Must We Pray for Our Enemies?

(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)


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Diane Bourg

    For those of us of the Episcopal persuasion, see page 816 of the BCP.

  • Mollie

    But don’t be passive aggressive and tell them you’re praying for them. That’s just obnoxious.

  • Dirk

    Given the hatred conservative Christians are heaping upon gays and women and the transgender these days (yet another state has effectively killed Planned Parenthood for their citizens), I firmly believe we should pray for them.

    By all means. Pray that God will gather them to him as soon as possible.

  • HeatherR

    Can I be the contrary one and say that I actually don’t really like The Golden Rule? Don’t treat me the way you want to be treated; treat me the way I want to be treated. I’ve noticed if people just stick with the golden rule, they tend to put on blinders and ignore the reactions to their actions. (Small yet pertinent example from church services: Stop hugging me! I’m not a hugger. If you are a hugger, good for you. Hug other huggers. But don’t think because you want to be hugged that everyone else is the same.)

    I would accept the negative version of The Golden Rule: Don’t do unto others what you don’t want them to do to you. We can pretty much agree on the negatives: no punching, no stealing, no raping, no killing, &tc.

  • Jon

    Great stuff John. Forgiveness is so wrapped up in love that they’re basically interchangeable. We live in a world that tells us to hold our grudges, but we’re called to display Christ’s unconditional, unstoppable love.

  • “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.”

    This is good. It is so easy to pray for God to make your enemies to like you and to be kind to you, but then you are really praying for yourself. To pray explicitly for them to experience good is one half of it; to pray that they may see God as this source of their blessings and be transformed by this realization, that’s the other half. Reconciliation needs to start between us and God before we can hope to be reconciled to each other.

  • Skip Johnston

    I’ve always thought the whole love/pray for your enemies thing was a sly trick by Jesus. I’ve had enemies. Yes, I have. Nasty people who wanted to do me harm. Nasty people who, in fact, did me harm. I hated them. I spent lots of time plotting exquisite revenge. I didn’t do anything, of course, beyond what was socially and legally acceptable to protect myself. They were still nasty. And I was just more depressed.

    Then i prayed for them. They were still nasty but I began to understand that they were also hurting and, really, very sad. I couldn’t help them. I was their enemy. But they were no longer mine. So I went away from them.

  • Don Whitt

    “A blessing for the Tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar… far away from us!”

    The Rabbi in “Fiddler on the Roof”.

  • “Keep hatred from the Mighty and the Mighty from the Small.”

    ~ from “Heaven Help Us All” by Stevie Wonder

  • It’s been said many times over……forgiveness is the gift we give ourselves.

  • Ben

    Love this post. A great reminder.

  • Party pooper

  • Treating people the way they want to be treated could wind up as enabling.

    re your hugger example: Ideally no one should initiate a hug w/o asking in some manner (even non-verbally) if it’s okay to touch the huggee. If a hugger senses reluctance, they should back off.

    (Have you expressed your preference to the huggers? A polite, private “thanx for your friendly gesture, but I’ve got a thing about getting hugged; it’s okay just to wave at me”?)

  • Matthew 5:44 is probably THE hardest verse for me, and I suspect for many (most?) other Christians. It’s really REALLY hard to pray for those who have spitefully used us, who have insulted/harmed family & friends (I’m a hillbilly who’s 1/8th German, 3/8ths Scots-Irish, & 1/2 Italian w/a Neapolitan mother; not a very forgiving bunch, is it?).

    And yet…I know I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of my revenge fantasies, and as pleasurable as the imagined pain & suffering of my enemies are in my mind, I don’t want to become the kind of monster who actually carries such things out.

    “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” Christ taught. Right now I’m doing my best to not act out on my unforgiveness but to stifle those impulses; I trust God will do the same to me.

  • skosh

    if you lived by this your entire blog would *poof! * cease to exist

  • Yes. Because there’s magic.

  • beautiful, buzz.

  • BEN! Thanks!

  • As much as I love the song, “I pray for you” I really don’t pray THAT way for people who are less than positive in my live. I don’ t have enemies because they require me to actually actively waste my time disliking them. They can waste all their energy not liking me or hating me – I try to pray for them. When I cannot honestly ask for good things, for God to bless them (for some that would be a horror trust me) I humbly give them to God to care for and bless. I surrender my own need for their hurting and my own need for payback (as much fun as it sometimes would be that’s why we have great movies to watch and dream along with) to the Lord.

    Praying for those who are not on our ‘get stuck with them on a deserted island’ list is hard, it is easy to slight them, slam them, talk about them but it is hard to have compassion and pray for them. God certainly know show to bring His stiff necked children into line.

    Love one another. No exceptions. No passes.

    But on those days when I cannot deal with that alone, I also remember these two things:

    Revenge is mine, sayeth the Lord.

    Jesus already beat the devil at his game, so all we are doing is the loving after the butt kicking. We have a promise of life eternal, what is some honest prayer for people here and now compared to that?

  • Debbie

    If that’s the case the entire Bible best go ***poof*** too.

  • Debbie

    I like you. Awesome observation Sherlock.

  • Olu

    Pray for them AND stay the hell away from them. If reconciliation happens, Dei gloriam. If not, Dei gloriam.

  • Heather R., a good point.

    Rabbi Hillel (c.110 BCE – 10 CE), whom Jesus very likely would have studied, was one who phrased the Rule in this negative form: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” This negative version is also sometimes referred to as the Silver Rule and dates back to Confucious (551–479 B.C.) and beyond. The Rule, in one form or another, is found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism and all of the world’s major religions.

    I respect your desire to maintain your personal space. Others should too, but they can’t if they don’t know how you feel. My husband used to tell me: “Be overt. I don’t get subtle. It’s not fair to be mad at me for not knowing what you were thinking in your head.”

    This reminds me, though, of a wonderful story about grace from Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott where she talks about a woman in her congregation who would give Anne plastic baggies of dimes she had saved for Anne and her son. The woman, who didn’t have much herself, knew Anne was a single mom trying to make it in the world. Anne never chose to be offended by it; she always graciously accepted the dimes, even after she no longer financially needed them….. because Anne knew she was not the only one receiving something in the exchange. By accepting the gift she gave back much more. Even though Anne didn’t need the dimes, she and the woman always needed the giving and the receiving of a blessing. After accepting the coins, Anne would later pass them on to another who needed them more than she did, so the money always found its way to its intended purpose. “Sometimes,” Anne writes, “heaven is just a new pair of glasses.”

  • peet

    This is THE most important verse for me right now. Our ONLY teachers of patience, our ONLY teachers of love, are those who anger us and hurt us. Doesn’t Jesus talk about how easy it is to love the people who love us? It ‘s when we love the people who irritate and annoy us that we are MOST Christian. If we really want to live out the fruits of the spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.–then our lives must be all about loving those who we least want to love. That is the END of the story. Partly because loving our enemies changes them from enemies to friends, partly because loving our enemies teaches us to be like Christ who ‘died while we were yet sinners’. I heard so much ‘pray for our troops’ over the last decade, and yet….scandalous, sorry…no one willing to pray for osama bin laden. Why? Because we don’t understand the gospel. we don’t get that God “so loved the world.” we enlist God in our petty disputes rather than taking Him at His word. if you want to grow spiritually, think of the person you hate the most, the person who hurt you more than anyone else, who screwed you over the worst, and treat them as you holiest teacher. Because they are. Until you love them, you’re still playing little league.

  • Diana A.

    “And yet…I know I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of my revenge fantasies, and as pleasurable as the imagined pain and suffering of my enemies are in my mind, I don’t want to become the kind of monster who actually carries such things out.”

    Neither do I.

    I think about that woman in Garden Grove and the appalling thing she did to her husband. I’ve fantasized about doing similarly terrible things to people who hurt me and ultimately, I know that if I were to act upon those fantasies, I am the one who would end up dehumanized and I would have done it to myself.

  • Diana A.

    For those of you who don’t have the Book of Common Prayer immediately handy:

    “O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”


  • vj

    Oh, well said, peet! 😉

  • kimberly

    john, you have some of the most amazing souls following your blog.

  • I do. It’s something for which I’m deeply grateful, every single day.

  • Beautifully done, Peet, as always. Really exceptional.

  • Great stuff, Shanyn.

  • “Remember, hate spelled backwards is etah.” — some moron

  • I like this.

  • textjunkie

    What do you do when what’s messing you up is not a person but a faceless transnational organization, an economic system that rewards the wealthy and screws the poor, a set of laws that keep you from being a full citizen, a group of coordinated and well-funded bigots with no names, etc.?

    It’s one thing when there’s a face and a location for your enemy. I can handle that. It’s another when it’s more diffuse, when no one hates *you* per se but their choices and decisions end up making your life impossible. How do I pray for Walmart or GE?

  • Christy

    Beautiful, Peet. Thanks for this.

  • Christy

    Should it be sinking in by now that you etah quotes?

  • Pray for the people at the top, the ones who make the decisions that determine the policies, practices, and institutional values of their organizations. Pray for their enlightenment.

  • DR

    This is amazing.

  • Dirk

    I totally agree. Growing up between two cultures – the very touch-feelly European and the clear-personal space American, I used to wonder why family kids who didn’t really know me liked me so much when we met at American family gatherings.

    A girl, now an adult and medical doctor explained it to me: I didn’t pick them up, I didn’t kiss them, I didn’t hug them, I was friendly but treated them as human beings, not stuffed animals.

    She has a point. One of my earliest memories was going from Scotland to Germany where an aunt picked me up (I was not yet three) and kissed me and hugged me.

    She seemed to be two meters tall to me. Scary.

    I don’t see why the ‘kiss of peace’ need be taken literally except by those who are happy with it.

  • DMK

    I totally believe that… thanks for bringing that out.

  • DMK

    That is a nice prayer… Spoken prayer is my weak area… I can never find the words.

  • DMK

    I so love the story about Anne and grace. Though I was one who always tried to help others, I could not accept the same from anyone else. When I realized that I was preventing the giver from grace, I had to actually force myself to accept whatever it was that was offered, whether it be food, an offer of coffee, or even advice. I called it part of “my” therapy.

  • Many Koreans have the habit of reaching over and slapping someone on their arm when talking to them. My daughter pointed this out to my wife. My wife’s response? “Ach! [WHAP!] We don’t do that!”

    (In addition to my German/Scots-Irish/Italian ancestry, our family includes Koreans, Romanians, South Africans, African-Americans, and some people in New Jersey. We wouldn’t all be family if it hadn’t been for two World Wars & a police action.)

  • Don Rappe

    The war imagery is not exact. In war I must kill my enemy before he kills me. Not because I hate him, but the way I would put down a vicious dog, because I must. Anger and hatred result when I can not act on the object of my fear, either fleeing or eliminating it. Yet, I am still here. There is a lot of evil in the world and plenty of it inhabits the bodies of self proclaimed Christians. I have no power to exorcise these demons, buy I can pray to one who does.

  • Rebecca

    In praying for our enemies, we can figure out what makes them tick. This has two beautiful practical applications. Number one, we recognize a potential victimizer the second time around, preventing us from becoming victims once again. Number two, we recognize that we, too, have the potential to become victimizers, and this allows us to change course, if need be, so we don’t pass along the hurt to anyone else. You’re not wishing that the person who cut you off in traffic drive home to find his house has become a mansion; you’re realizing that his road rage has its roots in some deep troubling *something* that causes him to act out in a particularly nasty and potentially deadly way. That’s bound to ring a bell or two, and serve as a subtle reminder not to take things out on others, because it sucks and makes our world a nastier place, overall. That’s useful stuff, right there.

  • vj


    Prayer is a good cure for road rage in myself. Praying for God’s blessing and provision on other drivers *really* lowers my blood pressure when it’s threatening to make me explode!

  • Well said, Rebecca.

  • At least for me, it has been freeing to be able to let go of the negative feelings I harbored for those who have hurt and wronged me so that I could get unstuck and move on. So many times we think our happiness is dependent on the actions of someone else, when actually it’s the barriers that we have built ourselves that keep us from reaching our own peace and joy. This is the gift of letting go: setting ourselves free from the bondage of negative feelings.

  • Dirk

    Let’s see.

    They want us in concentration camps. Check.

    They are pushing legislation in countries where they can to have us tortured and put to death (Uganda). Check.

    They rape us, beat us, torture us and murder us here in the US in higher numbers than ever before. Check.

    What part of that are you denying?

  • textjunkie

    Gosh darn it, John, I was thinking more about this yesterday after posting here, and I was thinking the next on the list was Republican leadership. And they have names!! So great–now I have to pray for Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann and Karl Rove and John Boehner and Glen Beck and the Fox news team and Lord help us all… Thanks a lot!!! 😛 😛 Way to shake me out of my complacency that I had no enemies that fit that bill… Apparently I have LOT of people to pray for, who knew??

  • “They rape us, beat us, torture us and murder us here in the US in higher numbers than ever before.”

    I think what may have happened is that victims who previously would not have filed charges or made reports are now doing so; I think the actual number either hasn’t changed or has actually dropped.

    When you say “higher number” are you referring to the total number of reports or the per capita reports among GLBTs? There are doubtlessly more GLBTs today than 50 years ago b/c the overall population has grown; while the percentage of GLBTs hasn’t changed, their overall numbers have grown. Thus if hate crimes against GLBTs stay at the same per capita rate, the over all numbers will increase.

    I raise this question b/c violent crimes rates have gone down over the last two decades in the US: If there has indeed been a dramatic spike in crimes directed against GLBTs then determining the cause & taking steps to alliviate it are indeed prudent.

  • Dirk

    Um, Buzz, I was thinking globally, you of the US alone.

    The support for the Kill the Gays Bill in Uganda was organized, and that completely and recently by American conservative Christians.

    Oh, and it has not been derailed, either. Just being put through more quietly.

    Canadian reports of increasing violence against us by conservative Christians are definitely, clearly of a higher incidence of violence than population growth would explain.

    As for the US, well, please google it for yourself. Try “FBI statistics” in the search, for one.

  • I’m sorry, Dirk; my apologies,. When you posted “They rape us, beat us, torture us and murder us here in the US in higher numbers than ever before” I didn’t realize it was a typo, that you meant to refer to world wide statistics and not US statistics alone.

  • DR


    here’s the real issue.. You are challenging someone who is actually in *danger*. Who does not have the same legal rights that you do. I have no idea why you’re doing this, what you think you have to gain from it. If you really believe challenging someone’s “anger” at being in danger for who he happens to love, then ask yourself what rage you’d feel if your son was beaten up for walking home with his girlfriend. Ask yourself how scared you’d be each time he was out on the streets with her at night. Ask yourself if you would put up with anyone who would call his rage at those who would taunt him, threaten him – even kill him – a “bully”. Only short-sided ignorance would actually zoom in on your son’s fear, your son’s anger, your son’s intent to get rid of each and every one of the stupid, blind, evil dicks who would wish violence on him for taking his girlfriend to a movie and holding her hand on the way home and try to equate that with some other kind of emotion instead of focusing on the dicks along with your son.

  • Don Rappe

    By “inexact” I don’t mean non understandable. It will be war when those who want you in camps start putting you there. But I don’t deny any of your statements.

  • Dirk

    Yes, Buzz, it was a typo.

    Obviously, the hot-points of hatred against us right now are the US, much of Christian Africa and the worst of the Islamic theocracies.

    The sad thing, however, is that the attempts to legislate murder in Uganda are driven by American Christians.

    The policy, until very recently, of denying asylum to gays and transgender by the US has led to countless deaths in the Islamic world.

    So – are you going to direct all that combative energy to actually working to stop conservative Christians from beating, raping, torturing and murdering us or are you going to focus on picking holes in statements which make good Christians look bad?

  • Dirk

    Ah, the legal arguments.

    Very well.

    Would the still-pending Ugandan legislation qualify for you?

  • Dirk

    Of course, as (I believe) DR and I are trying to explain here, these are the exact same arguments which good Christians used in the 1930s to excuse what the Nazis were doing to the Jews and homosexuals and Roma and Sinti and handicapped and elderly and devout Catholics.

    This, Don and Buzz, is the danger of your positions.

    I mean, really: It isn’t war until they lock us up in KZs? Well, Bachmann and Santorum already state, publicly, that that is their goal.

  • DR, I took up Dirk’s challenge to check FBI hate crime stats.

    I also checked New Jersey crime stats since the population of NJ is only slightly smaller than the estimated GLBT population in the US.

    It is very interesting to compare the two groups, especially since the NJ stats only cover 6 months.

    Any crime of violence is an evil act.

    Any crime of violence directed against a person b/c of some innate condition is evil in both the act & the motivation behind it.

    Does this mean individual victims from one group didn’t suffer as much as other individual victims? No, of course not. Suffering is suffering.

    Does this mean Jerseyites are less deserving of sympathy & justice b/c they were victims of random/personal/profit based crimes? No, of course not. Regardless of motive, a crime is a crime.

    Does this mean Dirk & others in the GBLT community can’t feel outrage when crimes are directed at them specifically & take steps to curb those crimes? No, of course not. Finding a root cause & dealing w/it is the best way of handling these crimes; i.e., when they’re still merely attitudes & not yet actions.

    But it does bring us back to the original point: African-Americans won against far greater odds & far greater oppression by deciding the prize was worth the sacrifice, not only the sacrifice of their own suffering, but the sacrifice of their desire for revenge. By being willing to bury the hatchet, if not exactly forgive & forget, they stopped the worst oppression, they achieved the right to be treated equally, they made their world & the world around them a better place.

    It is neither unfair nor unwise to point out that telling a hate monger you hate them only gives them strength, it justifies their own hatred. Telling a hate monger you love them even though they are doing something terrible “heaps coals upon their heads”.

    So, do you want to make your enemy stronger or do you want them to stop trying to hurt you?

  • No, Dirk, I’m not “going to”, I already have.

    You don’t know me other than these comment threads, I don’t know you. You don’t know who I talk to, who I discuss things with, who I get to take a step back & say, “Yeah, well, maybe you’ve got a point…”

    No, haven’t converted anybody to go march in support of GLAD at a gay pride parade. I have gotten some people to stop advocating political oppression against people they don’t like both here in the US and overseas (tho I’ll concede it may be a case of them just knowing enough to shut up on the subject when I’m in earshot).

    Sorry, don’t have a whole lotta pull in the Islamic world, very little direct influence in Africa. I can & have talked to people who support the talking heads here in the US that support anti-GLBT legislation overseas; I’d like to think the folks I talk to don’t come away from our encounters feeling so defensive it only reinforces their prejudices but rather wonder if maybe there’s another way of looking at things.

    By coincidence, last Sunday I both heard a sermon by our pastor on Philippians and attended the play 1776. Both sermon & play carried the same core message: Like it or not, these people you don’t like are an inseparable part of you, so you might as well learn how to live with them even if you oppose the things they believe and do.

    (The delicious irony, of course, is that no matter who you are or which side of the fence you’re on, the message applies directly to thee.)

  • Dirk

    Oh, dear. No ‘reply’ after your last comment, buzz.

    For over thirty years, I tried to work within the Christian community with these conservative Christians who hate us.

    At this point, any Christian still attacking us is beyond reason, too extreme to be reached through any appeal to charity.

    No, buzz, I don’t know anything about you. I do appreciate your willingness to dialog. Please note – we are being attacked. Physically attacked. Every single serious Republican candidate is committed to declaring our love illegal, incarcerating us, forcing us into nut-houses (hello, electro-shock therapy!)

    The time for pretending this isn’t life-threatening is past.

  • I never said it wasn’t life threatening & demeaning. I just said that history proves there’s no other effective way other than non-violence & a willingness to bury the hatchet.

    My daily devotional today happened to be Ephesians 4. Verses 30-32 jumped out at me: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

  • Dirk

    The lack of ‘reply’ buttons for some comments is frustrating.

    One of the biggest problems with the ‘bury the hatchet’ argument and the ‘move on, forgive and forget’ argument is that we still are under attack. In the vast majority of states, it is still LEGAL to discriminate against us. In the overwhelming number of states is is still legal to forbid us to be by the bedsides of our dying parents and spouses (yes, parents).

    The war is still ongoing. The violence against us by conservative Christians still increasing – oh, and there is no single, solitary record of us ever attacking a conservative Christian.