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Did I ever blow it!

Flying into Pocatello, Idaho, I found the flight a bit bumpy. The plane was bouncing; my stomach was churning; and once again, I was ready to toss my cookies. We finally landed, however, and I made it safely to the group in Pocatello with whom I was to share. ‘Coming into Pocatello International, I understand why they call airport lobbies terminals. I felt my condition was just that — terminal,’ I cracked in my opening remarks. ‘Especially if you’re flying on Horizon Scareways.’ The crowd laughed. Then we got into the Word and had a fabulous time together.

The next morning, as I stood at the ticket counter in the Pocatello terminal, the lady facing me looked at my ticket and said, ‘Oh, you’re Jon Courson.’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘You were speaking here last night?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘We had a great time. Were you there?’ Her wan smile turned into an icy frown. She looked at me with steely eyes and said, ‘Absolutely not. All I know is, you called our company Horizon Scareways.’

At this point, two other agents joined her and said, ‘How could you call our company Horizon Scareways?’ ‘Oh, I was just joking,’ I answered meekly. ‘I think your airline is wonderful.’ But then I felt bad for lying. ‘Could I please have an aisle seat?’ I asked, changing the subject. ‘No,’ was her curt reply. So I got my ticket, found my seat, and strapped myself in, feeling awful.

After a few minutes, I thought, ‘Wait a minute. Why would they say those things to me — a paying customer? Whatever happened to the philosophy that made America great: The customer is always right?’ And I found myself getting mad at the way I perceived I was being treated at the ticket counter. So I went from feeling bad to feeling mad.

As the plane took off, I went from feeling mad to feeling sad, realizing I was becoming defensive, critical, and small. Thus, as the plane got up in the air, the flight was turbulent — not because of the weather outside, but because of the storm raging within me.

How very different was my reaction to this situation than was the Apostle Paul’s. You see, as he traveled throughout Europe, sharing the Gospel and communicating grace and love, a group of his countrymen awaited him — men of Israel who beat him to every city in order that they might lie about him, and greet him with stones (Acts 14:19), or arrange to have him thrown in prison (Acts 21:27). So serious were Paul’s enemies that they took an oath, saying, ‘We will not eat another meal until Paul is dead,’ (Acts 23:12). Talk about tough traveling!

Here I was complaining because I felt my little comment was taken too seriously. But Paul? People were lying about him, throwing rocks at him, grabbing hold of him, determined to do away with him. Paul really had a tough time at the hands of his countrymen. But his reaction concerning those who were out to do him in blows my mind . . .

I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (Romans 9:1-3)

The Holy Spirit testifying to the truth of his words, Paul said, ‘I would go to hell for these guys if only they could be saved.’ Would you say that concerning the person who’s coming down on you, regarding the person who wants to do you in? It might be a teacher, a parent, a neighbor, a coworker, or an old girlfriend. It might be someone who’s done you wrong, lied about you, hurled insulting stones at you, wanted to grab hold of you, and if possible would annihilate and destroy you. Think about the person who is most difficult for you to deal with. How do you honestly feel about him? Would you go to hell eternally if that person could go to heaven? Paul’s words absolutely flabbergast me. To the Philippian believers, Paul said, ‘I’m craving heaven, but for your sakes, it’s needful for me to stick around here on earth,’ (Philippians 1:20-24). Commendable indeed!

But to me how much more powerful is his statement to the very ones who were out to get him when he said not only, ‘I won’t go to heaven,’ but ‘I would go to hell for you if it were possible.’ How did Paul develop such love for people who were wanting to do him in? And how can we develop the same love? How can we overcome our bitterness and disappointment, our anger and hostility towards people who come against us, disappoint us, or hurt us? The key? Turn the page to Romans 10, for I believe that is where the answer lies . . .

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. (Romans 10:1)

The Greek rendering of this verse is: ‘Brethren, my heart’s desire and continual prayer to God for Israel, is that they might be saved.’ In other words, ‘My heart’s desire and continual prayer for Israel — the country which misunderstands me, the people who are out the destroy me, the nation which has totally rejected me — is, Lord, save them.’

Paul not only proved his love by praying for his countrymen, but his prayer for his countrymen actually produced that kind of love in Paul.

This is why Jesus specifically told us we are to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). You see, here’s what happens: Something begins to take place in me when I pray for people — particularly for my enemies. My heart towards them begins to change.

Check out Exodus 32 . . . When he came down from Mt. Sinai after meeting with God on behalf of the children of Israel, Moses saw them dancing naked around a golden calf. What was his reaction? He was so mad he threw the tablets he was carrying to the ground. But then he said something hauntingly familiar: ‘Lord, if You don’t forgive these, Your people, blot my name out of Your book,’ (Exodus 32:32). In other words, ‘If You don’t forgive these people, I’ll go to hell with them.’

How could Moses have that kind of love, particularly when earlier in the chapter, the Lord said, ‘These are a stiffnecked people you’re leading, Moses. Let Me wipe them out and make from you a new nation,’ (Exodus 32:10)? I suggest to you had Moses not spent forty days with the Lord prior to this occurrence, he would not have had the heart he did.

So, sitting in the airplane, going through this internal turmoil, the Lord reminded me of Moses and Paul. And as I chewed on this text, thinking these things through, I suddenly realized, I had to pray for those Horizon ladies. So I did. I prayed that they would be blessed, that the Lord would place it in their hearts to forgive me, that their day might go well, that they might somehow be touched by God’s grace and love. Then I prayed for John McCabe, President of Horizon Airlines. And I prayed for Horizon, that they would be prosperous and blessed — and that they would get better planes. I prayed for the steward in the cabin, and the pilot in the cockpit. As I was en route, I prayed for my fellow passengers. As I sat in the lobby in Boise, I prayed for people who walked by.

Eventually, something began to happen, for as I prayed, I found my heart being filled with love towards anyone and everyone for whom I took the time to pray. Paul said, ‘I continually pray for my brethren.’ That’s why he had such a deep love for them and was willing to go to hell on their behalf. So it is that I suggest to you two reasons why you need to pray for people with whom you’re having a hard time, for people with whom you don’t see eye to eye, for people who bug you . . .

Pray for your sake.

A man opened a door for a lady in New York City. She stopped, turned to him, and said, ‘You don’t have to open the door for me just because I’m a lady.’ He looked at her and said, ‘I’m not opening the door for you because you’re a lady. I’m opening the door because I’m a gentleman.’ Good point!

You see, when I pray for people who bug me, I realize my praying will not only affect them, but will affect my attitude, my tendency towards cynicism, my critical spirit, my bitterness. It will change me. So why should you pray for the person who’s bugging you, who’s letting you down or trying to do you in? Because it will make you a better person. It will keep you soft and tender. It will make you a loving man, a loving woman.

That’s why Jesus said, ‘Pray, pray, pray. Don’t preach at, don’t argue with, don’t analyze your enemies — just pray and bless them.' And if we’ll take Jesus seriously, we will find prayer changing us in the process.

Pray for Christ’s sake.

Jesus was done in, beaten up by you and me. Isaiah tells us He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him. By His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). Therefore, when somebody beats up on me and I think it’s unfair, I need to remember that I beat up on Jesus. My sin, and stupidity were what caused Him to be pinned to the tree. He was beaten up for me.

And what did He do even as He was being beaten up? He prayed, ‘Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing,’ (Luke 23:34). Not only was He beaten up by me, He continues to be let down constantly, for I am not doing the things I know I could do. I am not the man I know I should be. And yet what does He do? He who was pinned to the tree, rose again, went to heaven, where He lives to ever make intercession — to pray for me (Hebrews 7:25).

Now if Jesus — beaten up by me, let down because of me — prays for me, I need to do what He says.

‘If you love Me,’ He says, ‘keep My commandments,’ (John 14:15). And what are His commandments? Simply these: to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength — and to love the person who’s around you, who works beside you, who lives next to you, who bugs you (Matthew 22:37 40).

If we don’t have love, we don’t have anything (I Corinthians 13:2). ‘But Lord, how can I have love?’ ‘Very simple,’ He says. ‘By spending time with Me, praying for those who persecute you, come down on you, or seek to do you in.’

Pray. And you’ll find your heart changing. You’ll find the flight will be a whole lot smoother than if you’re justifying your position. Right now the Lord wants to set many free if you’ll just do what Paul did, what Moses did, what Jesus asks of you.

Pray. Pray for people continually. ‘God forbid,’ said Samuel, ‘that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you,’ (I Samuel 12:23). Prayer is the proof of love. And love is produced by prayer. Pray — for your sake, and for the sake of the One Who continually prays for you.