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How Do You Pray for Your Enemies?

If you’ve ever prayed through our weekly Prayer Warriors prayer list, you may have noticed that one of our regular prayers is for our enemies. This is maybe one of the most challenging instructions Jesus gave us – to love our enemies. I mean, enemies are by default people you don’t love! But before we dig into praying for your enemies, most people tell me, “I don’t have any enemies.” A good first question to ask is: Who is my enemy? Not a normal way question to ask, I know, but I would consider the following people to fall somewhere in the category of “enemy”:

  • Your actual enemies and nemeses. Poison ivy is mine.
  • People you hate, even when the hate is only temporary.
  • People who have harmed you in anyway, especially when you haven’t forgiven them for that harm.
  • Rivals, whether at work, in sports, in politics, or in life.
  • People you don’t want to love.
  • People or groups you’ve been told to hate by society, even if you don’t hate them yourself. If they are your community’s enemies, they are your enemies.
  • Countries and groups your country (or any other group you belong to) are at war with or opposed to.
  • People who hate you, for any reason (such as because you’re American), even if you’ve never met them and even if you don’t hate them.

Wow, that’s a big list! Surely we all have enemies. Now that you’re beginning to think about all the people who might be an enemy to you, what does Jesus say about enemies?

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ (Matthew 5:43-44). ‘Again, I say to you that listen: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’ (Luke 6:27-28, 35-36)

In case Jesus didn’t make his point clear, in those 6 verses he said:

  • Love your enemies,
  • Pray for those who persecute,
  • Do good to those who hate you,
  • Bless those who curse you,
  • Pray for those who abuse you,
  • Share with those who take from you, and
  • Be kind and merciful.

In both Matthew and Luke, loving our enemies is connected with prayer. Prayer FOR. On behalf of. Seeking the good. Blessing. It is easy to pray ABOUT my enemies. “O God, smite so-and-so for making fun of me! Give them pimples for a month and a horrible case of pink eye!” Ah, that felt good. “Thank you, God, for hating those I hate. Amen.” Alas, that’s NOT how Jesus teaches us to pray. That was a prayer AGAINST my enemy, and Jesus teaches us to pray FOR our enemies.

So how do we pray FOR our enemies? I think the easiest way to determine if a prayer is FOR someone is to ask the simple question, “Does my prayer seek the good of the person I’m praying for? Is my prayer a blessing or a curse?” Those are the other instructions Jesus gives us – to do good and bless. To prayer FOR our enemies is to pray for their good and wellbeing, to bless them and extend mercy to them. Instead of the pimply pink eye prayer above, one might pray, “O God, I wish so-and-so understood how much it hurt when they made fun of me. But right now, I need your help forgiving them. And then, Lord, bless them with an extra portion of your love. Clear up those pimples I noticed so that they look beautiful, and fill their heart with joy and their mind with good thoughts. Let them know you love them, even if I can’t right now. Amen.” That’s a prayer FOR an enemy!

Next time you pick up the weekly Prayer Warrior prayer list, or you just find yourself in prayer in general, take a moment to consider Jesus’ words above and take some extended time to pray for your enemies and those you do not want to love. Practice that love muscle God gave you, and experience what it’s like to love like God our Father loves us.