How to win over enemies and influence persecutors
Responding to people who hurt you, persecute you, mistreat you and spitefully say all kinds of things about you is one of the hardest and most challenging aspects of our faith. It’s difficult because Christ’s ways are so counter to our natural responses and feelings, that they require intentional obedience and grace to obey him in this area. The good news is Jesus said when people mistreat you because you are living for Christ, you are actually blessed. Meaning, it's reason to rejoice and be happy. The Bible tells us when the apostles were persecuted for preaching Jesus, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ. Not all mistreatment comes from preaching Jesus, but if you are living for Christ, you are promised persecutions, so here are 7 steps to walk you through and remind you of how to best respond to enemies.
Why do we try everything before praying? The truth is, this is the most important thing we can do. In explaining prayer in a recent sermon, Pastor Judah Smith asked his congregation, “Do you know how to yell?” The point he was making, was God knows how you feel and you can express yourself to him. He knows your every need and how hard it is to walk through what you’re going through.
When Jesus responded to Peter’s question about how many times we should forgive someone with the response of not seven times but 77 times, I believe he was outlining the process of forgiveness. It’s a process and you may need to keep doing it, every time those feelings surface, over and over again until you’re free. Jesus didn’t ask us to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. He is the one who said on the cross, “Father, forgive them,” after enduring the most painful physical, spiritual, and emotional trauma anyone ever endured. So too we must offer forgiveness to anyone and everyone.
Jesus said to not only pray for our enemies, but also to do good to them, going so far as to meet their basic needs including food and drink. Ask yourself, how could I be a blessing to those who have tried to hurt me? It sounds easier than it is to do this, but once you step out in faith and in obedience, your emotions will follow. Don’t wait to feel like doing this step of faith. Do it and your feelings will come into alignment.
Christ was reviled and he didn’t revile in return, instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. God said vengeance was his and that he would repay for wrongs in a way that brings about redemption and justice. So we have to trust Christ to bring this about in his own timing, as he sees best. This is a big step of faith and trust, because often it won’t be in our exact timeframe of when we were thinking. But he is faithful to take care of you and me.
Many times what bothers people most is the accompanying fear of people rejecting us due to slander. This again tests your faith, trust, and your identity. Are you mostly out to please people or to please your Father? Paul wrote to the Galatians that if he were still trying to please people he would not be a servant of God. Slander will test your heart to see if you, like the Pharisees were, are working for the praise of people, or the praise of God. Remain fearless of people and stay in the fear of the Lord.
When people insult you it reveals more about them than it does you. Once you begin praying for people, God may begin showing you things going on in their own lives, causing people to respond negatively to you. So instead of being angry and bitter, you’ll actually have compassion for those who hurt you so badly.
We serve a God who modeled to us love and forgiveness for enemies. So likewise, we need to stay open to the possibility of reconciliation and restoration of what was lost. Jesus is a restoring God who himself declared he came to destroy the devil’s work and to seek and to save that which was lost. We know God’s will is for abundant life, but the enemy seeks only to steal, kill, and destroy.
How have you responded to those who mistreated you? Did you see God’s plan of redemption for all people at work in your situation?