Posts

When Your Enemy Falls

How should a Christian respond when an “enemy” falls?

Like any human being, a Christian is not immune to the temptations of gloating, celebrating, or even berating with an “I told you so” or two. Certainly we all will experience a heavenly moment when the wicked who have wronged us face a righteous judge (we will face Him too), but it is also possible that those who’ve wounded us will face consequences here on earth. It could be through prison time, termination of their employment, or public embarrassment. Or the “darker side” of consequences like physical injury, destruction of livelihood, or even death. In all of these, there is a part of our flesh that wants to pummel our enemies into oblivion. We want the arm they took from us, and then we want to take their legs too. For believers, this heart posture must be put in check.

I remember the moment a report came into me via text message. Not just any report, but a juicy report that fed my flesh the kind of a dish it loves; an “enemy combatant” from my past had experienced a painful and embarrassing event that exposed them for the person I already knew them to be. I felt vindicated — even, happy. I thought to myself, “Yes! finally! You got what you deserved!”

But the celebration did not last long. As quickly as my flesh fueled my prideful joy, The Holy Spirit rushed in with conviction and I was struck with a feeling that something was not right in my heart. I knew that I needed to hear from God concerning my reaction. I opened my Bible and Proverbs 24:17 did the talking.

“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles”

I had read that proverb many, many times. Only this time, it hit like a ton of bricks. I quickly realized it was not time to throw a party filled with celebratory vindication. It was time to confess my sin (1 John 1:9), and pray.

When navigating these kinds of situations, self-reflection is vital. At least two questions can be helpful.

Am I Following The Model of Jesus?

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught numerous truths that helped to guide His original audience, and us today. At one point, His words cause us to pause and re-think justice when it comes to interpersonal relationships and conflict. He declared,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48).

Jesus consistently taught and modeled self-denial. Any form of seeking revenge or gloating in the pain of others as form of retaliatory justice is not how followers of Jesus are to operate. Such behavior reveals a heart that is seeking “self.” He challenged both His followers and His detractors with this truth. To follow Him means you will be others-focused, and yes, even enemies-focused, in your prayers, reactions, service, and even in your love. The goal is not that you crush them in defeat, but rather, that they might be won over by our witness for the gospel or stand before God without excuse (Romans 10:14-21).

Am I Overlooking My Own Sin?

It’s one thing to desire justice to prevail and law and order to be maintained. That is good for society. However, there is a vein of our culture that demands justice for ourselves, and judgment on others, without ever looking in the mirror of our hearts. We are so quick to point the finger at those who hurt us, but is it possible that their moment of consequence is an opportunity for us to confess sin as well?

When our enemies fall and we desire to celebrate their pain and embarrassment, we are actively denying our own need for the gospel and our own need for grace. The Pharisees were experts at this.

In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus warns, “Judge not, that you be judged. For the with the judgment, you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure, you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Jesus spoke these strong words to both His disciples, and the religious leaders who were experts at self-serving forms of justice and elevating their own righteousness. Without fear, Jesus confronted their hypocrisy and taught His disciples that self-denial is the very essence of what it means to follow Him. Self-denial includes looking in the mirror, facing your own sin, and being humbled by the downfall of others because it could have been you too.

It is impossible to say that we love Jesus and not obey His commands (John 14:15). One of those commands is to love our enemies — which is an impossible task to obey without Jesus’ help.

When an enemy falls and you are tempted to gloat, look to the gospel for humble hope. It is in Christ alone that you will find the strength to love your enemy, and to pray for those who persecute you.

_______________________________

Dale Thackrah is the Senior Executive Pastor at Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona. He holds an M.A. from Biola University and is a certified biblical counselor who specializes in conflict resolution and financial stewardship. He lives in Queen Creek, AZ with his wife and two children. 

Trusting Christ with Childhood Cancer

You know those moments that are seared so deeply in your mind you’ll remember every detail forever? Several months ago, I experienced one of those moments.

It was shortly after we’d managed to get the kids down for bed. On a normal night, my wife and I meet in the kitchen; catching eyes and smiling over whatever antics the kids pulled to delay the inevitable end of their day. Then, the house is silent. That silence marks the beginning of mom and dad’s time to read, decompress, and rest up for the next day of fun. But this night would be different.

As I heard my wife’s footsteps I looked up and saw her walk through the doorway to the kitchen. Suddenly she broke; holding up the doctor’s report in her hand. The tears streamed down her face. I pulled her into my arms as she explained, “Something is wrong with Timothy…” Her words hit my heart like a freight train. The “C” word had crossed my mind a few times while we waited for test results on over a dozen suspicious spots that had appeared on our 3-month old son’s body, but nothing prepares you for this moment. After reading through the report, it was real. Timothy, our little guy, has cancer.

On our journey so far,  more answers seem only to lead to more questions. A wave of different emotions come and go, but overall, one thing remains constant — God’s goodness.

I like what Randy Alcorn says in his book, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. He writes on page 289, “We define good in terms of what brings us health and happiness now; God defines it in terms of what makes us more like Jesus.” He goes on to explain something that every person suffering in pain would do well to remember:

As a young Christian I believed that going to Heaven instead of Hell was all that mattered. But as I read the Bible, I saw that to be called according to God’s purpose is to be conformed to the character of Christ. God’s purpose for our suffering is Christlikeness. That is our highest calling. If God answered all our prayers to be delivered from evil and suffering, then he would be delivering us from Christlikeness. But Christlikeness is something to long for, not to be delivered from.

What Randy is saying here is simple to read, but so difficult to do. Yet, it is the perspective a Christian is to have. God grows us, shapes us, sanctifies us, and brings us to the end of ourselves through suffering. All the while molding us into the image of His Son — Jesus.  This doesn’t mean that we should be excited about a cancer diagnosis, or hoping our child suffers. But it does mean that we should not be so obsessed with our relief that we miss out on the lessons God teaches us along the way. Suffering brings us closer to God, and through suffering He accomplishes great purposes.

To encourage you as you face trials in your own life, here are 3 ways we can pray as Christians in the midst of pain:

Pray for God to be glorified above all else

You may have heard the story of James Montgomery Boice who got up one Sunday to talk to his church about terminal cancer that left him with only one month to live. Many had asked how they can help and his response was profound:

Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you’re free to do that. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles – and he certainly can – is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. But above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t by delivering Jesus from the cross, though he could have. Jesus said, “Don’t you think I could call down from my Father ten legions of angels for my defense?” But he didn’t do that. And yet, that’s where God is most glorified. 

Like our faith heroes who have gone long before us, this is a great anchor to all of our prayers for healing and relief.

Pray for healing while submitted to the will of God

Like any parent, we want Timothy to live to be 100, have lots of grandkids for us, and live happily ever after. But the reality is, we may pray for healing now and God’s timing and purposes may be different than our prayer. God is within His divine right to use our son’s for whatever “good” He decides to use it for (Romans 8:28). What if his cancer is used to spark gospel-spreading relationships in the cancer clinic? What if our son dies younger than we’d ever wish? What if our faith is tested beyond anything it’s ever been through? Even through the tears and pain, as Christians, we accept God’s will when it’s all said and done. Just when we want to throw in the towel and say, “That’s crazy!” We do well to remember that’s exactly what Jesus modeled.

As the most righteous man to ever live, and the divine Son of God, Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane right before suffering on the cross. At that moment, He models one of the most vulnerable prayer sessions we witness in the Gospels. Matthew records, “And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

In a day where faith healers put on elaborate shows and posture boastfully; claiming to have the power to rebuke all kinds of cancer, far too many scoff at prayers for “God’s will to be done.” In many circles, praying “Your will be done” kind of prayers are seen as weak faith.

Well, Jesus prayed that way. It’s never a bad idea to model His method and trust God with the results.

Pray for perspective when tempted to pout

I remember walking into one of our first appointments and feel pretty sorry for myself. After a brief wait in the waiting room at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), we heard our name called and walked down the hallway. My pity party was short lived as I caught eyes with a young girl wearing a bandana and sitting with her mom. She was several years older than our son and had obviously been going through chemo. Fast forward to a recent appointment where two mothers were telling my wife that their little ones have chemo on Christmas Eve, and the other on Christmas Day. Talk about a shot of perspective. Everyone is going through something. We benefit greatly from reminders like that.

One of the great challenges as Christians is to look beyond our circumstances and maintain an eternal perspective. To put it bluntly, we can often miss opportunities to minister (and mourn) with others because our eyes are fixed on ourselves. No matter how dark a day may seem, we do not suffer in earthly despair as if we have no eternal hope! Furthermore, God has called every one of His followers to be witnesses for the gospel (Acts 1:8). What better way to be a witness than to point people to find comfort in Christ and their Lord and Savior?

Lastly, a word to those who feel like they’re just trying to survive another day, let alone help anyone else: Don’t feel pressure to look perfect when you’re enduring a trial, but do feel pressure (the good kind) to look to Christ. Your anxieties and pain belong at His feet (1 Peter 5:7), and He promises peace beyond human comprehension to those who come to Him with prayerful, thankful, dependent hearts (Philippians 4:6-7).

_______________________________________________

Recommended Resources: 

If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil by Randy Alcorn

A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God by Joni Eareckson Tada