Today we turn to one of the most difficult commands in the Bible, and it relates to one type of intercessory prayer. Jesus said:
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:44-45)
If your first thought is, “I could never do that!”, or if you are thinking of someone who you would never want to love, stop now, take a deep breath, and ask God to help you to really listen to him and learn his way.
The topic of loving and forgiving our enemies is much too big to cover in a short devotion. We would need to think about several things, such as:
- Love as a commitment, not a feeling. Love is about genuinely seeking the best for the other person, even if you don’t have warm and positive feelings about them.
- The difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Loving and forgiving someone who has threatened or harmed you does not necessarily mean you must restore your relationship with them.
- God’s example of loving us through Jesus when we were his enemies (Rom. 5:8). He calls us to imitate him (Eph. 4:32).
For many Christians, loving their enemies can seem impossible. It may require many years of slow, painful growth and healing before it is possible. But in these verses, Jesus gives us a very practical way to start down that path of learning to love our enemies: Pray for them!
This is not a “quick fix” for instantly turning hate into love. You might struggle with a desire for revenge. But if you come before God each day and pray for them—if you ask the Father to be kind to them and to do what is very best for them—then bit by bit, your own heart may become softened and you may start to really want what is best for them. And the best things you can ask for them are that they would to turn to Jesus and be saved, or that God would make them more like Jesus.
As you wrestle with this very challenging word, remember that Jesus obeyed his own command. From the agony of the cross itself, he prayed:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk. 23:34)
To finish, spend time working through the ACTS prayer pattern. Pray out loud if it was helpful yesterday. In Adoration and Thanksgiving, focus on God’s unchanging kindness and his forgiveness of you in Jesus. Then in Supplication, think again of the person or people you struggle to love. Ask God to be merciful to them, and be honest with God about your struggle.
Verses for further prayer: 1 Peter 2:18-25.