Jesus said, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt 5:44). We all know this verse but actually doing this or even knowing someone who regularly prays for their enemies is quite another matter.
Several years ago I was experiencing one of the most difficult times of my ministry. Some people were causing great harm to the church I pastored. As the pastor, my hurt was deep. Most pastors know the pain that comes from watching people we love turn and begin to attack us and do things that harm or even destroy the flock. It can cause anger, bitterness, depression, and even cynicism in the heart of the most dedicated of shepherds.
As I was leaving a meeting during this time, Dr. Patterson approached me. I was not aware he knew of my painful situation. His words helped me immensely. Not by psychologizing my plight or a pep talk of clichés, but rather he spoke directly from the Scripture. How he advised me to handle this situation were some of the most difficult words I could have heard.
He told me to pray for my enemies. He encouraged me to get down on my knees and pray for them before our heavenly Father. He said God might work in their lives and bless them. He told me this was his practice. He said there is a level of intimacy with our Lord Jesus one experiences while on his knees praying for his enemies, persecutors, and those who want to destroy him, an intimacy that cannot be experienced without following Jesus and praying for the very ones who seek our destruction.
Though I well knew the Scripture Dr. Patterson was referencing, his admonition helped me see it more practically and personally. For I knew, as leader of the resurgence, Dr. Patterson had many enemies. I knew he personally felt the human emotions that come with even contemplating such an act, and how one must die to self to seriously enter into such communion with our Lord. Knowing he had done this many times helped me have the faith and humility I needed to pray for people who hated me, for those who hurt my family and the church I love.
I am so grateful for his counsel and example of praying for those who seek to destroy us. I have experienced this intimacy with Christ on many occasions, and I have counseled others to handle their detractors in the same manner. I desire to be faithful in praying for loved ones and those with whom I have fellowship, but none so much as those who seek to harm me. Even as I write this article, God has brought some to mind who have done me harm; thankfully, by only his grace, I prayed for them.
Jesus commanded us to pray for them, and he practiced what he taught when he prayed for the lost (John 17:21) and his enemies at the cross. “‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.” (Luke 23:34).
May our Lord give you the strength to do the right thing in the right spirit. May he lead you to your knees to pray for the very ones who seek to hurt you, fire you, or malign your character. May you know Jesus in this dying-to-self-act. May this experience be repeated in your life and leave you forever changed as it has changed me.