In the recent spate of controversies, one of the things I have mentioned trying to do, and which has caused some consternation and disbelief in some quarters, is that which Jesus says to do when we are slandered. He says to rejoice and be exceeding glad (Matt. 5:12). His followers, the Lord says, should receive the abuse, then go around the corner to do a little jig. It is an honor to be dishonored, it is a grace to be disgraced.
So this is odd, but there is an easy and obvious retort that can be made to the occasional Christian who tries it. You are pretending to be so spiritual in this, but sometimes people are disgraced because they are disgraceful, not because they are prophets. Sometimes people are dishonored because they are skuzzbucket vermin, not because they are, as the current phrase goes, Jesus-followers.
And this is actually a reasonable point, which is why the mortification must go deeper than that.
When the flesh is hit, the flesh always wants to hit back. But Jesus teaches us, in the midst of everything else that has to be done, that this basic and fundamental ego-response must be constantly mortified. When someone simply must be answered, answer them, but the sense of necessity must not arise out of the fact that your own personal sense of dignified entitlement was stung. We must always act, never react. We must be faithful, which cannot be simply equated with being retaliatory.
So if all an attacked person did was “rejoice,” for so the prophets were treated before him, there does remain a good possibility that he is simply being delusional. He may have appropriated the God-stamp, and he stamps absolutely all his activities with it. This could be, or so it would seem, the ultimate Jesus-juke.
And so this is why the mortification must go deeper. When Jesus says we are to rejoice when we are cursed, this does seem outrageous. But He is not done. He also says, as plain as it can ever be, that we are to return a blessing to the one who curses. It is not just that the other person curses and we take it in order to translate it as a personal blessing — it is that we must return an actual blessing to the attacker, asking God to keep it as an actual blessing, with no translation into anything else.
This does not mean that there is no role for imprecatory psalms, which we are required both to pray and to sing, but any such prayers must be located within this larger context of mercy and grace. They must be grounded in a full understanding of God’s redemptive intentions for the whole world, and a sincere desire for absolutely everyone to be included in that redemption.
So here it is, in black and white:
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
“Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you” (Luke 6:28).
“Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not” (Romans 12:14).
“Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:9).
And so, with all that said, this is my prayer for all of my adversaries this morning, Lord’s Day, October 4, 2015. There are all sorts of ways for me to screw this up, but despite all that, my genuine desire is that God may pour out His blessings on their heads.
Our Father and God, Father of Jesus Christ, I pray to You in the name of Jesus Christ, looking both to Father and Son for the grace and peace of Your gracious Spirit. Receive this prayer as seeking its answer in the perfections of Jesus Christ. I ask that You receive this prayer, and answer it, because it is offered up in Jesus’ name. Bless my enemies for His sake, I pray. Bless every last one of them, for Jesus’ sake.
Father, I pray first for the victims of every form of ungodly abuse. There are many in our generation who have grown up with angry, distant, or cruel fathers, and who have suffered terribly at their hands. When they react to the first words of the Lord’s Prayer, when the words “Our Father” stick in their throats, I know You understand the anguish they feel, and the depth of their grief. They must have a father, because of how You created the world, and they cannot have a father because of what sin has done to the world and to them. And then Father, when they hear me going on about godly fatherhood, they hear everything I am trying to say in the context of their own histories, and what they attribute to me is understandable. Please bless them regardless, and cover them with Your kindness.
And many times, Father, such children grow up into a different kind of vulnerability, where they become susceptible to others who would use and manipulate them for the sake of their own lusts or projects. Bless them, Father, by delivering them from anyone who would use them. I pray that they would receive the great blessing of being simply loved, and not treated as a means to an end.
You are the God of all healing, and so I pray that You would visit them with the grace of complete healing and deliverance. I pray that You would entirely heal the wounds they have received, however they have received them. I would also ask for many other kindnesses to be bestowed on them, but this would be the central kindness. This would be the thing that would enable them to enjoy anything else. Father, pour out Your Spirit in abundance, and I ask that You would bless them in this way today.
Father, there are others who are just given over to scurrilous and anonymous abuse, and I don’t know where it comes from, where it originated or why. So I pray that You would simply bless these anonymous individuals — You know their names and You know their stories completely — and I pray that it would be true blessing. I pray that whatever You do for them would be a blessing all the way down, down to the soles of their feet. If they do not know You, I pray that You would draw them to Yourself. If they do know You, I pray that You would bless them by bringing them into a closer walk with You. Bless any angry atheists by converting them to You, and bless any unhappy Christians by having Your Spirit untie every knot within them.
I also ask You to bless those who are opposed to me for various other reasons — ecclesiastical politics, doctrinal differences, disagreement with my approach to cultural engagement, and so on — and who see in this present controversy and distress an opportunity to spike my guns. While I would plead with You to not let them near my guns, for the rest of it, I would ask that You pour out on them an abundance of grace — on their churches, on their marriages, on their businesses, on their ministries. I pray that their sleep would be sweet, their marriages graced, their tables rich, their bank accounts full, and their grand-kids cute. I know, Father, how much You have given to me, and I pray that You would give them at least twice as much.
You have taught us, called us, summoned us, to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to rejoice when we are mistreated by them, and to return good for evil. We are not to return evil for evil, but rather to overcome evil with good. I accept this gladly and rejoice in it. I know and understand that this is based on Your holy character and example — we are to treat them as You have treated us. You give rain and sunlight to the righteous and unrighteous both — and so we see this is Your standard of holiness for us, and we gladly submit to it.
I therefore seek the grace to continue to love our enemies, asking You to bless them. Not only would we be saved from their treachery and lies, but we ask that You would save them from their treachery and lies. And for those who are not guilty of such treachery because they do not understand the false position in which they have been placed, or how they are being used, I ask that they would be delivered from that.
But I would not be like the disciples who, caught up in a mistaken zeal, did not know “what spirit they were of.” I ask that nothing would come from me, whether imprecation or blessing, that is self-serving. I ask that if an answer to this prayer would be hindered by knowledge that I was the one who prayed it, I ask that they would go to their graves with these blessings in hand, and without knowing that it had anything to do with me. I would ask nothing from You in this that Your Word does not specifically summon us to ask, and right now I am asking for nothing but blessing. This is Your Word, Your summons, Your call. You are a God who keeps covenant to a thousand generations, and I am simply asking You to keep Your covenant word.
Those who pray to You in order to be seen by men are those who already have their reward, and so I ask that You would receive this as a public prayer of necessity, and not a prideful one.
And last, Father, I know the ramshackle condition of my own heart, and I know that if my adversaries knew about me what You know about me, they could have a real field day. So I do not ask for these things because I am holy, but rather because Jesus is. For the sake of Christ, I want to be content in the same way the apostle was content. “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10, ESV).
I ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us all to do things we are none of us very inclined to do, and amen.