions, we must pray. We pray for those we hate.

Prayer is the only way we can begin moving from hatred to wholeness, because it is only in conversation with our Father that we will be able to see others–even those who’ve hurt us terribly–as people for whom Jesus died.  Knowing people are loved by God does not, for a moment, deny any sin or injustice or betrayal committed by that person; but it does change the terms of our engagement. It does change the way I think and talk about them. It does change the way I may confront them.

Through prayer, we allow the Father to “search” and “know” our hearts, to “see if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24) And, if we are open, the Father will root out those “offensive ways” and lead us into true life. Instructively, this prayer of self-examination follows a jarringly frank admission of hatred from the Psalmist (v 21-22), where the singer molds hatred for God’s enemies into a song of praise.  And yet, as people who’ve received the rest of the story, we know how God ultimately treats his enemies–he comes as a man to rescue and redeem, to transform his enemies into his beloved children. (Romans 5:8)  In God’s heart, he sees any “enemy” through the eyes of self-giving, sacrificial love. That is why Jesus told us: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44) Our Father loves even his enemies. 

love-your-enemiesIt is as we are in conversation with this enemy-loving Father that we find our own hearts transformed. As we pray for our enemies, we begin to see them as the Father does–men and women in need of forgiveness and grace.  As we pray for their transformation, for their repentance, for justice and for mercy, we will begin to think of them differently than before. As we ask the Father to reveal to us his desire for them, we will begin to pray for them as we pray for ourselves, that the Father would root out “any offensive way” in them, so that he can “lead them in the way everlasting.”

As we pray, we will find our hearts more aligned with the Father’s heart, because we will begin to see through his eyes and actions the goal of turning enemies into friends, and friends into children of God.

The more we pray for those we hate, the less hate we’ll have to share. And not only will that lead us toward greater peace personally, but it will motivate us to lovingly confront our enemies as Jesus called us to, not seeking revenge for our hurt, but seeking transformation for their lives.

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