..."But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.
Persecuted. Women. Men. Children. Persecuted.
My mind has struggled to make sense of it. I have felt anger. I have felt despair. I have felt fear. I have wondered how to pray. I have seen responses calling for hell fire and damnation, and sometimes that is how God disciplines, but my mind could not find rest with that prayer. I keep thinking of a particular persecutioner. Worse than the rest, he feels totally justified in his killing. He prides himself on his crimes and feels no repentance for his violence. He marches across the country slaying those who do not believe like him, leading others in the crusade. He breeds fear. He breeds anger. He breeds despair. And then one day, this murderer of believers, is traveling on his mission of destruction. Like a predator he stalks his prey when suddenly he is blinded by a light. Lifting his hands to shield his eyes he hears a voice, and in a moment his life is changed, and so are ours. Not hell fire, not damnation, but a question. "Why are you persecuting me?" He had an encounter with Jesus Christ. On that day it was the persecutor that died--- to a life of murder. He began a new life as a passionate servant of a God he could not deny.
That man, Saul of Tarsus, went on to write two-thirds of the New Testament. He was himself persecuted, imprisoned, beaten, abandoned, for his dedication to a Savior he had once denied. His messages to the churches of his day continue to speak to churches of ours. I am left wondering if in our fear, despair, and anger we are praying the wrong prayers. Instead of justice and vindication, what if we pray that today's persecutioners meet a Savior who will change their hearts, a God who will show them love. What if we pray that they are blinded by a truth that is too brilliant to be denied? What if the tide of hate is changed because we pray for the persecutor's salvation rather than their destruction? What if?
Things can change. People can change. Even those most committed to a mission can be changed by an encounter with a loving God.
Pray for the persecuted, oh please pray for them and their protection, and then pray for the persecutioner as well. It may very well be the greatest of all weapons in this war!
9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.