A Prayer to Love and Forgive One’s Enemy

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.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44-45)

Lord, take my heart in Your hands and shape it to love those who do not love me and even work against me.

Help me not to return wrong with wrong, but to respond to wrong with care, love, prayer, and mercy.

Help me to know what it looks like to turn the other cheek while not enabling ongoing wrong or making it seem like wrong is right.

Give me boldness and discernment to walk as Your child even when my circumstances lead me to forget who I am and cause me to stumble in frustration, grief, and hurt.

What can I do but call to You? You are my God—my Father—and I am Your child—Your disciple.

Lead me in Your way of love and forgiveness that, even in wrong, people may see You in me.

Finding Encouragement within Suffering: a reflection on Hebrews 12

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Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? (Hebrews 12:7)

Be encouraged: God disciplines His children because He loves them. Do not lose heart amidst your suffering. Instead, endure it sustained by the truth that God is lovingly at work even here.

We can fight against our suffering, and it may have some good effect, particularly if we face unjust suffering from external forces. However, fighting against our circumstances is different than fighting against God. We must internally and spiritually submit ourselves to God for training in righteousness, even if we legitimately wrestle with our circumstances.

We could give up in the face of our suffering, simply throwing in the towel by passively surrendering to what is happening. This most often happens when we feel we are powerless to change our circumstances. Still, this powerlessness to outside circumstances is different than our inner spiritual submission to God amidst our circumstances. Even if apparently powerless, we still have power to yield our lives to God so that He might grow us amidst our suffering. Although sometimes powerless to change our situation, God still releases His power in us as we surrender to Him, changing us to become more like Christ.

At other times, we are powerless to change our circumstances but do have power to remove ourselves from those circumstances. This takes great discernment because we must constantly yield to God so that He might have His way in us. Sometimes choosing to change our circumstances is best for our safety or our growth. At other times leaving our circumstances may actually circumvent what God wants to develop in our lives through challenging circumstances or suffering.

In our suffering-averse culture we do well to thoroughly consider whether we are listening more to God than we are listening to ourselves when considering leaving tough circumstances. We do not want to miss out on His best work in our lives. As James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

It isn’t easy to discern when we should choose fight or flight. However, amidst it all we should always choose spiritually to yield to God so that He might have His way in growing us to full maturity in Christ, even through suffering and trials. We will not grow in Christ without facing hardships and challenges. We will not gain wisdom apart from navigating tough and trying experiences which take us beyond what we already know and understand. Still, w will not make our way through these challenges well with Christ if we do not daily remember God’s love for us as a good father even in the midst of suffering.

Run with Discipline: insights on spiritual growth and suffering from Hebrews 12

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Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? (Hebrews 12:7)

this is a radical reframing of the suffering that the believers are enduring. It is not making light of the suffering, but an invitation to see suffering in a different light. What is that light? It is to see suffering in light of belief in God’s trustworthy work as a good Father.

There are two aspects of this perspective on suffering. The first is this: the race of faith requires enduring hardship as discipline.

Now everyone knows that if you want to run well, you have to train. As much as I would love to think that I could simply wake up one morning and run a marathon by simply changing my shoes and outfit, I know that would not work at all. So, the writer says, similar to an athlete who enters into training, we can begin to see our life as not only a race of faith but a training in faith. “Endure hardship,” the writer says, “as discipline.” This is the discipline not only of a good trainer, but of a good Father who is helping to shape faith into our lives so that we can run the race well. It does not mean it is easy, but we all know that, as in athletics, so too in life: no pain – no gain.

“How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!” (Hebrews 12:9)

When we have that perspective on suffering and know that our trainer is also our good Father, we can then, second of all, as it says in verse 9, submit to the goodness of God’s fatherly training.

Now there is a difference between submitting to suffering and submitting to God’s fatherly training amidst suffering. There is a difference between giving ourselves over to suffering—letting it have its way with us—and giving ourselves over to God amidst our suffering—letting Him have His way with us. We still want to name wrong as wrong, injustice as injustice, sin as sin. We are not equating God with suffering. However, there is a difference when we know we are dearly loved children of God. We can trust our Father to apply His goodness to our lives even amidst situations we would never choose.

This is the reality that Paul describes in Romans 8:28, which is never trite, but deeply true that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

And so, in light of who we are as God’s dearly loved children, let us run the race of faith with discipline!

The Transcendent Gift of Adoption in Christ

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14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:14-17)

Thank You, Father, for the gift of Your Holy Spirit which we have received through faith in Christ. I could not buy or earn this favor, but must receive it from You as a presented gift. I do not take it lightly. Thank You that the Holy Spirit makes us children, not slaves, and brings us boldly and lovingly into Your family. We can call out, “Abba, Father!”, by the Spirit and know that we belong and will be heard.

What dramatic sort of gift is this, Lord? How could it be that any who come by faith through Christ might receive the immeasurable gifts of belonging, sonship, and being able to call on You? All of these gifts are beyond value. Many things that we live our lives for and strive endlessly after still outpace our wild grasping or earning, but here with You it is sheer attainable gift! What else can we say but “thank You”? Thank You for the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit who speaks of our adoption, confirming within what we are told is true through Your Word. Thank You that we are heirs of Your full kingdom as we become children—even co-heirs with Christ—as we share in both the suffering and the glory of discipleship. As Peter writes, this is “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade…kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). Thank You!

And so, Father, with never-ending praise and gratitude we step into this day as children of God, heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ, those who have received the Spirit, and we yield and surrender ourselves to You again. Let us enter into the fellowship of Your suffering that we might also enter into the fellowship of Your glory. Let us deny ourselves that we might find You, and also find ourselves in the journey. Today, Lord, we are Yours.

Three Ways God Uses Suffering in Our Lives

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We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

The sufferings we endure are not meaningless within the hands of God. This is true regardless of whether we have brought the suffering upon ourselves or whether it has come upon us through the hands of others or our environment. When we put ourselves in the hands of God by faith, our sufferings are invested with another purpose. As the Apostle Paul outlines here in Romans 5, God takes us in the midst of our sufferings and shapes something valuable into our lives.

First, Paul writes, God shapes perseverance into our lives. This is the capacity to keep going, even in the midst of adverse circumstances. Perseverance does not just magically appear in our lives. It is something that we must develop, like a runner suffering through training until she can run a full marathon. While none of us desire suffering, when we submit our suffering to God we free Him to develop perseverance into our lives. Without perseverance, nothing else will come because we will continually push against our circumstances and against God. But as we grow in perseverance, God can have His way in developing us for His glorious purposes.

Along with perseverance, Paul tells us, God uses our sufferings to shape character into our lives. Character is not an abstract gift from God—just an idea about virtue—but is something tangibly confirmed in our lives through the furnace of our trials. If you want character without suffering, you are looking for something else; perhaps a good reputation. If you want character without perseverance, you really want something else; perhaps informational knowledge of what character is. But if we really want character, there is no other way than through the furnace of suffering. Character is developed through trying and testing, like a precious metal refined in the fire as the dross is burned away to reveal its highest quality. Our character is developed and revealed through the fires of suffering combined with our willingness to persevere.

Third, Paul tells us that hope follows character and perseverance when our suffering is given into the hands of God. Hope arises as we persevere amidst the fires of suffering in which character is shaped. Without hope we give up in life, as we know from those who lose a will to live in dire health circumstances or imprisonment. But with hope, we can find meaning in life and keep going. It is by clinging to God by faith amidst suffering that we begin to see that God is indeed doing something else as we bear up in the challenges of life. Contrary to what we perceive with our eyes, God is at work, and this revelation that God is at work brings hope into our lives. We walk by faith and not by sight, as Paul writes elsewhere (2 Corinthians 5:7), but it is hope that keeps us walking. When we yield our sufferings to God, letting Him shape Christlike character in us, hope simultaneously springs up as we realize God has not left us alone and is working in our lives.

All of this meaningful work of God amidst suffering is sustained not by sheer human willpower (although the will is significant), but by the Holy Spirit who is the bond of love tying us into the presence of God through Christ. God is at work, completing what He begins in us (Philippians 1:6). God is working within us with the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). And so, even as Christ’s suffering was powerful significant, so, too, when we yield our sufferings to God they bring forth a harvest of righteousness for His glory.