Note from Barbara: This is the second of six 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.
One of my favorite little books is a selection of prayers by Susanna Wesley. Without modern medicine she gave birth to 19 children, though nine died as infants. She raised ten to adulthood. And two of them you might know—Charles and John became leaders in the church. John founded the Methodist church and Charles wrote over 6,000 hymns, many still sung today.
I’ve loved Susanna Wesley across the centuries because I know she too must have dealt with a lot of sibling rivalry. And a lot of exhaustion, pain, discouragement and loss. By reading her prayers in the book, The Prayers of Susanna Wesley, I sensed her cheering me on in my mothering battles and challenges.
One of her prayers relates to the difficulty of loving and praying for those hard people in life. I’ve adapted her prayer into a longer one—note her words in quotes.
I come asking how to love my family,
my friends, my neighbors,
and the many with greater needs that I can supply;
I am finite and feeble.
Help me serve and give and know
that “if after doing all that I can to make others happy,
they yet remain obstinately bent to follow those ways that lead to misery,
I leave them to Thy mercy.”
These words speak to our timeless dilemma as humans. Susanna’s words are appropriate for anyone dealing not only with squabbling children but also with family members, friends, and even fellow church members who might be difficult to love.
The wisdom of her prayer is twofold.
First, I marvel at her desire to serve others, deserved or not. God Himself has never washed His hands of us, saying, “I quit!” And Jesus didn’t quit on the cross. To become like Him means we cannot quit either, no matter how often we find ourselves provoked by headstrong or irritating personalities.
Second, we witness Susanna’s ultimate trust in the Master of the universe, the Sovereign Lord who, in mercy, mines the depths of every human heart. She knows the One with enough power to raise the dead, be it a corpse or a wayward heart.
So who in your life has come to mind as you’ve read this? I’m confident at least one name or face has been present with you as you’ve read this far. I have a name in mind, so know you aren’t alone.
Will you join me in choosing to be like Jesus?
Will you choose to forgive? Again? Even if it seems like the millionth time?
Will you ask God to give you love for this person? Again?
Jesus told His disciples, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). This isn’t optional.
Pray then for opportunities to bring others peace, to alleviate their pain, to bring a touch of hope. But also ask the One whose mercies are new every morning that those you serve might encounter the grace of Christ, who makes all things new … no matter how impossible the task may seem to you.
To help you talk to God, we encourage you to print the beautifully designed prayer at the beginning of this blog post.
If you enjoyed reading this, be sure to read “How to Enjoy Constant Access to God in Prayer.”