praying for your (personal) enemies
Open Your Bible
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.
“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.