Today’s blog is written by Jonathan Stagno from Lake Forest, California. Jonathan’s heart is on fire for God who is using him mightily in the area of prayer and intercession. He is a senior advisor to the Love God Fear Nothing Ministry. I know you’ll be blessed by his writing. Follow Jonathan at https://twitter.com/JonathanStagno. MARK AFFLECK
How To Love Your Enemies
By Jonathan Stagno
When it comes to suffering, there are those who endure suffering and those who inflict suffering.
Many people around the world witness or experience untold suffering that presents itself in myriad shapes and forms—physical, mental, sexual, relational, and spiritual…to name just a few. Maybe you can identify with one or more of these. If not, perhaps you may know someone who has been abusive in some way or has suffered in some capacity. Either way, you’re not alone. All of us can relate to suffering in one way or another.
Like many other people, I recently stumbled across one of the many tragic social media postings floating in the internet clouds. I will spare you the details of this gruesome tale of suffering, but I can tell you that merely reading about this atrocity struck in such a powerful way that it messed me up emotionally for days. And I wasn’t even the victim!
The human compassion I felt toward this issue was fueled by intense anger. It was all I could think about. I was trembling with angst over this suffering and repeatedly pleaded with the Lord to put an end to it and all the other pain, too. Yes, I was angry. Infuriated, really, over WHY would God allow such atrocities to take place. Is he not supposed to be the great protector?
The truth is, many have tried to answer this question and others like it. I am not convinced that we will understand completely, this side of heaven, the answers to any of these questions. Our perspective is so narrowly focused through the faulty lens of the physical and spiritual limitations in our current human state that we can’t fully comprehend God’s heavenly perspective.
So where does that leave us?
After a few days of pleading, God spoke these words to me, ever-so softly: “I want YOU to pray for those who are suffering AND for those who inflict suffering on others.” What? Are you kidding me? The second part of that was a hard pill to swallow. Honest. I wanted to take my justifiable anger out on the people who committed this atrocity, and give them a taste of their own medicine. In that moment, I certainly did NOT want to pray for the very people who inflicted this atrocity on an innocent victim…I know, not exactly a Christ-like attitude!
Nonetheless, at this point God left me with a very important decision to make and truth to consider. Would I listen to my anger and emotions or would I listen to him? Would I continue pounding on the gates of heaven seeking answers or would I trust in the wisdom and providence of an omnipotent God? Would I continue to allow my heartache to drive me further into a downward spiral or would I allow God to use this situation in my life by bringing it to my attention and make it a part of my life purpose?
Would I stay rolled up in a ball of frustration, or would I offer up the much-needed prayer for others, and be a spiritual voice for those who have none?
An interesting set of choices and truths to consider, indeed!
After wrestling with the Lord’s response to my pleading, I finally came to grips with the notion that God would rather have me focus on how I RESPOND to the suffering in this world rather than pursue the discourse and answers to the “why?” question.
In fact, Jesus himself gives us several examples regarding how he would have us respond to persecution and other forms of suffering. In Luke 6:28, Jesus says to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Again, in Mathew 5:44-46, Jesus has a similar directive where he says “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” He further illustrates his point by stating that “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”
Wow. He wants us love and pray for our enemies?
Jesus leads by example, giving us the greatest example of all in how he would have us respond to persecution and suffering. In Luke 23:34, we see that on the cross during his crucifixion, Jesus defies all logical responses to suffering by crying out “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
We all know the incomprehensible physical suffering that Jesus endured paying the penalty for our sins. It was a suffering so great that only the Son of God had the capacity to bear it. And despite all of the circumstances, Jesus responded in love toward the very people who had just drove spikes through his hands and feet, mocked him, shamed him, and hung him naked and beaten on a tree.
Let me be very clear. God is in no way declaring that we need to remain in abusive situations and suffer. Never. What he is saying, however, is that our higher calling as followers of Jesus Christ is to CHOOSE love and forgiveness over lasting anger, bitterness, resentment, and retribution. Romans 12:19 shows us God’s position on the topic of “getting even” where he says: “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God.”
God is fully aware of the suffering and abuse that takes place in this world. God understands suffering. He understands OUR suffering. And He wants to comfort us IN our suffering.
2 Corinthians 1:4 says that God “comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us…”
THE HARD PART
Who do you know that is suffering? Do you comfort and pray for them? Who might you know that inflicts suffering or abuse? Do you pray for them as well? God wants us to pray for those who are hurting. But he also wants us to pray for our enemies. Yes. Even our enemies. That is how we love our enemies. We pray for them. Hard to do. But, there is healing in it. Believe me. It healed me.