Whether it be with people who disagree with me online, or people who disagree with decisions I make in helping lead a church, I can easily create fake enemies. I say fake because nearly all who come to mind are actually my brothers and sisters in Christ, so to call them an enemy of mine is over-the-top.
As someone who prefers to have hard conversations, engage difficult subjects, while consistently pursuing openness over isolation, I can create a “me vs. them” mentality where those who don’t unequivocally support me must actually hate me.
When I read the Psalms I place these supposed enemies in the spot of David’s prayers about the wicked pursuers trying to take his life. I know that isn’t fair, but my flesh-driven self often goes there. And the Psalms pat me on the back, saying, “God is on my side, those of you who are against me, you’re going to lose.”
And then there’s Jesus’ teaching on how to treat your 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 children 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 the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
I think Jesus teaches to love your enemies and pray for those who are against you because when you pray for them you can no longer see them only in a negative light. And herein lies the issue with praying for your enemies—you start to care for them.
Prayer changes the posture of your mind from vengeance to loving-kindness.
The picture above is of Christians in Egypt who are surrounding and protecting a large group of Muslims during one of their times of prayer. These Christians had chosen to first care for those who are different from them, rather than drawing a line in the sand. I think it would be fair to assume these are Christians who prayed for their enemies.
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew isn’t just a checklist, praying for those who persecute you ends with you extending a hand toward them as well. Anyone can care for those who are with them, but praying Jesus-followers care for all.
Last fall I wrote a few posts that many saw as controversial. Lines were drawn in the sand. Sides were chosen. I held many ill-willed thoughts toward those who were noticeably against me. In recent months I’ve had difficult conversations with people who I sensed were “against” me. Choosing to pray for them made all the difference.
My enemy is only my enemy when I choose not to pray for them.
When I pray, I see them as Jesus does, and the perspective shift changes everything.