How do you pray for your enemies

Some of us “pray for our enemies” like this:

I pray your brakes go out running down a hill

I pray a flowerpot falls from a window sill and knocks you in the head like I’d like toI pray your birthday comes and nobody callsI pray you’re flying high when your engine stallsI pray all your dreams never come trueJust know wherever you are honey, I pray for you
(Chorus of the song – “I Pray for You” – Jaron and the Long Road to Love)

Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew 5:44 to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

For most human beings there is something about loving the things you hate that doesn’t make sense. I completely understand – I think we all understand. However, the thing that differs in a person’s thinking who follows Christ is that we are told to pray for those who persecute us. This doesn’t mean we pray that God would show them how cruel we think they’ve been, but we are to pray for them in blessing, love, and kindness.

Here’s the thing though, don’t think it’s going to come to you easily. This is something human nature can not rap it’s mind around, yet it is the difference between living a selfish life and living a life honoring a Holy God who loves us in  spite of our cruelty to Him. Lest we forget, Jesus agonized in prayer for us the night He was arrested to be crucified. Even though this is not normal or culturally acceptable, we must.

Pray for those who persecute you. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

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What does it mean to pray for our enemies? For the terrorist taking many lives in response to other grave wrongs, for the known or unknown assailant afflicting apparently senseless violence, for the thief who breaks into your house in the middle of the day and steals your things and sense of safety, for the boss who treats you carelessly and with disrespect, for the frenemy who pretends friendship but spreads lies about you behind your back, for anyone who does us harm.

Lord, are we really to pray for THAT person?

how do you pray for your enemies

In 3 Ways to Pray for Our Enemies, the author outlines praying for those who persecute Christians by:

  1. Praying for their conversion to Christ–that God might be merciful to them in the same way that we have received God’s grace.
  2. Praying that the evil they do might be restrained–both for their benefit and for the benefit of those who suffer.
  3. Praying they will receive divine justice–not to get around the call to love our enemies, but as a plea of last resort.

Is this enough to pray for our enemies? And what if, instead of outright persecution, your “enemy” is the one who verbally abuses you, who continually finds fault, who may even be part of your own family or church community?

The Psalms include prayers of lament against one’s enemies.

1 Lord, how numerous are my enemies!

Many attack me.2 Many say about me, “God will not deliver him.”

– Psalm 3:1-2

Many go further with prayers of vengeance:

8 May his days be few!

May another take his job!9 May his children be fatherless,and his wife a widow!10 May his children roam around begging,asking for handouts as they leave their ruined home!11 May the creditor seize all he owns!May strangers loot his property!12 May no one show him kindness!May no one have compassion on his fatherless children!13 May his descendants be cut off!May the memory of them be wiped out by the time the next generation arrives! – Psalm 109:8-13

7 Remember, O Lord, what the Edomites did

on the day Jerusalem fell.They said, “Tear it down, tear it down,right to its very foundation!”8 O daughter Babylon, soon to be devastated!How blessed will be the one who repays youfor what you dished out to us!9 How blessed will be the one who grabs your babies and smashes them on a rock!

– Psalm 137:7-9

Is it really okay to pray for our enemies in these ways?To pray that they lose their job and then their life? To pray that even their children will suffer cruelly? These prayers are recorded in Scripture, but are they meant as models of prayer, or as examples of people pushed to extremes, as illustrations of how violence gives rise to more violence?

When Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them to pray, Jesus responds:

9 So pray this way:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,

10 may your kingdom come,may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.11 Give us today our daily bread,12 and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
– Matthew 6:9-13

Later on the cross, Jesus prays for his own enemies in just this way. Instead of prayers of lament and vengeance as in the Psalms, he prays for those who crucify him:

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
– Luke 23:34

I can hardly bear these words of Jesus.

I would be calling for release and vindication, calling on those legions of angels and on God’s justice to reign. Given Jesus’ innocence and the cruelty of his crucifixion, given all of the good he had done in his life and the injustice of his death, his words simply don’t make sense–at least no earthly sense that I can tell.

Is Jesus’ way then, the way of heaven? Does Jesus’ teaching in the Lord’s Prayer and his own example on the cross teach us how to pray for our enemies today?

I’m still working this out in my own mind and life, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far on how to pray for our enemies even when we may not want to, even when it seems impossible.

1. Pray with love

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven. . . . – Matthew 5:43-45

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you. – Luke 6:27-31

2. Pray in silence

From Barbara Cawthorne Crafton in Let Us Bless the Lord, Year One cited by Spirituality and Practice:

The madder you are about it, the more assiduously you should avoid any words at all in your prayer for your enemy. Leave the details to God. God doesn’t need our suggestions anyway — he is fully informed about our affairs. We don’t need to tell God things. God knows.

3. Pray as you would pray for yourself

From Prayer for Enemies by Anselm of Canterbury (1022-1109):

You alone, Lord, are mighty;
you alone are merciful;
whatever you make me desire for my enemies,
give it to them and give the same back to me,
and if what I ask for them at any time
is outside the rule of charity,
whether through weakness, ignorance, or malice,
good Lord, do not give it to them
and do not give it back to me.

You who are the true light, lighten their darkness;
you who are the whole truth, correct their errors;
you who are the true life, give life to their souls.

4. Pray for mercy

As Jesus prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them,” I appreciate the example of a young Iraqi woman, Christina Shabo, who prays:

have mercy on ISIS and on the whole world.

5. Pray for transformation

From Catholic Online:

We pray for our enemies and those who oppose us.
With the help of the Holy Spirit,
may all people learn to work together
for that justice which brings true and lasting peace.

I can’t claim any expertise in praying for my enemies – after all that’s why spiritual practice is called practice. But at least this is a start, and I invite you to join me.

You may also want to check out the other articles in my occasional How to Pray series:

How to Pray Powerfully for Peace

How to Pray for Public Tragedy

How to Pray About Work When You Can’t Find the Words

How to Pray for a Wedding Dinner

How to Pray About Mental Illness When You Can’t Find the Words

How to Pray for Families Living with Mental Illness

How to Pray for the Syrian Refugee Crisis When You Can’t Find the Words

How to Pray for Peace When You Can’t Find the Words

Writing/Reflection Prompt: What helps you to pray for your enemies even when you don’t want to?

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Post by Pastor Tim – Luke 6:27 says, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”  These words gained new meaning to me as I walked through the Korean War Museum last month in Seoul, Korea.

What I found particularly interesting is that when the Korean War ended in 1953, South Korea never signed the armistice.  And because they never signed the armistice, in the eyes of many Koreans the two countries are still technically at war.  You see, the South originally wanted to continue to fight and unite the two countries once and for all instead of ending the war with the country divided.

What makes this so fascinating, is that over the last few decades South Korea has provided more aid to North Korea than any other country.  While still at war, the South gives aid to their enemies in the North!

While this might seem incredulous at first, it shouldn’t be a concept that’s so foreign to us as Christians.  In the Whole Life Offering, Pastor Foley notes that doing good to our enemies should be a core discipline in Christianity.  In fact, Jesus did good towards us in that he died for us while we were still His enemies (Romans 5:6-10), and this is the good that we are now to mirror to others.

But even with the example of South Korea and the more important one of Christ, it may still be difficult to know how to begin doing good to our enemies.  That’s why in our Colorado DOTW Congregation, each member is beginning to do good by praying for one of his/her enemies each day this week.  The Prayers for Enemies web-site has been a great starting point to learn some of the churches’ more traditional prayers concerning their enemies.

Prayer may not seem all that earth-shattering, but it’s exactly what the Scriptures tell us to do (Matthew 5:44) and what Jesus himself modeled when He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).”

Prayer is so central and foundation to Work of Mercy of doing good, because it not only has the capacity to change the heart of our enemy and ourselves, but  it also helps us to understand the good that God wants us to do.

And in order to get that “understanding” part, we have to be willing to learn from and reflect on our prayers.  Here are some questions that I will be reflecting on and I would invite you to do the same after you’ve prayed for your enemies for a week.

  • How are Jesus’ commands in Matthew 5:43-48 related to the Work of Mercy of doing good?
  • How did I specifically pray for my enemy this week?
  • How has my life been affected by praying for my enemy?
  • What have I sensed the Lord asking me to do in relation to my enemy?

dotheword.org

Post by Pastor Tim – Luke 6:27 says, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”  These words gained new meaning to me as I walked through the Korean War Museum last month in Seoul, Korea.

What I found particularly interesting is that when the Korean War ended in 1953, South Korea never signed the armistice.  And because they never signed the armistice, in the eyes of many Koreans the two countries are still technically at war.  You see, the South originally wanted to continue to fight and unite the two countries once and for all instead of ending the war with the country divided.

What makes this so fascinating, is that over the last few decades South Korea has provided more aid to North Korea than any other country.  While still at war, the South gives aid to their enemies in the North!

While this might seem incredulous at first, it shouldn’t be a concept that’s so foreign to us as Christians.  In the Whole Life Offering, Pastor Foley notes that doing good to our enemies should be a core discipline in Christianity.  In fact, Jesus did good towards us in that he died for us while we were still His enemies (Romans 5:6-10), and this is the good that we are now to mirror to others.

But even with the example of South Korea and the more important one of Christ, it may still be difficult to know how to begin doing good to our enemies.  That’s why in our Colorado DOTW Congregation, each member is beginning to do good by praying for one of his/her enemies each day this week.  The Prayers for Enemies web-site has been a great starting point to learn some of the churches’ more traditional prayers concerning their enemies.

Prayer may not seem all that earth-shattering, but it’s exactly what the Scriptures tell us to do (Matthew 5:44) and what Jesus himself modeled when He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).”

Prayer is so central and foundation to Work of Mercy of doing good, because it not only has the capacity to change the heart of our enemy and ourselves, but  it also helps us to understand the good that God wants us to do.

And in order to get that “understanding” part, we have to be willing to learn from and reflect on our prayers.  Here are some questions that I will be reflecting on and I would invite you to do the same after you’ve prayed for your enemies for a week.

  • How are Jesus’ commands in Matthew 5:43-48 related to the Work of Mercy of doing good?
  • How did I specifically pray for my enemy this week?
  • How has my life been affected by praying for my enemy?
  • What have I sensed the Lord asking me to do in relation to my enemy?

dotheword.org

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