I had a very difficult childhood; from a broken family to difficult school years. Because my family was not stable, I moved something like 13 times before I entered High School. This made me the constant new kid, and because I had a quiet, introverted character this made me bully bait. I could tell many a story about being teased, laughed at, humiliated and beaten by my classmates. To make a long story short, I have an innate fear and dislike for strangers. To this day, I find that my natural reaction is to fear and move away from people I do not know. Yet, I have been a Christian Pastor and missionary for the last 40 years. This has often challenged me to grow and see people from a non-natural perspective.
In adult life now when some person nearly kills me by driving 90 mph and cutting over 3 lanes of traffic, without a signal, and then honks at me for signaling and trying to change lanes, I have a natural tendency to judge them and wish a ticket, and even worse upon them. When this recently happened, I was a bit shocked by how angry I was, and by the imaginations of doing some pretty nasty stuff to this person. I am grateful that I was self-aware enough to bring it to Jesus rather quickly. This connected to a couple more incidents of extreme internal darkness over the rule-breaking people around me. God was showing me a very real contrast He wanted me to learn. As I prayed and asked the Lord to forgive and cleanse me of these dark, internal thoughts and wishes He reminded me of two Scriptures.
First, Jesus gave us this command in Matthew 5, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
The second was Hebrews 12:2 “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
As these truths came to my mind, I saw the dramatic call of God to love these people who are a threat to me. How do I do that Lord? I am filled with such anger at the lawlessness and threats that stand between us. How can I love these people?
I remembered Jesus blessing the thief on the cross next to him. This man had been mocking him a short time before. Now, he was forgiving him and inviting him to heaven with him. In Hebrews chapter 12:2 there is this amazing statement, “For the joy set before Him he endured the cross”. As I thought on this, I asked God what was “the joy set before him”? Immediately I realized it was you, me and the thief hanging next to him. Our God loved us so much that he saw through the veneer of sin and saw the person he loved. Jesus endured the cross with the joy in his heart knowing that His action would save us from our sin and eternal death.
In the same way, I realized that if I can see these people as God sees them, if I can see through the selfish actions and see the person God loves, I can love them too. If I can see these people with the love of God, then I can pray for, forgive and love my enemies, just as Jesus did. Even as they persecute me, threaten me and sin against me, by the love of God I can pray for, forgive and love these people. This is the “love of God” working in me. I need this love so desperately.
Oh, that we would be filled with this love, that surpasses knowledge, that we would have the grace to truly love those around us even as Christ loved. Your world will be very different when you love this way. Jesus fill me, fill us with your love. All glory to you King Jesus!