What Does it Mean to Pray for Your Enemies?

Jesus himself told his followers to pray for his enemies. And when we do, Matthew 5:45 says that we will be “children of Your father in heaven.” Praying softens our heart, as we let go of our agenda. And most of all it allows us to become more like Jesus.

Updated May 20, 2020
What Does it Mean to Pray for Your Enemies?

The New Testament talks a lot about forgiving one’s enemies, a noble and altruistic notion. But it’s difficult. As humans, we want revenge and vindication. We don’t naturally think about praying for our enemies. But Jesus commanded us to pray.

Who Are Our Enemies?

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines an enemy as, “One that is antagonistic to another, something harmful or deadly, or a hostile unit or force.” Enemies don’t have to be those out to kill us. They can be a gossipy neighbor who wants to ruin your reputation. Or a competitive business with cutthroat methods to put you out of business. It’s natural to shy away from those who mean us harm. But if we want to walk in obedience to Jesus, we will pray for them.

Why Must We Pray for Them?

Jesus himself told his followers to pray for his enemies. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43-44). He didn’t suggest we like them or ignore them but through our prayers, we bring them to the throne of God and bless them. And when we do, Matthew 5:45-48 says that we will be “... children of Your father in heaven.” In other words, obeying this commandment marks us as people related to God Almighty.

Jesus then added that if we pray for those who persecute us, it will be painful to them. As our enemies receive blessings via our prayers, they will feel miserable, weighed down with burning coals heaped on top of their head (Romans 12:20). Because when someone is against you, they will expect you to retaliate. Turning the other cheek and petitioning God for your enemy’s needs is the last thing they will expect.

How Does Praying for Our Enemies Affect Us?

And as we pray for our enemies, we forgive them. Matthew 5:44 says to” pray for those who persecute you.” Ephesians 4:32-32 tells us to treat enemies with kindness, putting away the temptations to gossip or become bitter.  When we forgive those who are against us, we start to treat them differently, looking at them through a lens of compassion. Praying softens our heart, as we let go of our agenda. And most of all it allows us to become more like Jesus.

What about People in The Bible Like David Who Asked God to Wipe Out His Enemies?

Often biblical characters have been recorded in the Bible not to show perfect human beings but to illustrate their humanity. David is an example of a flawed man, but one who had a deep faith in Jehovah.

His life was tumultuous especially during the first part of his life. God chose him to be king but King Saul, threatened by this young warrior, hunted him down. David prayed many prayers in a cave or out in the wilderness with him and his men hiding from the insane King Saul, fearful for his life.

In spite of being a fugitive, he had such a passion to worship the God of Israel. He jealously protected God’s name, even putting his own life at risk, such as when he fought Goliath. David was like a parent who had to endure someone continually mocked their daughter or bullied their son. His righteous indignation comes through in his prayers in the Psalms.

Psalm 109:6-13 is one of the strongest examples of this.

“Set a wicked man over him. And let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is judged, let him be found guilty, and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few, and let another take his office.”

Some Bible commentators suggest that David’s words were prophetic utterances rather than a request for vindication. In Acts 1:20, Peter refers to this passage: “Let his days be few and let another take his office,” as a reference to replacing Judas who betrayed Jesus.

That’s not to say David, a man after God’s own heart was blood-thirsty, but he was a warrior, dedicated to protecting Israel from evil tribes such as the Moabites (who worshipped Chemosh and participated in human sacrifices.) He saw the fight against warring tribes as a spiritual battle.  

David only knew the God of the Old Testament. But Jesus came to fulfill the law in a new covenant, first with the Jewish nation and then with the Gentiles. In the New Testament it reads, “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah” (Hebrews 8:8). With only the Old Testament with its rules and laws, David called on God to wipe out his enemies, often for survival. But with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit our response should be to pray for those who wish us ill.

Carol Stratton is a novelist, reporter, and freelancer. Carol has penned 500 articles, and two books, Changing Zip Codes, and the award-winning debut novel, Lake Surrender, (inspired by her work with autistic students). Currently, she working on a sequel to her first novel and keeping up with her blog. She speaks to women’s groups such as Mothers of Preschoolers. Married to her literary muse, John, they have four children and eight grandchildren in North Carolina. She loves to encourage new writers and readers who have moved. Connect with her at her CarolGStratton.com and on Twitter and Facebook

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This article is part of Christianity.com's prayer answers including famous, topical prayers and information about the power of prayer. Find more related articles in the collection of prayers below:

The Serenity Prayer, The Lord's Prayer, Morning Prayers, Prayers for Healing, Thanksgiving Prayers, Advent Prayers, Christmas Prayers, Prayers for Peace, Prayers for Protection, Prayers for Strength, Praying in the Spirit.


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