Day 8

praying for your (personal) enemies

Matthew 5:38-48

BY Diana Stone

Text: Matthew 5:38-48

“But I say, ‘Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”
– Matthew 5:44, NLT

In studying this passage, I was confident I knew what Jesus was telling me. How many of us have heard His words, “Love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you”?

And I do, I thought smugly. I pray for the people out there who hurt others, who cause pain with their words, and so many more.

Then I stumbled on a sermon from a pastor who challenged his listeners to think of someone they didn’t like, personally. Then he asked them to commit to praying for that person every night—for their own attitude towards that person and their good qualities.

My pen froze on my little, neatly-lined writing pad. Instantly names flashed into my mind, and the thought of them made me cringe. Then the thought of interrupting my prayer time with memories of them— No, that wasn’t the way prayer should be. It would ruin it.

I want to tell you my heart was so pulled by those words and my own obvious discomfort that I went to bed and prayed for those people. In all honesty, I just skipped talking to God that night instead.

Now I sit here today at my kitchen table, praying over these words in my Bible as I prepare to explain, in my own humanity, what Matthew 5:38-48 means to me, and that sermon pops into my head again.

Personal enemies.

“Why didn’t you pray for them?” a little voice asks. (Nothing like a good, old fashioned Holy Spirit nudge!)

I’ve thought it over. For an hour now. And here is what I’ve come up with:

  • Because it hurts.
  • Because I don’t want to think about them.
  • Because I’m afraid I might have to think about what I did in that situation.
  • Because I don’t want to let them back into my life.

Here’s the beautiful thing about prayer, though—it’s for us. It’s not for guilting ourselves into returning to a dysfunctional relationship and being a doormat for Jesus. It’s not for beating ourselves up over what we did wrong. Prayer and repentance help guide us to healing. Maybe the healing happens on both ends—ours and our enemy’s. Maybe it’s just in our own heart. The passage says to love and pray for our enemies “that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” He is our Father who forgives and heals us and reconciles us to Him!

Loving your enemies isn’t simply about praying from afar— it is also for those who have or have had an intensely personal role in our lives. That’s part of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:44. Through love and prayer comes healing from resentment, bitterness, anger. We’re able to come closer to Christ’s command to “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48) as we confess the hardness in our own hearts to the One who understands perfect love.

Do you have your person yet? Is it hard to think about praying for them? Then maybe this is exactly the place where God wants you to bring it to Him.

Post Comments (229)

229 thoughts on "praying for your (personal) enemies"

  1. Jen says:

    This is such a hard word of Jesus to be obedient to. I have seen change through gritting my teeth and doing it. Yet even with that it is still hard to do. It can be emotionally confusing though and would be better with a trusted confidante to share with. Praying and forgiving is not the same thing as reconciliation. It seems in my experience the praying leads to a softening which leads to the ability to forgive which leads to loving, but it is more how God works in me for healing , and is separate from whether the relationship is healed. That takes the other person to be accountable for their part in the difficulty. And to be following Christ’ s counsel as well.

  2. Leah says:

    I feel like the hardest person for me to forgive right now is myself.

    In the past couple of years there has been a lot of healing in my life with different relationships… I can honestly say I have forgiven my mom who was verbally abusive to me and a couple weeks ago I saw my step mom for the first time in 7 years without a trace of bitterness left from my experience with her and her impact on my family. There’s always ways to improve and I trust that there will continue to be healing, but honestly after all of the work that has gone into healing those situations, I am still left with wild insecurities within myself. It’s hard to love me. It’s hard to forgive myself and let go of the reasons I have to hate who I am. This idea might be different than exactly what the devo was talking about, but it’s what came to mind when I was thinking about who I need to forgive.

  3. Hesedel says:

    I have read this devotion so many times, searching my heart, asking the Lord to soften my heart. I know in my head being hurt and betrayed by someone is no reason to stop praying for them and no reason to ruin my own life by becoming bitter and resentful. And yet when little things trigger all the memories my first reaction is still to push back. God help me pray for my personal enemies and may I extend the grace you have given me and be changed by you in the process.

  4. Nikki G. says:

    It’s like I feel justified in being angry with him. I feel like I should be, like I deserve to be, and have the right to be angry with him. So, praying for my attitude to be changed toward him and for my heart to be softened seems…on one level, wrong. He doesn’t deserve my grace. Why would I give it to him? Why would I waste prayers on him? Of course I hear myself and know how incredibly sinful and unChristlike all of those statements are…but…it’s still how I feel. This time it’s logic vs. emotion…but they’ve switched roles. What a strange feeling…

  5. Nikki G. says:

    I’m having trouble trying to figure out how/what to pray for a man who owes me a significant amount of money. Long story short (and probably bias), I consulted for his company. He lied about his company’s level of funding and was/is unable to pay me for what adds up to $20,000+ in outstanding invoices. Now he’s gone MIA and won’t respond to me. It’s looking like my only option will be to take him to court. So, needless to say, he checks off a few of the requirements for “enemy”.

    It’s not that I don’t think I should pray for him. It’s that I can’t think of WHAT to pray that wouldn’t be completely self-serving to benefit me. Do I ask that God opens this man’s heart to see the err in his ways? That’d be for me. Do I ask that God help this man’s company succeed so he can make money and meet his outstanding invoices he owes me? That’d be for me too. How can I pray for him that’s actually…for him and not for me?

    1. Jes says:

      I think you can pray all those things and also ask god what to pray for him about too. Then I liked in the devo how it said to pray for our own attitudes towards those enemies and our own hardness of heart toward them. I’m praying for my husbands affair partners and was wondering the same thing how do I not pray selfishly or without resentment? I can’t yet so I’m asking God to help me to pray for them unselfishly and without resentment.

  6. Ellen Adams says:

    Feeling convicted! I’m on a business trip today with a girl I really don’t like. Thank you Jesus for not leaving me where I’m at.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Personal enemies are an interesting comment because whenever I see things like “love your enemy”, I don’t usually think someone who has hurt me personally so praying for them isn’t personal either. However, this made me reflect more and, similarly, cringe at what I came up with. But with more reflecting, I have realized that gaining an understanding of these people through thought and prayer has given me more insight not only into God’s character but into my own

  8. Hayley Tancak says:

    ^^^kristen yesss! this one is tough. but so needed

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