We love those who’ve been kind, who’ve stuck with us through tough times, and forgiven our past wrongs. We love those who agree with us, who support a common cause, those we admire.
Jesus says that if we truly love Him we will do what He says. We will love our neighbors as ourselves. We will ‘feed His sheep.’ Okay, got that, right? Wait a minute. He’s saying something else. Let’s listen:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbors 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. Matthew 5:43-45
What?!! Loving my enemies and praying for those who persecute me is a condition of being a child of God? You gotta be kidding, right? Pray for ISIS followers who are killing Christians? We’d rather plea with God to destroy our enemies! And let’s not get started about praying for someone with a different political preference. We don’t even want to pray for people in our path who are just a bit disagreeable or unlovable.
But Jesus who turned the tables of the temple ‘thieves’ seeks to turn the tables of our own selfish ambitions too. He wants to deepen our love for Him – and for others. Loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us is one of the deepest expressions of love. The bible says we were enemies with God and yet He so loved us that He gave His Son Jesus so we could be saved. How can we say we love Jesus, and not do as he says…love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?
But HOW should we pray for our enemies?
Pray for their salvation, for saving faith so they will receive Christ and trust only in Him. (Romans 10:9, Ephesians 2:8-9, John 1:12, John 14:6, Acts 4:12) Pray they will embrace true wisdom revealed by Almighty God. (Ephesians 1:17) Impossible? Consider one of the world’s most ardent persecutors of Christians, the man we know as the apostle Paul whose life was completely transformed by the power of God. Consider Daniel Shayestah, who was a faithful member of Iran’s ruthless Red Guard, but responded immediately to follow Jesus after being warned in a dream. God is still in the transformation business.
Pray for evil to be restrained. Pray that the God-offending ways of our enemies will be thwarted and frustrated at every turn in their path. Pray for the protection of believers and testimonies that boldly confront the lies of their persecutors and actually advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12)
Pray for God’s will to be done. We know what vengeance we would unleash on our enemies, but God warns: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) Military action may be needed to curtail the wrath of destruction of our enemies. But our role is to pray for God’s divine will be done – to save or destroy, according to His purpose.
We who were once enemies with God need to obey Jesus and pray for those who still remain His enemies. Pray for their salvation, for protection from evil, and for God’s will be done. If they are converted, that’s God’s choice. If they refuse to repent of evil ways, they will receive their just punishment. As for you and me, let’s pray.
Who have you written off as hopeless and beyond salvation? Who is it, that the very thought of them creates a bitterness in your soul? Who have you marginalized through your apathy to their views and existence? These are the enemies Jesus called us to love. If you’re thinking this is beyond your ability, you are absolutely right. So let Jesus-in-you do the loving, on His terms, not yours. And watch how your world changes as your spirit cooperates with His.