By Rick Shallenberger
A few weeks ago during a winter storm, there was an automobile accident on the freeway entrance ramp that I use almost every day. A local man lost control of his car on the ice and slid into the guardrail. He wasn’t hurt, so he decided to call his wife to tell her about the accident and let her know he was fine. Then, while he was inspecting the damage to his car, another driver slid on the same ice and hit him — killing him at the scene. I learned about the accident from my son, who works with the son of the man who was killed.
My prayer surprised me. Why did I think of this man after all these years? Why did I feel compelled to pray for him?
While driving past the accident site a few days later, I started praying for my son’s friend and his family. Then it struck me to pray for the other driver. How was he feeling, knowing he had killed someone? As I drove, I prayed that God would give the man comfort, encouragement and peace.
As I was thinking about the angst this man must be suffering, my mind went back to another accident. This one happened 39 years ago. A drunken driver ran a red light and broadsided our car. Two of my sisters, one 8 and the other 3, were killed. I wondered how that driver felt today. I can’t imagine how he has lived with the guilt and pain these past 39 years. But I’ve never even given a thought to him. So I did something I’ve never done before. I prayed for the man who killed my sisters. I asked God to relieve his pain and his guilt. I also asked God to give him peace and to heal him.
My prayer surprised me. Why did I think of this man after all these years? Why did I feel compelled to pray for him? Where were these thoughts coming from?
As I continued to drive and wonder, the sermon I had given the previous week came to mind. I was preaching from Luke 6 and had spent a few minutes on verses 27-28, which read, “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” I realized I had just forgiven the man who killed my sisters, and I had prayed for my “enemy.”
It was an unbelievably freeing moment. I had actually asked God to bless the man who had caused my family and me so much pain. What enabled me to do that? That’s when it really hit me. I was able to pray for him because for the first time, I saw this man through Christ’s eyes.
Jesus does not look at him as the man who drank too much and caused a deadly accident. Jesus sees a brother, a precious child of God, whose mistake had horrific consequences. This one mistake took two innocent lives and forever changed two families — his and mine. But the mistake did not stop or change this man from being who he is and always will be — God’s beloved child. God never stopped loving him or wanting to have a personal relationship with him.
I don’t know where this man is today. I have no idea whether he is a believer. All I know is that God inspired me to pray for him and I did. That prayer changed me.
Praying for our enemies frees us from a lot of emotional baggage and enables us to see others as God sees them. Further, it helps us place others in God’s hands and trust him to do his work in them just as he does his work in us. Our “enemies” are God’s children.
My prayer for the man who killed my sisters inspired me. I believe God was reminding me that in Christ, all my friends and all my “enemies” are forgiven, loved and included. Christ provides the restoration: I know that by his love and power I’ll see my sisters again. And he provides the healing and reconciliation: theirs, mine and that of the man who hit us. Jesus is truly our “all in all,” the beginning and the end, the full measure of our lives.
Rick Shallenberger is Pastor of Christ Fellowship Church, Cincinnati, Ohio.