God did not just tell us to love him, but to love our neighbors as well. “Not the neighbors you pick out,” farmer-poet Wendell Berry would say, “but the ones you have” (Berry, Wendell. “The Futility of Global Thinking.” Harper’s Magazine. September 16, 1989, p. 22.) Jesus makes the process simple: start with the people you have around you and move out from there. As Mother Teresa says, “Jesus did not say, ‘Love the whole world.’ He said, ‘Love one another.’ You can only love one person at a time. If you look at the numbers, you get lost.” (Mother Teresa. Loving Jesus. Edited by José Luis González-Balado, Ann Arbor, MI, Servant Publications, 1991, p. 15-16.)
“Well, what if they’re annoying?” Love them. “What if I hate them?” Well Jesus had words for that too. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven (Mt 5:44-45).” What does it look like to be related to God? It looks like love for everyone—including your enemies.
Have you ever tried praying for your enemy before? A friend of mine taught me this well when he told me that he spent some time praying for everyone who cut him off in his long daily commute. If you have ever done this then you know why Jesus recommended it: it keeps you sane.
I was once in a situation where a friend of mine was so jaded towards me that he couldn’t hear any of my words in the way I intended them. Things were getting worse and worse and I felt like I was losing my sanity.
God reached out to me in a dream during that time. In this dream, I saw a bunch of ants crawling all around my tiny upstairs bathroom. In attempts to get rid of them I stomped on them, but somehow that only made things worse. Every time I stepped on a group of ants they multiplied. And every time I stepped on those new ants, they multiplied too. Eventually, my entire bathroom was taken over with ants when a surreal voice spoke into the dream: “Increase your faith.”
Sternly I yelled, “Stop moving in the name of Jesus!” In that moment, almost all of the ants stopped. After a moment they began to fade away and morph into a weed that was growing out of a crack in the tile of my bathroom floor. When I woke up I didn’t see any interpretation, but the voice had been so surreal that I knew I needed to write the dream down. I shared it with my wife later and she very clearly interpreted it to me: “A lot of little things like ants are overwhelming, but a weed—though still a pain—is much less of a pain.”
I must have been pretty jaded myself, because I’ve interpreted a lot of harder dreams than that one. Now that my wife had explained it to me, it was so obvious. Clearly I didn’t want to know the interpretation, because I wanted to take things into my own hands and smash some ants! But this would only create more problems. If I just put my faith in Jesus it would be so much easier. If I asked him to handle it, he would. After all, there was no ignoring the fact that I had a problem to face—was I going to face it God’s way or my way? His way was obviously better if I was willing to obey.
And so I tried to continually turn this situation over to God. I eventually realized there was little I could do but pray for my friend—not just for their sake, but for mine as well. Regardless as to if they would continue to get angrier at me, I would try to lift them up. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them,” said Paul (Ro 12:14).
So I took walks around my block praying the hardest things I could pray. Some of the words struggled to come out of my mouth, but the more I said them, the clearer my mind became. I asked God to bless him in ways I didn’t want him to be blessed. I prayed that they would go down in history and that the whole world would know their name for the work that they would do. This was not a prayer I practiced once, but rather a season where I had to constantly return to a place of enemy-love and of difficult prayer. I would have preferred that they just softened their heart and apologized for a few things, but Jesus never promised me that and expected me to love on my end, regardless.
I handled that situation far from perfectly, but the only thing that helped me put on the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16) in that time was praying these very difficult prayers. As I spoke the words I found hard to say, I felt peace and empathy return to me. In the end, it felt like all I could do was hand it over to God.
This is an excerpt from my book, A Taste of Jesus, available on paperback, Kindle, and audiobook.