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Praying for Those Who May Be Difficult to Love

By Barbara Rainey

First posted on

Note from Barbara: This is the second of five blog posts on prayer between now and June. (You can read the first here.) I have loved reading old prayers since the days of my mothering when I discovered the prayers of saints like Susanna Wesley. Each blog post will feature one of these prayers from someone now in the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1).

We have much to learn from these saints of old; though some words are not in vogue today they help us see God in ways we don't in our modern world. I hope you enjoy this series!

In this series on prayer I’m taking us back to Easter regularly because it’s there on the cross that we find answers to some of our hardest questions. Like this one: How do I love and pray for someone who is difficult?

This is not abstract for me because I have people in my life who are challenging. And the concept of praying for those who have hurt or wounded or intentionally caused me pain is not easy to do.

On Good Friday, on the cross, Jesus modeled two ways to move past the difficult with prayer and love.

The first was when He was lifted up on the cross and it dropped in place, sending excruciating pain throughout His body. His first words after that moment were these: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

What would you have said while hanging on rough splintered wood? I’m quite confident I wouldn’t first pray and ask God to grant forgiveness. Instead I’d be so absorbed in the pain and shame of that cruel and torturous experience that my eyes would be turned inward, not outward on others.

Jesus was actually practicing what He’d preached in the Sermon on the Mount. He taught those listening to “pray for those who persecute you” and “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:28).

Do you think that, just because this was Jesus, it was easier for Him than us?

One of the lessons in my seminary class this semester was on the person of Christ and His perfectly united dual nature. It means He was fully human and felt exactly what we would have felt. So as He hung on the cross, 100 percent innocent of any wrong, we can assume He felt the desire to withdraw into Himself and not pray.

Desire isn’t sin, but acting on desire in a way contrary to God’s will is. Jesus resisted the desire to hurl an insult or to simply refuse to forgive them. He chose to pray, which was the Father’s will.

Though for us it feels impossible to be kind and pray for someone who has hurt us, we must if we are serious about being Jesus’ disciples. Just as Jesus chose to forgive in prayer, so it is a choice we too can make. And He will help us.

Don’t wait till you feel like praying, do it by faith. As did He.

On the cross Jesus modeled a second way to respond in prayer to difficult people: He showed compassion on the thief hanging next to Him. Jesus willingly looked at someone else who needed His love.

This man had broken God’s laws and man’s laws and he knew he was guilty. Your family member or co-worker may not ever express guilt or regret, but God still calls us to follow Jesus’ example and show love.

I remember days when fights between children at our house would resound down the staircase long before breakfast hit the table. Not a morning person, I struggled to be the adult and respond with compassion and patience, and many times I failed. I needed Jesus myself and in my family. And I still need Him with my people today.