By Chuck Lawless
The National Day of Prayer falls on May 2 this year, and the theme is “Love One Another.” It’s based on Jesus’ words in John 13:34, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you.” This year’s national call to prayer is a call for Christians to show their faith in Jesus by their loving prayer for one another.
One of the most loving things we can do for others is to pray for them. Something happens within us when we get on our knees, take others to the Lord, and ask God to bless them. This kind of praying takes our attention off ourselves and puts it on God and others. It turns us outward, a posture necessary for loving others and for doing the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
It’s not always easy, though, to love and pray for others. Sometimes other people can wound us so deeply that thinking anything positive about them is not easy. We find ourselves caught at a crossroads—knowing we need to pray, but not wanting to do it.
Further, this kind of tension often happens within a body of believers—a local church. And church leaders certainly aren’t immune to feeling mistreated. Here are several ways to encourage people under your leadership (and yourself) to pray for those with whom they may be at odds or who have wronged them.
1. Accept Jesus’ words as still perfect and relevant.
Here’s what He taught His disciples: “Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28, emphasis added).
Interceding for those who hurt us reveals more about our hearts than about others’; it shows we want to be merciful even as God is merciful (Luke 6:36). It also shows we want to be like Jesus, who prayed for those who were murdering Him (Luke 23:34).
2. Remember God’s grace to you.
Many of us are who we are today because somebody prayed for us in the past. Some of us, in fact, are recipients of the prayers of others we hurt or offended.
In any case, all of us belong to the people of God only because God loved us and sent His Son to die for us “while we were still helpless” (Romans 5:6). How can recipients of grace not also offer such grace to others through prayer?
3. See intercession as an incredible privilege.
Think about it this way: You have an opportunity to talk to the eternal Creator on behalf of another person, and you may be the only one praying for that person today.
It might be that God chooses to respond to your feeble, struggling words by changing somebody else’s heart. He might use your prayers to work a miracle in the life of someone who mistreated you.
4. Ask God to show you any “beams of wood” in your own eye (Matthew 7:3).
If we’re honest, sometimes we don’t want to pray for others because we’re not sure we want God to reach and bless somebody who hurt us.
We’re almost like Jonah, fearing to pray as God demands because we know He’s a loving, seeking, forgiving God (Jonah 4:1-2). In other cases, we don’t pray because we know we’ve been part of the problem—and it’s tough to pray in general when we know we need to seek forgiveness, too.
Deal with your own beam even as you pray for others.
5. Admit your feelings to God.
Don’t run from prayer, as if doing so would somehow allow you to avoid the issues at hand. The Lord is big enough to hear your honest feelings—all of them.
Confess your hurt. Admit your anger. Talk about your difficulty in praying. Ask God for His help in praying for that person. This kind of candid praying can break your heart on behalf of those who’ve hurt you.
6. Pray that those who hurt you would know God personally and follow Him as His disciple.
You might be praying for a non-believer who doesn’t know how to love, a believer who’s never been discipled, or a believer whose chaotic life resulted in ungodly actions toward you.
You might even be praying for brother or sister in Christ who’s still just mean, and they need to repent. In any case, your prayer must be that those who wounded you would follow God so closely that their hearts would be changed.
7. Pray that God would be glorified and the gospel would be proclaimed through your situation.
That prayer would mean not only that your forgiveness toward others would be evident, but also that those who need to admit and repent of wrong actions would do so.
It’s not a prayer than ignores sinful actions; instead, it stands for righteousness even as it intercedes for mercy. It does mean, though, that we would pray for others with no sense of sinful pleasure or glee in someone else admitting his or her wrong.
8. Don’t stop praying until your heart and the hearts of those for whom you’re praying are right with God.
Forgiving others and praying lovingly for them aren’t always easy tasks, and seldom do we accomplish them overnight. Often, God slowly melts our hearts as we choose to continue to pray for others even when we’re close to giving up on the situation.
Patience and persistence bring transformation in us, and that transformation keeps us on our knees on behalf of those who mistreat us.
If you or others you lead find themselves at this kind of crossroad, don’t take the wrong turn away from prayer. Turn to God, seek His face, experience His love, and show that love in turn to someone else by praying for him or her.
Let this crossroad become a place of growth for you.
Chuck serves as Vice President for Spiritual Formation and Dean of Doctoral Studies at Southeastern Seminary. Read more for him at ChuckLawless.com