by Kathleen Petersen
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 NET
Western Christians, especially those who live here in the United States, often say “I have never been persecuted for my faith”. Although you may say this is true of you, look closely at Jesus’ words about persecution in Matthew 5:43-48. Observe he did not restrict persecution to faith issues.
Here’s the definition for the Greek word translated “persecute” in this passage.
1) to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away 2) to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after 2a) to press on: figuratively of one who in a race runs swiftly to reach the goal 2b) to pursue (in a hostile manner) 3) in any way whatever to harass, trouble, molest one 3a) to persecute 3b) to be mistreated, suffer persecution on account of something 4) without the idea of hostility, to run after, follow after: someone 5) metaphor, to pursue 5a) to seek after eagerly, earnestly endeavor to acquire
As you study this definition, you may be reminded of a persecution experience you have not yet fully processed or put into perspective the way Jesus prescribed. Perhaps an unidentified resentment has lodged in your heart because you feel a behavior exhibited toward you is one you don’t want to experience again. You may have wisely put up a barrier to further exploitation. It also may be because you have minimized the behavior and said to yourself “it doesn’t matter”.
Here is a challenging story from a young woman who was sexually abused by a family member and later became a victim of human trafficking. Notice the healing she experienced as she prayed for her persecutors. Here is part of her testimony:
I pray for people because God has taught me to give grace to others when I get upset with them. Sometimes the best thing I can do for someone is to pray for them and let God handle the situations that I can not control because he is the one who can change people.
As you read her story, also give attention to the roles that worship music, writing to God* and gratitude played in her transformation.
* “writing to God about my struggles and problems. …allowed me to realize that he was listening to me.…”
While you pray the Lord’s Prayer* today, consider how praying for your persecutors can prompt forgiveness.
* See also Didache 8:2.
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