I never dreamed that I would live to see the day when I would write an article for Christians outlining practical ways to respond to hate, however, it is obvious that now is the time to do so.
As a revivalist, I was called to proclaim a revival message to a major evangelical denomination for several years. During that time, I experienced two polar opposites. First, through the years the joy of seeing many people either rededicate their lives to Christ or become truly born again after realizing that they had been stuck in religious practice for years. Secondly, I was sometimes the brunt of fierce opposition when I confronted the spiritually dead or lukewarm with the truths of the scripture and the consequences of fruitless religious practice. I discovered that these individuals often resented me due to my convictions. I soon realized how Jesus felt when he debated the scribes and Pharisees. I now see this second group of people rising both in number and influence in America. Hopefully I can share what I have learned with you about how to respond to hate with Christ’s love.
As a revivalist, I have been called an extremist, a zealot, too intense, and a fanatic (of various flavors). The list could go on, but the words are not fit for a Christian newspaper. Drawing on God’s great grace, I have endeavored to always respond with His love in humility and meekness and always offering to explain my exhortations in more detail. However, for some inexplicable reason, my requests were usually rejected. It did not seem to matter to them that I am a man of much prayer or that I had spent many years studying the scriptures. They seemed unmoved by my multiple testimonies concerning not only my conversion but also the incredible answers to prayer and miracles that I had seen God do during my lifetime. Attempting to prove my level of intelligence or recounting my years of ministry experience did nothing to change their negative attitudes. The truth is nothing will soften the hardened hearts of those that love a self-focused life more than they love God. Only God’s answers to our prayers for them will cause them to receive correction. However, the question for us is can we even pray effectively for them if our only response to their hate is to hate back?
Just as Jesus explained in the many verses listed in John 15:18-25, the world is going to hate us. There simply is no dumbing down this expression. He concludes the subject in verse 25, “But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated me without a cause.’” We simply must come to grips with the following truth: No matter how loving we are, remembering that Jesus was love personified; no matter how much we give, remembering that He gave the ultimate sacrifice; no matter how much we return love for hate, our efforts will nevertheless make some hate us all the more. In spite of the seeming fruitlessness of our efforts, we are still commanded to love them back. This, of course, is not humanly possible; we can only do it through the power of the Holy Spirit Who dwells within us.
Personally, I know God started preparing me for a life of persecution when I was a child.I had to live with the fact that I was a very uncoordinated skinny version of a Charlie Brown type who always dropped the ball and was the last one picked for everything. I am not sure that you ever get used to rejection, but you can learn how to process it and have it be less painful. I think that one of the greatest lessons we can ever learn as Christians is how to properly process the rejection we experience when we are persecuted for following Jesus.
Jesus taught in Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (NKJV). Learning how to process insults or confrontations starts by learning how to prayerfully receive God’s supernatural enablement or “grace” through prayer whenever we experience emotional distress of any kind. I equate the pain of persecution to the pain of the loss of a close friend, and the pain of severe persecution to the pain of the death of a loved one. The hurt resides deep in your heart and if the persecution is ongoing, then the pain lingers with it.
Are you being persecuted by a church, or a group within a church? Then the process of being ostracized from that circle of possible former friends can cut like a knife. It might be different if they sat down with you and discussed their differences with you as Jesus taught us to do to restore a relationship. Unfortunately, most generally they just stop calling you, texting you or including you in what others in the group are doing. What used to be a welcoming smile, knuckle bump or an air hug has turned into a frown and a quick turn to head in the other direction. During my years as a revivalist, being ostracized has been the persecution that I have had to endure most frequently. The man considered to be “The Father of All Revivals”, Charles G. Finney once wrote, “If you have much of the Spirit of God do not be surprised if others oppose you, and sometimes it may be the leading members of the church!” The truth is that Jesus feels your pain and as He so wonderfully quoted, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” Matthew 21:42b”(NKJV)
Always allow spending time in prayer and receiving comfort from your Lord to become your strength. He will be especially close to you when you are suffering for Him! Let Him love through you and never show hate in return! “Forgive them father for they know not what they do!” Luke 23:34b
Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is www.verticalsound.org.