Has God ever had to teach you the same lesson more than once? This is not unusual for any of us, and I am certainly no exception. One such lesson I have twice learned, concerns my asking God to change someone's personality into what I thought it should be.
The scriptures teach us how God wants us to live, and Christ's life is the example set before us, yet, even with Jesus' admonition of being perfect as he is perfect, for most of us, selfless love does not come quickly and is sporadic at best. Meanwhile, criticism of others and complaining about them to God often becomes a blind spot that can prevent us from going to our knees and asking for God's help in matters of our own weaknesses.
Twice, the Lord used others in a very real way to teach me the correct way to pray when, in my audacity, I asked God to change a personality trait in another individual that I thought needed to be corrected. It is my prayer that in sharing the details of these two instances, at least one reader will receive spiritual clarity in what I believe God desires for all of us to understand about praying for those we do not like or respect.
THE FIRST LESSON : After having a particularly difficult time with a boss who seemed to dislike everyone, and who took delight in embarrassing me in front of others, I asked my prayer group to pray for God to change her heart, and help her to become a more loving person. I was shocked when our prayer group leader responded by saying, "I cannot pray this prayer for you." She went on to say, "What I can pray is that you will begin to love your boss just the way she is right now."
It took me a few minutes, but because of my deep respect for this Godly woman I agreed to at least give her prayer a try. However, before I prayed the prayer to learn to love my boss just as she was, I first asked God to give me a real desire to even want to love my boss as she was!
It did not happen overnight, but I was eventually able to see remarkable fruit from this new way of praying. Some will say that my boss changed because of the change within me, and they may be right. One thing for certain is that the atmosphere in our office changed tremendously, as my boss slowly became more gentle in her approach to all of us.
As for her attitude towards me personally, it seemed that in no time, she started confiding in me about the personal hopes and dreams in her somewhat shattered life. She and I discussed her limited relationship with God, and though I did not personally see her come into a real relationship with the Lord, I have no doubt that God had such plans awaiting her as she soon left town to go to another job shortly after these remarkable changes started to take place. This was truly a lesson well worth learning to me, about the power of a prayer when one asks to be able to love someone just as they are!
THE SECOND LESSON: Like children, sometimes we forget important lessons we have once learned...even those we know came from the hand of God. At least this is how it is sometimes with my own life. I had to learn this same lesson all over again about 14 years later while in a cold, damp, cave-like dwelling place in Italy where our missions team stopped for a few days rest from our 8 week trek of the "Reconciliation Walk."
Our team of 12 Christian adult missions students had been prayer walking a small portion of a particular route the Crusaders took 900 years before, praying with every step. The spiritual warfare we encountered could best be described at times as relentless. Each of us seemed to have our weakest points attacked at least once along the route.
My weakness area was that of a critical attitude towards a certain male team member whose weak point seemed to be a hateful attitude and sharp tongue which often left people in tears. Having forgotten my lesson of years ago, my prayer for this team member echoed that of the one I prayed for my boss years before as I asked the Lord to change his attitude, give him a heart of love.
Prior to starting out on this 10 week prayear walk, a student handed me a book that she said might be helpful along the way at some point. I had forgotten all about the book until we stopped for our rest in Italy and found it in my back pack. I decided this might be a good time for an adversion, so I began reading.
The book was called, Praying Hyde, a true story about an American missionary, John Hyde, who was known for his strong gift of intercessory prayer. I soon realized that the words in front of me, about this godly man who died in the early 1900's, were God's words being spoken to me concerning the sharp tongued team member over 90 years later!
I read about John Hyde going into his prayer closet, crying to the Lord about a certain pastor friend who, though he was a powerful preacher, had a sharp tongue and unapproachable to most of his congregation when away from the pulpit. John Hyde's friend's attitude was turning the people in his congregation away from him, and John was beseeching God, asking that God give him a more patient and loving heart towards others.
I do not remember the words exactly as they were written, but what I do remember is that God responded to John by saying something similar to, "who are you to ask me to change my servant? You cannot not know how I am working in his life. He who touches him, touches the apple of my eye! Yours is to praise me forthe good in him." (Most definitely a paraphrase of the biggest kind! However, this is what remains in my mind of the message left with me from that reading of 14 years ago.)
This response from God brought John Hyde up sharp with a lesson well learned that changed the way he prayed for others from that point forward. The lesson John learned burned deeply within me too, and brought me to my knees with prayers of praises for the good in my team mate who, after all, "the apple of God's eye!"