(A six -minute read)
It was a couple days after the US election. A lot of us were grumbling (always about ‘the other side’ of course). I had a spirited (but respectful) back-and-forth with a friend who is a self-professed Donald Trump hater. He bristled at my idea that he pray for him.
He said, ‘I’ll join you in prayer for millions of traumatized Americans to help us all heal, but Trump is not on the list.’
I suggested to him that if I hate Donald Trump (or any other person for that matter), the hatred is of less consequence than the fact I am willing to allow myself to hate.
When I amass hatreds and resentments and harbor unforgiveness, I only hurt myself. Here’s what I told my friend:
One of the main things Jesus talked about during his time here on earth was how we rid ourselves of unforgiveness and bitterness – things that block us off from receiving God’s grace and peace. Only by doing that can we fully receive God’s forgiveness for our own shortcomings.
Has Donald Trump lied as my friend suggested? Of course he has! So have I! So have you! But there’s grace for that. When we catch ourselves doing it, we turn back to Jesus, say ‘sorry’ and know that we’re forgiven. Then we move on and try again. We don’t prove ourselves through our own actions. We let the Lord guide and correct us. Over time we get better.
As to praying for those we may despise, God was very clear on this. In the Old Testament the rule was ‘If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.’ In the New Testament Jesus said, ‘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…He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.’
The instruction is pretty clear. Pray for your enemies, don’t hate them. And that last bit, about the rain falling both on the righteous (those who love God) and the unrighteous (those who don’t) is a way of pointing out that God loves your enemies as much as He loves you. He wants Donald Trump to follow Him as much as he wants you or me. He plays no favorites. Let’s not forget that to some out there, you and I may be seen as the enemy!
You’ll find a longer discussion of forgiveness between Jesus and the disciples in Matthew 18. Peter asks Jesus how many times he has to forgive someone – seven times? Jesus says ’70 times seven’ (or 77 times, depending on your translation). The point is that Jesus is exaggerating for effect, to say we should always be ready to forgive. Why is this? Three reasons:
1. Because it releases the person who harmed us from any curse laid upon them for their sin.
2. In a practical way, it releases us from bitterness and resentment. It gives us freedom.
3. It sets things right in the spiritual realm.
Think about the Lord’s Prayer, where it says ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ You can’t have one without the other.
That idea of setting things right spiritually may seem murky. Here’s a practical example. If someone robs me and takes my wallet, I’ll certainly file a police report. I want my wallet back and I want justice to be done. But I also pray for the thief and forgive him.
Here’s why: If the thief is caught and I get my wallet back that’s worldly justice and that’s good. But the thief, even if punished, is still a thief. His heart is not transformed. Only God can transform his heart and change him from being a thief. My prayer helps with that.
It’s the same thing that happened all those years ago when I prayed to God to transform my own heart, and he delivered me from a life of drunkenness. Before, I was one way; I was a new way afterwards. It was night and day. So who am I to deny this gift to anyone else?
If I don’t forgive the thief, whoever I perceive him to be, then my lack of forgiveness works against God’s ability to transform the thief’s heart. Prayer has power. We are born into a spiritual battle and live in one all our lives. If we pretend otherwise we are deluding ourselves.
Prayer is one of the most effective weapons we wield on this spiritual battlefield – not to bring down others, but to protect them and ourselves. Also, to release us from the burden of resentment and bitterness we take on as we we attempt to judge others.
Only God knows all the facts and only he knows what is in our hearts: yours, mine and Donald Trump’s for that matter. I’m content to leave any and all judgments up to Him – He’s designed for it. I’m not.
Since this began on a political note, I’ll close on one: In politics, someone wins, someone loses and then life goes on. God remains in charge. ‘He removes kings and sets up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who know understanding.’
And that’s a very reassuring piece of knowledge.
Photo by Salar Farji via Wikimedia Commons