Would you intercede with the Lord on behalf of ISIS if your pastor asked you to?
How would your congregation react if you told them to petition God to bless government officials who resist the church's desire to expand?
Praying for people that have insulted, injured or ruined us is the last image that comes to mind when we think of our role in God's mission. And yet that is exactly what God has in mind.
Abraham's role in God's mission
Abraham, father all God's people (Romans 4:16), is a case in point.
God had promised to channel his redemptive plan to bless all the nations through Abraham. "In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:3)."
Several chapters later a colorful extended metaphor portrays the Lord's plan to turn Sodom and Gomorrah into a molten plain of glass and asphalt. Along the way the Lord and his companions stop for an "Undercover Boss" visit with Abraham. In a remarkable soliloquy the Lord ponders an important question:
"Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?" (Genesis 18:17-18)
When God reveals his intention, Abraham stepped to intercede for those dreadful societies. The phrase "Abraham still stood before the Lord (ESV) portrays Abraham in a priestly role, steadfastly standing face-to-face with the Lord, asking that he relent. He petitioned God to spare the wicked for the sake of the few righteous in their midst (Genesis 18:22-33).
This is the first instance we read of Abraham actively participating in God's mission to bless all the families of earth. He did so by interceding in behalf of wicked people who richly deserved God's divine wrath.
Our role in God's mission
It is shocking and counter-intuitive to think that God's mission includes asking him to protect our enemies - not matter how vile - rather than punish them.
When pastors talk about "joining God's mission" we think of building bridges, nursing redemptive relationships, and inviting people to enter eternal life by believing in Jesus.
Yet in Abraham we see the embodiment of the believer's priestly role (1 Peter 2:5) to pray that God would protect wicked people from divine wrath. Centuries later God sent Jonah to the wicked nation of Nineveh, a mission that resulted in many lives being spared.
Today we have the direct admonition to bless the wicked.
- "But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28)."
- "Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they do (Luke 23:34)."
- "Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:60)."
- "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:20-21)."
- "Not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9)."
The hard prayer
It is easy to intercede in behalf of people in far off places, about whom we know nothing, and for people who have not harmed us. And surely, these prayers are an important part of our role in God's mission.
But God loves all people - even those we find most reprehensible and most deserving of eternal damnation.
The hard prayer is to ask the Lord to suspend judgment. He is not willing that any should perish - isn't he?