Praying for our 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, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:43-47)

Well, that’s inconvenient.

Jesus asks us to love our enemies and to pray for them. We know that. But what does it look like to take this seriously? What kinds of prayers do we say on their behalf? In this post, I am choosing to explore the idea of praying for enemies who do great evil on a large scale to our fellow Christians around the world, rather than for personal enemies; although undoubtedly, many of the conclusions drawn here will also be applicable to praying for personal enemies.

How do we pray for and not against the people of ISIS, Boko Haram, and other extremist groups who are committing some of the worst atrocities in human history? How do we engage meaningfully with what is happening to our brothers and sisters halfway across the world – in our hearts, in our minds, and on our knees? I mean, seriously – how do we prevent news about ISIS’s beheading of 21 Coptic Christians last week and its ongoing campaign of terror against Christians and non-Christians alike (including Jews, Westerners, and other Muslims) from becoming yet another faded memory in both our individual and collective psyches? How do I, a suburban mom who gets upset about things like burnt toast and undercooked rice, cultivate a sense of prayerful urgency and personal connection to these realities?

I know that at some level I should. After all, God’s Word tells us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18) And also, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people (emphasis added) – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4) You definitely begin to get a sense as you read through the gospels, and then through the epistles, that praying for all the Lord’s people and all people everywhere inevitably involves praying for their (and our) enemies – not that God would take them down Old Testament style, but that they might be saved. This reconciliation-centered-type prayer reflects the whole purpose of his incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.

We are currently in the season of Lent. For those of you who belong to traditions that don’t follow the liturgical calendar, Lent is a 40-day period of spiritual formation leading up to Good Friday and Easter during which we, in a focused manner, replace practices that cultivate appetites for worldly things with practices that cultivate an appetite for things of the Kingdom of God. We do this so that our hearts will be more fully prepared to celebrate the Resurrection come Easter Sunday. Praying for our enemies is a decidedly Lenten activity. When we pray for our enemies, we identify with and imitate Christ, who allowed himself to be crucified on our behalf to save us from the consequences of our sins. When we deserved justice and judgment, He instead dispensed mercy and grace. Likewise, when we pray for our enemies, we choose to die to our natural instinct to pray for retribution against our enemies and instead, pray for their salvation. Why? Because like us, “they know not what they do.” We bear the sorrow these enemies have brought upon the earth. We bear the terror in the hearts of the ones who have been and are being (even as we pray) violated and killed, as well as the anguish of loved ones who mourn their brutal treatment and brutal deaths. We even bear sorrow over our enemies’ separation from God and from the life-giving truth of the gospel. Finally, when we pray for our enemies in the shadow of the Cross of Christ, we are led through a process of intense internal struggle to realize that we ourselves are no better than our enemies, even enemies such as they, except by the grace of God. We die – painfully – to our self-righteousness.

In moments like these, I find prose to be far too limiting.  I submit the following poem to you as a tool to stir your imagination for how you might also pray for your enemies and for those who are committing the most unspeakable crimes against their fellow men and women.

As I kneel before You, Lord,
To pray for Evil Men
I must begin by telling You of
My utter ambivalence.

My heart is stirred to violent emotion,
A torrent of outrage and pain.
Appeals that invoke destruction fall
So easily from my mouth.

See, I’m caught up in a web of lies
That entangles me in pride;
It tells me in a thousand ways
That They are less than I.

The lies make cheap the blood of Christ,
A mockery of the Cross,
They abate my sense of dire need,
Yet set Them beyond its reach.

For I’ve murdered only in my heart,
They’ve spilled the blood of martyrs.
I merely condemn in word and thought,
But They with sword and spear.

They have raped and ravaged bodies;
I, mere dignity.
They proudly parade their depravity,
But I… clothe mine with modesty.

Then out of the storm of my indignation,
It comes to me –

Your whisper

Love your enemies, resist them not,
And pray for them tonight;
For they reflect my image too,
Just like you and yours.

Such madness, Lord, who can endure?
Bring justice, wrath, extinction!
Avenge this evil quickly now,
Be true to who You are!

And then I hear a frightful thing:
A long and silent pause.
It hangs there like a dreadful fog
Before You speak again.

You were once my enemy
You struck me on the cheek
I turned my head the other way
You thought me far too meek.


A crown of thorns you pressed into
My head until it bled.
You drove the nails into my hands
Then deep into the wood.

You mocked me while I gasped for air,
You dared me to display
Some proof of my divinity,
Some reason to obey.

And though I hung in agony,
Receiving spit and scorn,
I prayed for you, My Enemy,
Forgiveness, grace, and mercy.

“His blood be on us and on our children,”
Chanted it, you did.
This was indeed my will for you,
Just not the way you meant. 

For though my blood was shed by you,
My life I freely gave you.
So though you took it eagerly,
Your sins it washes clean.

Now quickly, intercede for them,
As I did for you,
That strongholds, not their souls, would be
Pulled down, destroyed, and crushed. 

You fight not flesh and blood, you see,
But dark and unseen powers;
So take up heavenly weapons now,
Put on the armor of God. 

Pray until you see the light
Break through the darkness and the night;
Your labor and travail will bring
My Kingdom to the earth.

Trembling, now I understand
I am no more than they;
I killed the King of Glory,
We killed You – They and I.

Yet love You freely offered me,
And love You offer Them,
Your Kingdom comes not by the sword,
But by a foolish Cross.

Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy now.

Spirit of the Sovereign Lord,
Anoint and send your servants
To starving men who feed upon
The carcasses of others.


ISIS preparing to behead Syrian military personnel and a French national

Bind up the wounds that fuel their hate,
Their thirst insatiable,
And fill them with the fullness of
Your living water springs.


Children being trained at terrorist camps in Syria

They who have imprisoned are
Imprisoned in their minds.
Remove the veil of thick deception,
Set these captives free.

I pray for your lambs, taken by them,
I pray for the strength of their hearts,
I pray that Your Words would be given to them
To proclaim as Your Spirit imparts.

Infuse with power, even now,
The witness of your martyrs,
And by it usher in this day
Your Spirit, Wind and Fire.


A list of Coptic Christians recently martyred by ISIS

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy now.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy now.

The prayer above was inspired in large part by several posts written by Jonathan Martin that can be found at the following links:
1) Does “war with Islam” rhetoric help Christians in the Middle East?
2) God is not a terrorist (reflections on Scripture & terrible love)
3) the foolishness of the cross (in the days of terror)

And also by the work of Jason Porterfield, who publishes his writing on his website, Enemy Love.

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Categories: Church/Ecclesiology, Poetry, Prayer, Spiritual Formation

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6 replies

  1. This is so arresting and powerful, and I am deeply grateful to have read it. Thank you for your careful words, and setting your face and best energies to the gospel.

    – Kim Hall

  2. Wow. Beautiful. Beautiful and powerful. Thank you for this.

  3. I’ve been praying about how i can reach my Christian friends who buy into this sick narrative of retribution, violence, and ‘othering’ of people we don’t understand. I have been grieving over my total inability to believe that this can in any way be addressed: i believed in my heart that no one can be reached, that all are obstinately refusing to acknowledge their wayward views that are against Jesus Christ, and that this propaganda is impenetrable.

    This post has awakened me to the fact that there is a way.
    Thank you for your wisdom.

    • I appreciate hearing from you, Dennis. It’s a tough one for sure. It’s difficult to cultivate empathy for people we can’t identify with, even here domestically between ethnicities and classes. When you add geographic distance, sound-byte media and social media coverage, and religion-based enmity, empathy becomes almost totally elusive. I think Christians can hold legitimate opinions all along the spectrum of pacifism and militarism in terms of government-level decisions, but if we as individuals are ever promoting military action against the perpetrators of evil and injustice while being prayerless, condemning, and hard-hearted toward them, it means that we have lost touch with the significance of our own salvation – what it cost our Lord – and we need to be reminded and corrected.

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