Why you should pray for your enemies is a question I often think about. The New Testament talks a lot about forgiving our enemies. It sounds great, but let’s be honest, it’s challenging. Maybe you struggle with that too? I certainly don’t think about praying for them, yet that is what Jesus asks us to do.
According to the dictionary, an enemy is “one who is antagonistic to another, something harmful or lethal, or a hostile unit or force.” Enemies do not have to be people who want to kill us. They may be difficult neighbours who wish to harm your reputation. Or someone who makes fun of your beliefs. Or a competitive business with ruthless tactics to drive you out of business. It’s natural to avoid those who wish us harm. But if we want to be like Jesus, we will pray for them.
What did Jesus say?
In Jesus’ most famous sermon, He makes a point of talking about our enemies.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
Matthew 5: 43-48
He didn’t suggest we like them or ignore them, but through our prayers, we bring them to the throne of God, bless them and love them. I don’t know about you, but that seems hard.
Prayer for your enemies is one of the most profound forms of love because it requires you to truly desire that something good happens to them. You may do nice things for your enemies without a genuine desire for them to succeed. Prayer for them, on the other hand, is interceding with God on their behalf.
Your prayer may be that they encounter the love of God. It could be that they have a change of heart. Whatever it is, the prayer Jesus refers to is always for their benefit. This is what Jesus did as He hung on the cross:
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified Him there…, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up His clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
Luke 23: 32-35
As they killed Stephen, this is what he said:
When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Acts 7: 54-60
Jesus calls us not just to do good things for our enemy, like greeting them and helping supply their needs. He also calls us to desire their best and express those desires in prayers, even when the enemy is nowhere around. Our hearts should desire their salvation and want their presence in heaven with us and hope for their eternal happiness. So then, the question is, “how do we pray for our enemies?” Here are a couple of suggestions for you.
1. Pray they would know the love of God
There are two main reasons why we do not pray for our enemies. The first reason is that we believe it is ridiculous to expect them to follow Jesus. The second reason is that we are concerned that they will genuinely turn to God and follow Him.
The first reason is more common: pleading with your opponents to follow Jesus seems pointless. We acknowledge the theological fact that God can do for them what He did for us: provide the gift of grace so that they can be saved. But we look at the issue “realistically” and tell ourselves that the likelihood of them actually realising they are loved is so low that it would be a waste of our (and God’s) time to even ask.
Such transformations are, without a doubt, unusual and uncommon. Nonetheless, we should pray for them to know Jesus. If we sincerely love our adversary, how can we not pray to God on their behalf?
Another reason we don’t pray for them to know God’s love is that we are afraid they will genuinely follow Him. Like Jonah did in Nineveh, sometimes we want our enemies to receive their just rewards, not mercy and forgiveness. I know that I have struggled to pray for those who have hurt me. At times, I didn’t want God to bless them or rescue them.
“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity”
But it is precisely because He is a gracious and compassionate God that we ought to pray for our enemies to know Him. How could we do anything less than ask God to show them the same grace shown to us?
2. Pray the evil they do may be restrained
There is no dichotomy between praying for the good of our enemy and praying that their evil actions be restrained. We all benefit when God responds to our sincere prayer for Him to act. God has shown time and again through the Bible that He is able and willing to step in and stop evil and injustice.
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 Chron 7: 14
For more help on prayer check out this blog.