God absolutely delights in using His Word to chisel away at our hardness. It amazes me that whenever I am facing a perceived trial that the words of scripture seem to leap more boldly from pages.
I have recently been put into a position where I will be dealing with some abrasive people. You don’t need me to tell you that some people are characterized by rudeness and even hostility. We all encounter them from time to time. To be around miserable and nasty personalities is not something I ever asked for, but it’s where I am right now. The condescending treatment, the harsh attitudes, the abusive speech… who needs that kind of stress?! Wouldn’t it be great to just coast through my days without having to encounter people like this?
So then there’s God’s impeccable timing: in my reading and meditating time just a few days ago, I came to the section in Matthew 5:43-48… a familiar passage in the Sermon on the Mount:
“I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
"If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”
“If you greet only your brothers what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
Jesus’s commands in this passage tore through my heart like a tornado in trailer court. Now it’s not like I’ve ever been persecuted to the point of having my eyes gouged out or my fingers cut off. I have never been in fear for my life by hostile people. But loving someone who is nasty is just not something that lands at the top of my Christian to-do list. This group of verses, at least from my perspective, is some of the hardest of the Lord’s expectations of us. Jesus says to love them. "Seriously?! You want me to actually ‘love’ them?" And not some passive sort of ‘like’ or ‘tolerance’. This love He’s talking about is a self-sacrificing, warm, caring love and concern directed toward the one that I would consider my enemy. And it’s not a suggestion or recommendation. This is a command from Jesus Himself. A strong imperative! That is sooooo totally antithetical to every fleshly cell in my body. With every ounce of strength in my being, I want to do the opposite. "Can’t I just defend my honor and be snarky and sarcastic? I have dignity, you know! Nobody is going to treat me like that!”
But instead, in this greatest sermon ever preached, Jesus says I am to love my enemies the way God loves them. He extends His kindness to everyone by giving sunshine and rain to the righteous and to the evil at the same time. Why? Because He loves them.
It is the way of Jesus that His followers would be distinct… and it is our love for our enemies that makes us distinct. Who does such a thing? While everyone else may respond harshly to abrasiveness, true believers will be the ones who respond with love. And not only that, but we will be the ones wearing out the knees in our favorite jeans, on the floor in serious prayer.
As I thought through these verses in a new and fresh way, the twisted metal of my hard-heartedness toward those who need Christ lie piled up in a heap as I asked God for strength to make me a brighter light in the darkness. May the Lord forgive my negligence in praying for these people and give me a renewed vigor to beseech Him on their behalf. As committed believers and as a church, may these soul-and-spirit-piercing passages awaken us all from our slumber to be in fervent prayer for those in need of salvation. Prayer changes us. When the content of our prayers relates to how we respond to the haters, God will implant within us a capacity to love those who are difficult to love. Genuine love has a way of building a strong platform from where we will be heard. From an earthly standpoint, effectively sharing the gospel depends on this (speaking the truth in love). Nobody ever said that loving difficult people was going to be easy… but God has given us His Spirit… and His Spirit gives us the strength to do hard things.
May God grant you many blessings,