My counseling work continues to challenge and shape me in my understanding and expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Entering into the hearts and minds of those who have been broken, grieved, and rejected inevitably becomes a mirror into my own heart and mind, challenging my beliefs and my own reactions to evil and suffering.
Recently, I received an email from one of my clients, a teenage girl, who was six months into her healing process from sexual abuse of a trusted mentor. She wrote: So I started reading Luke and in chapter 6 it says in verse 27 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. And so this being God’s command and I wanting to be faithful to him ask how do I pray for my abuser??
I was humbled and challenged by this question and how it reflected her bold, radical desire to receive counsel and pursue obedience, amidst a painful, dark reality of being sexually abused by one she trusted, and one who deceived and manipulated her trusting vulnerability. She leaves all of us with an important question. How DO we pray for those who have mistreated us? How do we follow God’s command amidst experiences of injustice and our own emotional pain?
I first challenged her to search the Psalms and David’s example. David was quite articulate as he prayed for his enemies. Some of his prayers seem rather harsh and could be perceived as wanting to inflict revenge on those who had mistreated him or were threatening his life. However, a consistent theme reflects prayers of protection and prayer for justice. He trusted God’s character and promises. “But you, O Lord are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head….Arise, O Lord! Save me, O My God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; You break the teeth of the wicked…Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you…But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;…and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.” (Psalm 3:3, 7; 5: 10, 11) David models prayers for protection and justice.
Nehemiah also sets an example for how he prayed for his enemies. Several times we hear him pray “Remember me, Lord…” (Nehemiah 5:14; 13:14, 25) In response to opposition of his mission and work, he prayed “Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger…” (Nehemiah 4:4, 5) Again, Nehemiah models an instinctual response of prayer for justice, with an emphasis on his own heart response and faithfulness to God. Remember me, Lord, by bringing justice and remember that I have remained faithful and obedient to you in the midst of this hostility.
Finally, how did Jesus pray for His enemies? Enemies, which rejected Him, betrayed Him, denied His power and authority and hung Him to a cross? Enemies, which included us? As he hung in pain, bearing the shame and punishment of the sin of those who will trust in Him, He prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Jesus radically and passionately prayed that his enemies would be forgiven.
The Scriptures provide a few options for how to pray for her abuser. Prayer for justice, prayer for her own response of obedience, and prayer for repentance–that her enemy would be broken by his sin and that it would bring him to a place of repentance before His Creator. These bold, radical prayers can only be motivated and enabled by the One who hung from the cross and was then resurrected to new life, breaking the power of sin and death. “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” Romans 5:10