The news of the past few weeks has been dominated by...
Innocent lives lost.
All over the world, people are being oppressed and persecuted and killed but our eyes have been turned to the conflict that has brought a theater of suffering to Gaza. To Israel. To Palestinians, Israelis, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Children, Parents, Grandparents, and all creation under God's sun.
Much of it has been brought about by terrorists - committed to violence without consideration of human life for the sake of an ideal.
I have seen the social media calls to pray for those persecuted and oppressed, suffering victims whose only crime was standing in the middle of a war zone because they were born there. Because they work there. Because their family and home are there.
It's easy to pray for victims, likely because we've all been victims. We see a long evil mustache painted on every terror-lobbing being we create in our mind to make sense of what we see on the news. We don't see a name, or a person, but a demon and one that wounds the helpless. So we pray for the helpless because our guts ache, like Jesus, for the helpless.
But do we pray for terrorists?
Think for a moment - we are praying for victims, and our prayers are reactive. We are asking God to intervene after the fact of the pain. Not a bad idea, and well worth our breath and time, but what about praying for terrorists NOW? Before the pain descends?
Jesus teaches us "...love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:44-45, NIV)
Pray for your enemies. Those who persecute. Those who execute suicide bombings. Those who torture, maim, kill and destroy.
Please don't hear me minimizing the pain of those who are in the midst of the suffering, and yes there is some elitism in sitting halfway around the world in my air conditioned office space, speaking about violence that has no impact on my plans for getting to work, coming home, or mowing my grass in my quiet suburb. I get it.
Yet is it possible that the simple act of praying for distributors of terror a world away has an impact not only on that terror but on the state of my own soul? What has to happen in me to be able to pray for ethnic or religious terrorists a world away?
Or, to pray for gang members and sex traffickers in my backyard?
What has to happen for me to honestly and authentically present them to God and ask that their hearts be changed?
You see, we can identify our enemies fairly easily. The horror-treading examples aside, an enemy is anyone whom when we think of them we desire their failure.
Take a moment. Who did you just think of?
A business competitor. A neighbor. An ex-spouse. A c0-worker. A person of a certain economic class or ethnicity. A person whose religious beliefs are different from yours.
They are our enemy. Jesus calls us to love them, pray for them. Honestly and truthfully, not through clenched teeth or because we have to, but because it is a better way to live than hating them. "Love your enemies" is not a commandment as much as an invitation to a way of life that is much more revolutionary. More life giving. Less life robbing.
Understand, we don't pray for them to succeed. We pray for them to be changed. Too often we think "If I pray for them then they will succeed at what they're doing. I want them to fail."
This is the most often misunderstood part of the book of Jonah in the Bible. Jonah isn't upset because God wants to save the Ninevites. Jonah is upset because the Ninevites are Assyrians, and the Assyrians were persecuting and oppressing the Israelites at the time.
If God saved them, they wouldn't get the punishment they deserved. They wouldn't get decimated by God. Don't save them, because it's bad for (me) Israel.
God has to gently explain to Jonah that his way of seeing the world is too limited. There is life in Nineveh - children, Jonah, for God's sake there were little children - are they not worth it? Don't you think I can do this right?
Terrorists are the children of mothers and fathers who ache for their kids. They are fathers, cousins, sons and daughters. They have likes and dislikes, a distinct laugh reserved for when they are truly tickled. Are they not worth changing? Do we not believe God can do this right?
God loves them - whoever our "them" may be - in the exact same measure and with the exact same radical movement that He loves me. Period.
So, as I drove to work in my safe car on safe streets through my safe neighborhood, I prayed for terrorists. Not because I love them yet, not because I completely understand them and not because I minimize the pain of the suffering.
I prayed because I really want to see them as God does. I want to be the kind of person who can love his enemies, and I realize that begins with prayer.
And also because I know that I am someone else's enemy. Someone on this earth, somewhere, wants me to fail. And I pray God teaches them to love me too, and that I'd be loving in return.
If we want to see the world change, we have to change the way we see the world. Through the lens of the God who spares Ninevites, against our express desire.
Find your enemy today. Pray for them, not that they would succeed but that they would change.