Today is Monday, March 9. We’ve been walking through our Lent journey for almost two weeks now. My name is Gina, and I’ll be sharing the scripture reading, reflection, and prayer time with you today.
Theme: A life of generosity
Scripture: Luke 6:27–38
When I was in public school, for several years a group of girls bullied me. If a teacher or another adult wasn’t within hearing distance, they took every opportunity to isolate me so they could mock my clothes, my hair and my mannerisms, humiliating me in front of as many other students as possible.
I was terrified of these girls, and felt powerless to change the situation or to get the upper hand.
One day, my dad suggested, “Why don’t you try praying for them?”
I remembered, then, reading in the Bible I was supposed to love my enemies. So I started praying for them every day.
At first, I did this grudgingly. Obviously I did not want good things to happen to them. I wanted them to suffer for the way they made me suffer every day at school.
But something interesting happened. The more I prayed for these popular cheerleaders, who seemed to have everything from money to beauty to opportunity, the more I actually felt sorry for them. I noticed ways they were poorer than me. Listening to their conversations, I realized some of their parents had divorced, and they were being neglected by the parent they lived with. Others had unstable home lives. Some were entirely too spoiled by the wealth and attention of their parents, and they lacked gratitude and joy for the abundance they were given.
Worse still, none of them knew God like I did.
The more I prayed, the more compassion God gave me for my enemies. It became easy to forgive them for the ways they intentionally tried to hurt and crush me.
Even more so, I found myself doing kind things for them in return. If one dropped a pen on the floor, I picked it up and gave it back to her. One day, I even plucked up the courage to invite another to church with me.
My bullies were confounded. They did not know what to do when I was nice to them after they put gum in my hair or mocked my clothes in front of the class. They became confused, uncertain and even embarrassed. Gradually, the bullying stopped.
Putting a stop to the bullying had not been my goal. What I had sought through prayer was understanding and forgiveness. My growing compassion had the unintended consequence of catalyzing a change in our relationship.
This doesn’t work every time. Jesus loved his enemies and in return they murdered him. Many Christians’ last words as they are being killed is for God to forgive those who are killing them. The objective of loving our enemies is not primarily to escape their malicious actions. It’s something more important: It’s about releasing God’s power to transform us and flow through us to others.
When I prayed for the mean girls at my school, I learned that praying God’s love and blessings for someone, even when I didn’t want to, allowed God to work a transformation in me. He replaced my powerlessness, my anger, my anxiety and sadness – feelings that were all focused inward on myself – with peace, compassion, joy and power over my own response to the situation.
Some might read today’s passage as giving our enemies the license to continue abusing us. But when I prayed for my enemies, and allowed God to plant compassion and forgiveness in me, God replaced my helplessness with His power to stand against the abuse with His love. He showed me that love is more powerful than fear. As I developed compassion and forgiveness, I think I began to exude a strength and confidence I hadn’t had before. My changed attitude sent the message that they could no longer abuse me.
Contrary to what the world believes, God’s forgiveness and compassion strengthens us, empowers us. It doesn’t make us weaker.
The ways of the world are to love those who love us, and to disregard or even hate those who hate us. That’s the easy way. Anyone can do that, as implied in today’s passage. But God’s ways are not the ways of our world. His kingdom requires more from us, but it gives us so much more in return.
As Jesus said in today’s reading, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? …. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
When we live by these rules, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We extend to others the lavish generosity that God has extended to us. And sometimes, by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, others are transformed, too. Many times our unconditionally loving witness does bring people to relationship with Jesus.
Let us extend the same mercy and forgiveness to our enemies that our God has extended to us. For as Romans 5:10 says, we were once God’s enemies. As Jesus concluded this passage, “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
- Is there someone in my life who I simply don’t like and try to avoid, or someone who is even my enemy, trying to hurt me in some way? Commit today to begin praying God’s love and blessings for that person or people every day, and ask for God’s compassion and forgiveness to work in your own heart.
- What is my posture toward others, generally? Am I lavish and generous in my kindness, understanding and compassion? Or am I a bit miserly, being quick to judge and criticize, and to dismiss those who annoy me? Ask God to cultivate a generous spirit in me toward others.
- What is one act of kindness I can extend toward an enemy or someone I’ve experienced broken relationship with this week?
Getting along with other people is one of the hardest things you ask us to do in this life. Our fallen human nature wants to hurt people who have hurt us, or to just dispose of the relationship and walk away. We try to avoid people who annoy us. We may even wish punishment or justice to those who harm us.
Yet, that is not how you want us to live and who you want us to be as citizens of your kingdom. You ask us to trust you for justice, and in our own hearts to extend Christlike compassion and forgiveness to others.
Father, plant in us the seeds of a lavishly generous spirit to others. Give us the strength and wisdom to lovingly oppose abusive or hurtful behaviors toward us. Fill us with compassion and understanding, so that we can see how it is that hurting people tend to hurt others. Transform us, and through us, transform those around us who are hard to get along with, or whom we even consider to be our enemies.
Teach us to love others as you have loved us.
We pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.
Today’s additional scripture readings are found in:
Watch the video story of a man in India who made his family’s life so difficult that they didn’t even like him. But a change began when his wife prayed and fasted for him.