People who are offended with God many times have a problem with anyone who offers to pray for them. As my colleague Trey Edwards quoted, they call Christians “extremists” who “always give themselves away with their trademark refrain, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ as if you are possessed by demons and in need of an exorcism.”
Whether they are in fact in need of an exorcism or not, it’s obvious that any indication the enemies of God might require prayer or God’s help is offensive to them. And let’s be clear: sinners who have not repented are enemies of God. This includes me, you, and everyone else before the regenerating power of Christ came into our lives.
The great revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards preached Romans 5:10 in 1736. It’s quite a long sermon, but I will not do it justice in any way–I’ll simply boil it down to one statement.
“For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” — Romans 5:10
They are without strength, they cannot help themselves. — They are ungodly or sinners, — and they are enemies. As in the text. — NATURAL MEN ARE GOD’S ENEMIES.
God’s enemies don’t want to hear from Him. They don’t want to be prayed for. They think that everyone representing God has an agenda to attack them. Therefore, the reaction to “I’ll pray for you,” can be anything from polite acceptance, to rolled eyes, to outright insult.
But God (wise as He is), built a weakness into Man, even those who are His enemies. The first weakness is asymmetrical warfare. Natural men (and women, the asexual nature of the term “men” being recognized here) may be God’s enemy, but God is not the enemy of man.
If we expand the context of Romans 5:10 to include the surrounding verses, we see it.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. or if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. –Romans 5:8-10
While we were still sinners–enemies of God–Christ died for us. If nobody ever repented, Christ would still have died for us, to make a way of reconciliation with a holy God. God is not our enemy, even the enemy of those who are by their nature enemies of Him.
In our weakness in the natural man, there’s a weakness written on men’s hearts that allows knowledge of God–in His goodness, and His love–to be known. In times of stress, or in family love, or in the loving acts of strangers, that writing comes alive. It burns, it consumes. It’s a dagger in the natural man’s will.
The Apostle Paul, writer of Romans, knew this from personal experience.
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”
Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” –Acts 9:1-6
Not everyone has a Damascus Road experience; nevertheless, it’s hard to kick against the goads.
The late evangelist Steve Hill documented his experience in his testimony, “Stone Cold Heart.” He frequently related stories of walking in to his house at 3 a.m., high from partying and drugs, only to hear his mother crying out to God in her room, on her knees. She was praying for him. At the time, he ignored it, but those prayers are goads that every heart can feel.
Some never stop kicking, but the goads always work. Never stop praying for those you love, and even strangers.
Jonah Goldberg wrote a touching R.I.P. to his mother-in-law in his latest G-File. Goldberg, by his own admission, is a rather secular Jew. He’s not averse to receiving prayer, but offers a polite and heartfelt response, knowing, as so many do, a form of Godliness, but not seeing the power thereof. This isn’t a knock on Goldberg–I used to be the same way.
Remember, everyone, is or was, an enemy of God.
Goldberg wrote about his mother-in-law Donna Gavora:
My most poignant memory of Donna is from 14 years ago, when my wife was pregnant with our daughter. Donna came down to Washington, planning to help take care of the new baby. But my wife ended up needing an emergency C-section (I’ll tell the story of her epidural not working another day). Very long story short: At one point, I ran back to the house to get something and found Donna, on her knees praying for Jessica and the baby. As far as I could tell, she’d been that way since I had left hours before.
There is no more impactful event than walking in unexpectedly on someone while they are praying–for you or your loved ones. This person didn’t walk up to you at the mall and ask “may I pray for you?” (although I’ve had that happen), or offer prayer in a disingenuous way, or after losing an argument.
Donna Gavora was praying because that’s what she did. My father’s third wife, Gloria, spent years bedridden before a stroke took her (my dad died last July 4th). She would pray day and night, each prayer a goad to someone’s heart. Gloria would call me at night asking about people in my life, because she was praying for them.
God hears and answers prayers. The change in sinners’ hearts when they accept God’s love, and the regeneration of their spirit is evidence enough of the existence and power of God. That evidence is directly related to our prayers.
Enemies of God will always kick against the goads, but we Christians should never stop praying for more goads. Instead of casually telling people “I’ll pray for you” as an all-purpose argument-ender, actually pray for them in your private time. Spend time on your knees for those you dislike.
Pray for our country–but not because of patriotism or eagles or flags, none of those things move the heart of God. Pray for individuals: the president, Congress, Democrats, liberals. Name them by name.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. –2 Corinthians 10:3-6
“Your obedience” is to pray for others. It’s not up to Christians to judge non-believers, or punish disobedience. That’s God’s job.
Pray for them, always.