“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. – Jesus, Matthew 5:43-45
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. ” – Jesus, Luke 6:27-28
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” – Paul, the apostle; Romans 12:14
In a scathing rebuke of those who claim to follow Christ but do not pray for their enemies, Mark Twain wrote a short piece – unpublished during his lifetime – called “The War Prayer.” In it, a man claiming to be a messenger of God re-prays the prayer of support for a war that a congregation has just heard, the unuttered but implied prayer:
O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! With them – in spirit – we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
A little over six years ago, late in the day September 11, 2001, I heard a very different prayer pour forth from the heart of a brother asked to lead a prayer for our enemies as our church family gathered to mourn the dead and pray for safety. He is an elected official, as American as you can be; as Republican as you can get. He humbled himself and the rest of us before God and prayed for our enemies. He confessed that he would rather pray like David did about his enemies and God’s enemies, but that the love of Christ constrained him otherwise and that he was determined to feel that love only. He prayed that our enemies’ hearts would be turned. But he prayed that our hearts would be turned, too; opened to others who see themselves as our enemies.
I wonder if – among all the accusing and correcting and reproving and rebuking that we Christians do, within and among our various fellowships – I wonder if there are even a few of us who pray for the brothers and sisters whom they regard as enemies of their conviction and enemies of God.