Prayer, as I noted last week, can sometimes be a means through which God offers us comfort, and sometimes it can be a means through which God challenges us to move beyond our comfort zones.
That challenge can come before we even really begin the prayer, when we are forming up that list of who and what we plan to pray for. If we believe in a God that is the God of all creation, then we should pray for all creation. Every prayer doesn’t need to be a giant list of every wrong throughout the world, but we do need to be careful not to let our prayer become a kind of private club, where only the privileged few may enter.
And yes, as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, that means that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us–or even just annoy or disappoint us.
Our current political climate might be the perfect application of this principle. We take perverse pleasure in exercising our freedom of speech not through the reading of poetry or writing get well cards, but through complaining about our leaders, big or small, and all those who hold different political beliefs than us. I speak from personal experience.
Yet, as much as Christ welcomes prayers for those we love, Jesus specifically reminded us to pray for those who fill us with rage. Whether your blood boiled during the recent debate in St. Louis Park over the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance or if our President continually provokes outrage through his statements and tweets, whether you are a Democrat, Republican, an Independent or think they are all a bunch of bums, we are called to love and pray for whichever “them” it is that drives us up a wall.
It doesn’t mean we have to agree with them. It doesn’t mean we have to tolerate suffering, whether our own or others. But God knows that allowing our anger and judgment and fear to speak louder than love benefits no one and builds no better world for us to live in. Prayer offers a far better pressure-release valve because prayer calls us to deepen our understanding and to practice humility.
Because, of course, in God’s eyes, “them” is really “us.” Sometimes that “us” is strained, and sometimes it is downright broken. But we are all God’s children, members of the same body, worthy of compassion and forgiveness and love. And if you are not there quite yet, then you know what to do–pray.
James Muske is pastor at Bethesda Lutheran Church of Malmo.