Archive for March 14th, 2016

(No new sermon this week.)

The big one here is: You must absolutely, positively, never, never, NEVER, under any circumstances, pray for harm to come to anyone.  EVER.

It doesn’t matter what harm that person did, to you or anyone else, it doesn’t matter if they cost you your job, broke your heart, burned your house down, took all your money, it doesn’t even matter if they’re a serial killer who killed every single person you know, you cannot pray for any kind of harm to come to them, and that includes praying that God will take vengeance on them.

It doesn’t matter how angry you are, how upset, how hurt, how betrayed, how sad, how grief-stricken, how outraged, how devastated, how destroyed you are, it is NOT an excuse to violate this rule.

Jesus should be our model here, as in all areas of behavior. The Bible doesn’t go into detail about how he was tortured prior to being crucified, but make no mistake, it WAS torture, of a particularly thorough and gruesome variety. Crucifixion is an especially agonizing forum of slow death even for someone who has not been tortured. What was his response to this treatment? Did he hate those who tortured him, SPIT on him, humiliated him?  Did he plot revenge against them? Did he pray for God to destroy them? NO, what he did was:

Luke 23:34 (KJV)

34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

Forgiveness, for any wrong done to us under any circumstances, is the only choice available for a true Christian.  But we must do more than just forgive:

Luke 6:27-36 (NIV)

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

You’ll notice that Jesus did not provide any exceptions to these rules; that’s because there aren’t any exceptions.  This is the meat and potatoes of being Christians, folks.  This is what God wants and expects of each and every one of us.  If you want God to give you any rewards, in other words to bless you and answer your prayers, this is what you have to do.  

And don’t think that you can circumvent the rules by having a hateful, vengeful attitude, but not actually specifically praying for God to do people harm. God hears every word you say, and every thought inside your head.  If you are wishing that people would come to harm, waiting for them to come to harm, wondering when and how they’re going to come tomorrow, stalking their Facebook pages looking for evidence of harm, angry because they have not yet come to harm… those are all rules violations.

God can’t be fooled by false prayers, either. You can’t pretend to pray for your enemies and expect God to be satisfied with that. You need to take the energy that you’re wasting stewing, brooding, dwelling upon what the evil people in your life have done and put it towards forgiving and loving them… because until you do, God’s blessings are not going to reach you.  

You also need to beware of selfish prayers, such as praying that you get a blessing that comes sooner, or is bigger or better, than somebody else receives…  in other words, that their blessing is later, smaller, or inferior to yours.  Just pray for what you want for yourself, and don’t include anything in the prayer that would effectively mean you winning some sort of blessings competition, if only in your own mind, over somebody else.  Don’t pray that you get a bigger raise, a flashier car, a better-looking romantic partner, or anything else superior to what anyone else has.  The only time that you should be thinking about anyone else’s blessings is when you are praying that they get everything they want, or at least everything that is best for them, with no mention of how it will compare to your own blessings.

It should go without saying that you must not pray to be given something that rightfully belongs to someone else, no matter how much more deserving you think you are, or how much better you would treat whatever it is.  Don’t pray to be given someone else’s job, girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife, part in the school play, whatever. 

There is an indirect way to pray for some of those things that IS acceptable, though.  If you want someone’s job, you can pray that they get the job of their dreams, and that when they leave their current job to take the dream job, their current job goes to you.  It’s a win-win scenario.  See how different that is from wanting to take their job away, leaving them with nothing?  In general, if there’s something better that you can pray for a person to have, it’s ok to pray that you will receive what they currently have after they have abandoned it to get the better thing.  

What if you and one or more people are competing for the same “prize”? If you’re competing with someone for the same wo/man, for example, you can pray that your rival meets the wo/man of their dreams, thus leaving you unobstructed access to the person you want when they go to live happily ever after with that person; notice, again, you’re praying that the person who is in your way is taken out of your way because they’re given something BETTER, not because what they want has been given to you, leaving them with nothing.  

A word of caution where relationships are concerned, however; it’s NOT ok to wish that one half of an existing couple will find someone they like better and break up with their partner, leaving them devastated.  You also don’t want to risk praying for the breakup of a relationship that is mostly happy and functional.  It’s almost impossible to tell from the outside what is REALLY going on in someone else’s romantic relationship, no matter how many Facebook posts or tweets they crank out, or even how much they tell you personally; sometimes, people complain constantly because that’s their personality, NOT because their relationship is bad or failing.  To be on the safe side, no matter how badly you want someone who is currently in a relationship, the most you can rightly do is pray that if that relationship is good, that God will help them make it as good as possible, but, if, IF, it is bad, that He will help them realize that, and gently, caringly, end the romantic relationship as good friends…  and then, when the person you want is emotionally ready, they can be with you.  BUT, if someone you want is MARRIED… don’t even go there. 

Examine your prayer life. If there’s anything that you’ve been praying that falls into any of these problematic categories, STOP praying those prayers. Not cut back, not tone down, STOP.  Make sure that your prayers demonstrate forgiveness and love; you’ll be amazed at how many more of them will get answered that way.

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