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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bringing out the best

 "To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person."
(Luke 6:27 The Message)

Okay, am I really alone here, or do others have a hard time really praying for their enemies?  That whole thing about loving your enemies is a kind of ethereal idea to most of us.  As a matter of fact, it is the furthest thing from our minds when we feel them breathing down our throats, giving us a hard time, or gossiping behind our backs!  But....

God's Word is explicitly clear - if we are ready to hear the truth, that is.  Love 'em!  In other words, be merciful just as our heavenly Father is merciful.  One of the reasons we find it so hard to "love 'em" is because they just aren't all that lovable!  Face it, the idea of loving our enemies, praying for them, and even giving them the shirt off our back is kind of repulsive considering how they act toward us!

Why does God even bring this up in the Word?  Why did Jesus find it so important to model this principle while here on this earth?  I think he was trying to live out an object lesson for us.  The truth is that we were enemies of God, alienated from him by our sin, when he chose to love us!  The main thing we are asked to do when we are asked to love our enemies is to lay down "self" - with all its righteous demands to be treated with dignity, honored for doing good, etc.  Honestly, that is hard because we are dealing with what we feel are our "rights" here.

Yet, Jesus did just that - laying down his "right" to be treated with dignity, honored for the tremendous good he was doing.  He saw beyond his "right" to be honored because of his deity and took on the form of human man.  He looked beyond his "right" to be treated well because of his tremendous good deeds (healing the sick, setting the captive free).  He looked beyond "self" in order to see US!

That is what God is asking of us - to look beyond ourselves long enough to see others around us.  We may not be "tickled pink" by what we see, but if we really look hard enough, we will find that God will put that enemy as a burden on our hearts instead of a drain on our energies!  The instruction is that God will allow them to bring out the best in us, if we are willing to have that occur.  

How can our enemies bring out the best in us?  Well, we could unpack that for days, but here are just a few ideas for you to ponder:

- By focusing on their needs, instead of our "rights", we are showing them that they matter to us and to God.  Our enemies don't have the guts to outdo the love of God manifest in our lives.  They will find it impossible to return good when faced with evil - but they will be challenged by what they see us doing when we do!

- By allowing them to see Jesus in us, his unconditional love and his merciful forgiveness, we are pointing them to the grace of God.  It is much easier for us to desire what we see that somebody else is truly enjoying.  When others see that the grace of God is operational and truly enjoyed in your life, there is a hint of desire planted deep within their hearts for that same enjoyment of such unconditional love and mercy.

- By showing them that you will invest in them what they probably do not "deserve", you are pointing them to the cross of Christ in incremental measures.  That is what grace does - it motivates the heart to share what others cannot experience apart from Christ.  Our "rights" can take backseat to grace if we will allow that grace to bubble to the surface often enough.

- By loving even when we are not loved in return, we are showing the love of God for a world that had no desire to embrace him.  It is a common thing to do good to those that treat you well, embrace you warmly, etc.  It is an uncommon thing to embrace those who would stab you in the back, or leave you hanging on a tree!  

It may not be easy, and I daresay that I struggle with this, as well.  Yet, in learning to lay down our "rights" to be honored, treated well, etc., we are really learning to love as God loves.  In turn, we usually are rewarded with much more than we'd ever enjoy by simply sticking with what we feel we have a "right" to in the first place!  

God's rewards are ALWAYS better than anything we could possibly imagine.  The command to us is to let our enemies bring out the best in us.  My prayer for us today is that God will show us exactly how to do that in those troubling relationships we each have.  I don't know exactly how we will do it, but God does, so I will trust him to reveal how to embrace our enemies as he embraces us!