(This is part and parcel of my last post, “How Can We Increase Our Compassion for Others?”)
“I’m pretty good about praying for people generally,” a reader wrote me. “But I’m not that good at asking God to bring blessings to a person who, through their malice or ill will toward me, has hurt my life. If I really boiled down my question to you, I guess it would be, how important is it that I pray for my enemies? Do I really have to do that?”
The short answer is yes: as difficult as it can be, each of us must take special care to pray for our enemies. In fact, if there is anyone in this world for whom you really should make a point of praying, it’s your enemy. Here (and this is primarily directed toward Christians) are some reasons why:
1. Jesus unequivocally told us to. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus says, “But I tell you: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you … .” And in Luke 6:27-28, Jesus says, “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” So. There it is.
2. We’re supposed to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. (Matthew 17:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, …. ”) Obviously, we’d rather someone pray for our well-being than we would pray for … well, for the sorts of things we tend to wish upon our enemies during our less charitable moments.
3. It greatly enhances your understanding of the situation between you and your “enemy.” For reasons and in ways we mortals will never understand, prayer creates miracles. One of the miracles it creates is emotional and mental clarity on the part of the one praying. And if ever any of us are in need of that clarity, it’s when we’re suffering through stress engendered by a conflict with another person. Praying for your enemies — really specifically praying that good things happen to them, that they prosper, that God fills them with his holy peace — creates in you that clarity, that wisdom, that perspective you’re often otherwise lacking. That’s a beautiful thing to have come over you when you’re all tangled up in knots over someone with whom you’re at odds.4. It relieves stress. This one’s connected to #3. As these days it’s safe to say everyone knows, stress is positively lethal. Being angry is one of the most stressful things you can do to your body. Really want to irk someone with whom you’re in conflict? Pray for their health and well-being. You’ll end up being healthier and living longer. That’ll show ‘em!
5. You want to be a good example of Christianity. Anyone can have a great personality when things are going well for them. It’s when things go sour that a person’s character really shows. Remember that if you’re a Christian, you’re not out in the world as just yourself. You’re also — and even primarily — out in the world as a representative of Christ. Non-Christians — and especially non-Christians with whom you’re in conflict — will notice every measure of discrepancy between your professed values and what you actually do and say. Praying for your enemy allows the Holy Spirit to figure into your relations with the person you’re praying for, which then allows you to behave toward that person in a way that will mark you as someone they can, at the very least, respect. More importantly, it allows Christ to see you as someone he’s proud to have representing him here on earth. The way not to let Christ down is to pray for your enemies.
As the Bible has it:
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:13-15)
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. (Mark 11:25)
See also my What is Prayer?