Re-Investing in the Undeserving
By and large, we put our money, effort, energy and prayer in places where we see the most potential or with those closest to us. It is even better if those two groups are the same- high potential and deeply connected with us. That is human nature- investing in those we know and love and in those who might well change the world. I would not be surprised to see this validated by reviewing a broad number of people’s calendars and expenses. The time and money we spend are heavily weighted to those closest to us and those from whom we benefit most.
And, that leaves the undeserving out. After all, they are undeserving. That is the word defined- unworthy of our time, attention and help. You will note that I didn’t just mention those far away from us geographically. Anyone who has helped someone on the other side of the world is doing a magnanimous thing. That is what missions activity is about- getting clean drinking water or special care to those who have none. These are innocents living at a distant, suffering misfortune brought by the corruption or crisis under which they live. Giving time, resources and prayer for these is in some ways actually easier than the investment of those close by. But, again, the focus is upon potential of the gift and prayer and time. I am not talking about the distant ones but the truly undeserving.
There are people who really are not deserving from most human points of view of our time, money, prayer or energy. They have not done anything to deserve it and may have well squandered what little they may have received from us. They may have actually caused harm with the resources we have given. Enemies, laggards, squanderers, thieves, the cowardly, the unfaithful and abusers all fit in this category, at least in my mind. If we pray at all for these, it is generally for them to experience justice rather than mercy, consequences more than grace. We invoke God’s lightning rather than God’s light for these.
But, I can’t get it out of my head that Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors (Matthew 5:44). The following promise is quite stark- “So you may be children of your Father in heaven” (verse 45). This is more than bad medicine that must be taken. And, it is more than simply for the well-being of the undeserving. It actually is for our own benefit, according to Jesus. It is something that converts us. It is not necessarily as much about those we love and pray for than it is about our own standing with God. It is soul impacting for us. Don’t get me wrong. I believe God answers our prayers to help those who hurt us and others. He often saves and delivers them. My point is that they too often fall from our lists which ultimately makes us less of what God created us to be- His children. His children will not only spend time with the scoundrel, but pray for them as well.
It is understandable that our prayer time gets crowded with those we love the most. Mine does. A day does not go by without my prolonged prayer for my family, colleagues, pastors who are blessing the church, churches and missionaries that are blessing the world and then humbly settle into prayer for my own growth, wisdom, insight, soul development and relationship with God. It is commonly concluded with anyone or anything of a deeply spiritual nature and punctuated with “In Jesus Name, Amen!” What is often conspicuously absent? The wretched who reject God and everything good.
But, I think we need a resurgence of prayer for the undeserving, the corrupt and the hurtful. Jesus infers that something good happens in us when we do. He explicitly says that something good comes of our standing before God. Samuel put it this way when he committed to pray for Israel even though they had essentially rejected both him as their leader and God as their King by asking for a king to be like the nations surrounding them. He said, “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by not praying for you” (1 Samuel 12:23). He was consciously aware that his unwillingness to pray for the people who had rejected him to be his own sin. He had already elaborated on their sin and consequences to them for rejecting God (1 Samuel 8-10). He could not afford to let them bear the consequences of their sin without it impacting him similarly. So, he committed to pray for those who rejected God and implicitly pushed Samuel himself aside.
There might just be a correlation between our struggle to know God, to see him at work among the most unlikely candidates; and our lack of prayer for those who abuse the truth and reject us and everything we believe it. This might be a hidden sin of which no one aside from Samuel is willing to acknowledge- the failure to pray for the unworthy. Put that on your list of sins. It might also be a contributing factor in why some just don’t see themselves as a loved child of God.
So, I am calling for a resurgence of including bad people in our prayer. I know it is hard to squeeze this into our already hectic schedule. I am not suggesting that we make this happen by praying less for those we love. I think the only way to get this done well is to pray more, which wouldn’t hurt at all. I cannot think of a gentler way to put it. We should pray more and the extended time should be filled with praying for the scoundrel and those who reject God, us and what is right. Judging from what I see on the national and world news, we have fodder enough to last us for our lifetimes.
Three wonderful things could come from this extension of prayer. First, our prayer will take on a challenge that is truly a challenge. That will shape us for the good. Praying for the undeserving takes great faith and a magnanimous love. Second, the scoundrel might actually become convicted, change and become a child of God. Third, our character itself might change for the better in the process. We might keep from sinning through the neglect of those who need our attention but from whom we might be withholding it. More than that, we become more of a child of our heavenly Father. Those outcomes are attractive to me. I hope they are to you as well. So show me your prayer list and I will show you my new one.