I pray that we all may be free to be our God-created selves.
I pray that we each and all may be freed of the forces that deaden our souls, the forces that keep us from knowing that we are children of the Living God.
I pray that we each and all may hold fast to all that nourishes us in being the strong, courageous, humble, creative people God has created us to be.

This letting go, and this holding fast is the stuff of prayer.
Prayer can make the space for us to re-discover our God-created identity.
Prayer can be the way that we can let God work on us, to help us let go of what we need to let go of and hold fast to what we need to hold fast to – for the sake of soul survival.
This is why it’s wise to pray for our enemies – for the sake of our own soul survival.
We don’t pray for our enemies so that they may be victorious over us.
We pray for those who persecute us so that our very souls may be free from the clutches of the enemy, from the clutches of enemy-making itself. We pray that our enemy may also become free from all that clutches and hardens their heart – but we cannot control them, we can only be responsible for ourselves.

I want to be clear that praying for our enemies does not mean we don’t take clear and strong stands on matters of ultimate moral concern. It means that we don’t do so simply for the sake of the fight, or out of anger and resentment and a desire to annihilate the other side. But rather when we choose to speak and to act, it is out of love and for the sake of love, with a hand always open to convert the opponent.

We are living in an era of enemy-making. Tensions are high. Battle lines drawn.
This is nothing new, really. It’s just clearly on the surface these days.

So, as folks who try to follow this Way of Jesus, try to seek God as revealed through Christ, we get to receive what Jesus taught about enemies. And what he taught is challenging.

Jesus said, “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.” (Matthew 5:43, The Message)
“Pray for those who persecute you,” is the literal translation.

Notice here that Jesus is not saying, “you will not have enemies.” Or “here’s a great way to avoid conflict.” Instead he’s assuming that his disciples will have enemies and he’s teaching about how to approach that fact in our heart and our spirit.
See, our enemies have a way of crawling into our skulls and scurrying down into our hearts and digging in there, gnawing away until there’s nothing more left of us than anger and bitterness and resentment. That’s why fights get dirty so quickly. Both people in the fight let the other – let their enemy – drag them down into the most vicious and petty parts of themselves.
Just look online at the comments thread for any op-ed, and try not to get sucked in yourself.
Enemy-making locks us into cage-fights surrounded by a jeering crowd thirsty for blood. The consequences are explosive and violent, a stain throughout human history.

God did not create us for this.
God did not create us to be obsessed with the people we detest. God did not create us to be harassed by fear, twisted with grievance.
Sometimes, this is exactly what our enemies want: They want to have that power over us. They want to get into our heads and make us so preoccupied with them that we think about them more often than we think about the people we actually love and care about. So why give them that power over us? Why give our enemies the power to make us hate them?

Here is a way to take back that power:
When we’re praying, opening ourselves to the light of God, and we’re praying for the people we love and care about, lifting the into God’s Light, and we’re praying for ourselves, we can take a moment to include our enemies in that prayer.
We can pray for the sake of their souls, that they may be free from the forces that are driving them to deny their humanity and to damage the humanity of others.
Praying in this way can free us from the enemy’s grip on us, because praying in this way pull our heart out of the constricted cage fight that our enemies want to keep us in,
and it opens us to the large, full, holy realm of God, in which we all live and move and have our being.
Jesus reminds us that the Holy One is like the sun and the rain, warming and nourishing all God’s creation, the sinners and the saints.
When we bask in that Holy presence and when we see that Holy presence surrounding those we detest, this opens us even more to how God embraces the parts of ourselves that we detest. This is praying in a good way.
Most of the time when we pray in this way, if anybody changes, it’s ourselves. Our enemy may not change at all – especially if they are truly possessed by the most vicious and damaging parts of themselves.
But when we change – letting go of what we need to let go of and holding fast to what we need to hold fast to – we may find we have some more freedom in how we respond to our enemies … or how we don’t respond.

Here I want to make it clear that this teaching from Jesus about praying for those who persecute us is not saying that saying that someone who is being abused should stay in that abusive situation. This is not saying that violence, threat, intimidation is okay.
I have to say this because, as you may have noticed, preachers tend to be quick to lecture victims about love and forgiveness while giving a pass to the perpetrators who won’t even pretend to repent of their addiction to violence.
No more of that.
The message Jesus kept pushing was “Repent of anger and violence and lust and greed and judgment and selfishness. Repent of playing god, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” That is a message meant most those most inclined to anger and violence and selfishness and playing god.
In short, “Pray for your enemies” is a message that is sharpest for those most inclined to make enemies.
If someone is self-absorbed and possessed by anger, they are quick to treat anybody like an enemy for any reason. But for those who dare obey their Savior, this prayer disarms the weaponizing of sin. It cuts the fuse between anger and enemy-making.

This is true for the worst enemy-makers – if they dare pray in this way. But it’s also true for your average person, in a way that’s just plain helpful.

This is a good prayer for those closest to us, those in our day to day life, when we are angry with them and drifting into making an enemy of them – it’s good to remember to pray for our enemies or those who seem to be like our enemy right now.

A quick story from my life, as an example. This isn’t very dramatic, but that’s my point. For a challenging practice, it’s best to start small.

I was coordinating a program with a nonprofit where we often made presentations in schools. A teacher had invited us to talk with his class – we had spoken there the year before, he invited us back. But this year there was a new principle. And this principle said no, he did not want us to talk at his school. He did not like what he thought our message was. So this principle and I had this whole back and forth argument with phone calls and emails. It wasn’t going well. And I was getting angry and making all kinds of judgments about this guy I had never even met face to face, and I was working out a strategy to go over his head and kick up a big fight about the 1st Amendment and so on.

It came time for me to pray that day. And while I was praying it dawned on me, “Oh, yeah, Jesus said pray for your enemies. It seems I have an enemy today to pray for.” So I prayed for this man, the new principle. I prayed for his family. I prayed for his heart. I prayed that he’d see the light and see that he was making a bigger deal out of this than he needed to. But then I let go of my agenda for him and I let my prayer get bigger than that. It was more my letting God open my heart to be able to hold this person in the Light of God’s love. I felt better. And then I moved on to other ways of using prayer time.

The next day the principle called me. We talked together in an easier way, and in the end, he gave us the go ahead.

So, again, this story is about a very minor situation. In the realm of enemies, this is not a big deal. But I tell this kind of story for a reason – like I said: Praying for enemies is a challenging practice, so it’s best to start small, in a day-to-day kind of way. We may find that the challenge is as great as the reward.

I pray that we all may be free to be our God-created selves.
I pray that we each and all may be freed of the forces that deaden our souls, the forces that keep us from knowing that we are children of the Living God.
I pray that we each and all may hold fast to all that nourishes us in being the strong, courageous, humble, creative people God has created us to be.

Thanks be to God.

Jesus said, “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does, gives the sun to warm and the rain to nourish everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re subjects of the Kingdom of Heaven. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” – Matthew 5:43-48 (The Message)