A Reflection on Praying For Our Enemies

I try to remember to pray for our enemies during our pastoral prayers at Sunday services. It’s not part of “Look How Holy I Am” shtick, but rather a very needed reminder and call to God for help.  I find it’s needed for all Christians regardless of time period or culture, and today is no exception.  It’s also a very personal prayer – more on that in a moment.

Right now, Egypt is on my mind and the other morning I watched this horrific video of Morsi supporters throwing these teenage boys off a ledge in Alexandria. One was confirmed as dead, one of the attackers was holding an al-Qaeda flag, and sadly, there are so many stories of extremists kidnapping, raping and killing children and attacking women.   I was (and still am) enraged.  Not because I hate Morsi but hate the idea of anyone being thrown off a roof.  These men were so evil that they even kicked and threw stones at the boys’ bodies after they had been thrown off.  Evil.

These are among the many moments that make you want to lose your faith in humanity. These are the reasons why people say things in comment sections like, “That’s crazy – they’re hopeless – we should bomb that whole region off the face of the earth.” These are the moments that make you throw your hands up to God and say, “How does one really to respond to this?”

Then these words creep back into mind, “Pray for your enemies.”  Frankly, saying the words, “We pray for our enemies” is the easiest part of such a difficult prayer.  The harder part is the next line when you need to quantify what that means:

“Lord, we pray they would see the evil of their ways and repent.”  That sounds logical, even needed but it’s not exactly what Jesus means.

“Lord, we pray you would throw these evil-doers off a higher roof and may their souls be tortured forever and ever.”  Again, understandable but not what Jesus means.

So far I think Jesus would have me pray, “Lord, I pray your peace would penetrate their hearts.  I pray they would turn to you that they may discover your love, your salvation, your repentance …”

If you understand the repentant heart that comes from turning to Christianity, you know these evil men are not getting away with anything.  When we discover God’s grace, we don’t get an instantly guilt-free, clear conscience, instead we confront our wrong-doing, we become aware of our self-rightesouness, Jesus’ holiness reveals the evil we’ve tried to hide from others and ourselves.  And the only we survive this experience is by receiving the forgiveness of Jesus.  Yes there is freedom but it requires us to die to ourselves first.

I am often reminded by the complicated story of the Cambodian general Khieu Samphan (aka “The Duch”) who was the first of the “Infamous 5″ to go to trial for the atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge genocide.   As the story goes, he becomes a Christian after going into exile, confesses to his heinous crimes, is arrested, suffers a stroke, provides an enormous amount of information for prosecutors against the remaining Khmer generals and is escorted from village to village asking forgiveness from the countless Cambodians whose lives he destroyed.  There are numerous versions to this story and though I am bothered that he sought to be pardoned,  I imagine everyday is a confrontation of his evil deeds and if his repentance is genuine, I imagine he depends on the Lord’s strength to help deal with his guilt and accept God’s forgiveness.

It’s these moments I am grateful I am not God.

Now, understandably Egypt or the Khmer Rouge genocide are not on everyone else’s mind but we do have enemies. There are people in this world that wish for our demise. There are some who exert enormous amounts of energy and thought to see it fulfilled – we call them terrorists.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if the terrorist and I believed in the same thing?  What would happen if the extreme terrorist (regardless of former ideology) found Christ and repented? How would they see me?  How would they see Christians? How would they the rest of the world?  How would they see where they are from?  How would they see themselves?

Is this Jesus’ point?

In a different way, there are those near to us that disdain us. Many of whom are not evil in the terrorist way, they don’t want us to die, or see us suffer from a terrible disease or even lose our jobs and homes – they probably don’t know what they want to see happen to us but they do want one thing – that there lives would better than ours.  It’s why they cheer against, why they sabotage, why their pity during our trouble comes across as insincere.

Sometimes we call this latter group rivals, sometimes they’re called “frenemies” but for most practical purposes, they don’t mind seeing us suffer a bit.  It’s in these moments we ought to remember the Lord’s teaching.

I pray for them.

I pray peace wound find them.  Not at the expense of justice, not without discovering the horror of their deeds, but that the peace of God would lead them through and find its rest upon them.

And finally I pray I would not act in a way that would lead someone to believe that I was their enemy, or their rival, their “frenemy” or that I was quietly wishing for their suffering while cheering for my benefit.  And should someone come to this conclusion, I hope they would pray for me (and let me know the pain I’m causing them).

Most of us will never be guilty of murder or genocide but sadly, we are all capable of bringing pain, of hurting others and being malicious.  May we be people of prayer for our friends and enemies, may we be reconcilers of peace, and may we be bringers of God’s love and justice. Indeed these are dangerous prayers, but they are also powerful, necessary and capable of great goodness.



For more check out a sermon I preached last year called “A Song for My Enemy” (based on the imprecatory Psalm 109. Sermon included references to bullying, Radiohead’s “Karma Police” and a few personal illustrations).


  1. Incredible post, Pastor Tim. Thank you for sharing. I think of you and your family often, and my heart bleeds for Egypt during these difficult times. May God’s strength sustain you.

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