By Cindi McMenamin, Crosswalk.com
Do you know what it’s like to say something with a pure heart and then have another Christian blast you with their critical opinion or mean-spirited words? Worse yet, have you posted something online (via social media or another venue) and then had a fellow believer publicly challenge you, or accuse you of being a heretic or an unbeliever because they disagreed with your opinion or took your words out of context?
When other Christians challenge our beliefs or convictions in love, they may be trying to help us grow spiritually and gain a more proper understanding of the Bible. That is a healthy thing. When a mature believer presents his or her argument with biblical truth and in a spirit of love and encouragement, it can make all the difference in their representation of Christ and the continuance of a healthy discussion between two believers. However, when someone blasts you harshly for your opinion and does it in a personal way – shaming you, questioning your salvation, or using sarcasm, all in the name of Jesus – it’s easy to want to respond out of your flesh and behave the same way they do – counter-attack, defend, and insist you are the one who is right.
Jesus prayed that we, as believers, would be united in love with one another as He was united with His Father (John 17:21). That’s the way others will know we are His followers. And that’s the way others will be drawn to Him and His church. Therefore, even if another Christian has been unloving toward you and me, that’s our opportunity to show them what a genuine follower of Jesus looks like. And the best way to do that is to pray for them.
Here are five reasons to pray for critical, insensitive, or mean-spirited believers:
1. People who are wounded wound others.
It’s possible the believer who lashed out at you has no idea how hurtful they were. They may just be voicing something they feel strongly about, and in their insistence that they’re right, have no idea they came across so harshly. Many people, believers or not, lack self-awareness of their critical nature, sense of entitlement, or spiritual pride. Often, it’s because they are wounded in some way and their natural reaction toward others – anytime they feel challenged, uncomfortable or threatened – is to wound them in return.
Think of an injured animal. When it feels threatened or is in pain, it will bear its teeth, use its claws, and lash out at someone, even if they’re trying to help. When a believer lashes out at us or angrily implies we are wrong and they are right, one of the first things we can do is consider the pain they might be in which is causing their reaction, and pray for them. When we pray for them, it causes us to be more compassionate. And it also makes us aware of the fact that we have all been wounded in one way or another and it’s possible we, too, have reacted toward others out of our pain rather than responding gently and lovingly.
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2. Pray for their sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.
Our desire should ultimately be for reconciliation among the body of Christ. Scripture says “if possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people” (Romans 12:18). While we may think it best to respond to someone’s insensitivity with instruction on how they can be more loving, it’s also possible our response will trigger more anger on their part if they are unteachable or have a track record of lashing out. That’s why it’s best to pray for them before responding (and in some cases instead of responding at all).
First Peter 4:8 tells us to “keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” That passage is in the context of prayer and when we pray for others’ hearts to be convicted of their unloving words and actions, we are perhaps keeping them from sinning more and maybe even helping other believers who might be hurt by their words next to keep from sinning in their response or retaliation, as well. In that way, praying for those who offended you may eventually help prevent a multitude of sinful reactions as a result of the offender’s continuing words and actions.
Again, while it may be tempting to tell our side, clear up their misunderstanding, or let them know how wrong they are, there is a time and place for that conversation and it is always one on one, not in a public forum or on a social media feed. If the person is not a friend or acquaintance, just an online bully (sometimes they are called internet trolls), your words to them may have little effect anyway. On the contrary, any of your words spoken to God will have far more effect. Instead of dialoguing with the rude believer and proving your point, pray that God will work on their heart so they don’t feel the need to cut others down when they’re trying to prove their point. Christ’s reputation is at stake any time another sins publically. When we pray for their repentance and transformation we are allowing God to transform us at the same time and make us people who are more compassionate than competitive.
3. Praying for others softens our hearts toward them.
When I was in middle school, I remember being told that when you pray for those who persecute you (or in this case, people who bully you), God will honor you for it. I didn’t want to pray for the mean girl a grade older who was daily bullying me in her critical comments just to get a laugh from her friends. But as I began to pray that God would soften her heart toward me, I found God softening my heart toward her. I began to feel sorry for her, instead of resenting her or being frightened of her. God gave me a glimpse into the hurts in her life which were causing her to lash out and hurt me and others. Within a few days of beginning to pray for her, I noticed her starting to be kind toward me. Although I was a sixth-grader at the time, it was a powerful example to me of the effectiveness of prayer: God could change the heart of a bullying seventh-grader toward a praying sixth grader.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). It is hardly persecution when one bullies us with harsh words or critical comments. Yet, when we apply Jesus’ words in that situation and pray for the person who offended us it’s difficult to keep an embittered, resentful, or angry heart at someone we are praying for. Pray for others who rile up your flesh and fire off hurtful words and make you want to respond in an ungodly way. When you pray for them it will keep you from becoming angry or bitter or sinning in your response. And it will keep you from becoming like them.
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4. Praying for others keeps us humble so we don’t sin in our response to them.
The spirit of offense is a strong one and we can easily get sucked into being someone who offends right back if we don’t immediately pray and give that offense to God. When I have been hurt by someone’s careless or caustic words, if I don’t pray about it immediately, my flesh tends to rise up and I begin to practice in my mind what I really want to say. Then I get a glimpse at how very fleshly and ungodly that response would be. Taking it to God, instead, and asking Him to calm my heart and my desire to retaliate puts me in the place where I can hear His gentle voice, not that of the person who offended me.
Scripture says when we are regenerated in Christ we are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). To be hidden in Him means I immediately recognize I am His, He knows my heart and the heart of the other person, and He can handle this. Praying for the other believer and not responding at all is sometimes the very best thing we can do to remain hidden, and let God work it out.
I have also found that when I take an offense to God and ask Him to humble me through it and keep my heart softened, He will send encouraging words from someone else at precisely the time I needed it. I can’t help but feel that is God’s way of honoring us and lifting us up for being humble and choosing not to respond defensively or launch a counter-attack. To not respond sometimes is a way of saying “God’s got my back and He can take care of me, reputation and all.” To not respond says I do not have to try to control another person’s perception of me and I don’t have to launch a counter-attack or retaliate in order to even the scorecard. To not respond says I am okay with that person thinking that I’m a certain way because “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).
5. Giving to God the people who hurt you makes you more aware of the kind of person you don’t want to be.
Through the years I have learned more about how to speak kindly to others, from how unkindly others have spoken to me. I have been able to do this through prayer and surrender. When someone hurts me with their careless words or sarcasm or flippant nature, I’ve learned to go to God with it and pray about the situation so I don’t become someone who hurts another person in the same manner. I will ask God to remind me of the hurt each time I’m tempted to hurt another person in the same way. I’ve also asked God to help me relate to Him and the rejection and pain He experienced at a much deeper level.
Lord, please draw me closer to You when I’m hurt by others’ words or actions and please don’t let me be a person who wounds others or retaliates in a hurtful way toward someone who has wounded me. Humble me through this situation so that I become more like You and remind me that You are the One who knows my heart and has my back. Thank You that when we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord You are the one who lifts us up (James 4:10). In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
For more on how to maturely deal with the spirit of offense, see Cindi’s book, Drama Free: Finding Peace When Emotions Overwhelm You.
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Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker, Bible teacher, and award-winning writer who helps women and couples strengthen their relationship with God and others. She is also a mother, pastor’s wife, and author of 17 books, including When Women Walk Alone (more than 150,000 copies sold), When God Sees Your Tears, Letting God Meet Your Emotional Needs, and When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts. For more on her speaking ministry, coaching services for writers, and books to strengthen your soul, marriage, and parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.