I saw a sign that read, “No matter how bad your day feels today, remember this: someone has to clean the bathroom at McDonald’s.”
Now I don’t know how bad McDonald’s bathrooms can get—or any other restaurant’s bathroom for that matter. But I’ve been in some public bathrooms I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy!
I’ve seen some hairdos I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy too. And some fat-filled buffets!
My husband used that expression the other day in reference to … well, that doesn’t matter. What does matter is, hubby’s comment started me thinking about what I would wish on my worst enemy.
Not too much, really. I’m a fairly compassionate person. I don’t really have a “worst enemy,” humanly speaking.
God’s people in the Old Testament, on the other hand, had plenty of enemies. One source says Israel and Judah had 8,728 enemies! Wow! Sometimes God protected (1 Samuel 12:11) and delivered (Deuteronomy 23:14a; 2 Kings 17:39) His people from their enemies. And sometimes God used these enemies to chasten (Deuteronomy 28:47-48) them.
I’ve read many passages by the psalmists when they were not wishing their enemies well.
For example, Psalm 69:22-24:
Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually. Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.
Strong stuff, right? We have to remember a few things when we read imprecatory verses and prayers. (“Imprecatory” means invoking judgment, calamity or curses on enemies of God.) The psalmists noted the enemy’s evil, but they did more than that.
The psalmists emphasized God’s hatred of evil; His love, care and protection for His chosen people; and His sovereign control over believers’ lives.
Jesus and Paul quoted some of these harsh-sounding Psalms (see John 15:25; Romans 11:9-11), and they weren’t motivated by selfishness or sin. They were upholding the holiness and righteousness of the Almighty.
So I wondered, “Is it ever right for me to pray like the psalmists, to pray against my enemies … those who wish me harm … those who would persecute me?”
I knew I had to think about this a little deeper.
1. Definition: Who qualifies to be my “enemy”?
My “enemies” aren’t the people who do stupid things I don’t appreciate—people who cross over three lanes of traffic and cut me off so they won’t miss the off-ramp … people who let their dog bark outside at two and three in the morning when I’m trying to sleep … people who butt in front of me in the grocery line … even Christians who rub me the wrong way.
And “unbelievers” (overall) aren’t necessarily my enemies either. While they may be enemies of God (Romans 5:10 and 8:7-8), in regard to me, it’s usually going to be clash of worldviews. They might be hostile toward God and the purity of the Christian message—and they will usually identify themselves as “against” the Lord in some way. Maybe they’ll push a debate with hurtful words. Perhaps they’ll mock or insult the things I hold dear, or the Lord Himself. For many Christians worldwide, it may escalate to threats or worse, but here in America, that’s not the case. Yet.
Some might say we could also consider people in the church who constantly stand against the Gospel and practice overt sin as “enemies.” I personally hesitate to do that because we do not know a person’s heart—we can only see a person’s actions. (But actions might be a strong indication of an “enemy” heart!)
Recognizing the enemy is a good start in responding wisely. As retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin (now executive vice president of the Family Research Council) said, “The church needs to understand the enemy. It’s a fundamental principle of mounting a successful campaign against it.”
2. Instruction: When I feel like reacting, why can’t I retaliate?
So let’s say an “enemy” rises us against me. What am I to do then?
The Bible says vengeance is God’s territory (Romans 12:19). He has this right because He is God and He is the righteous judge who is indignant about wickedness (Psalm 7:11); and He knows all things, even the heart (Jeremiah 17:10) of our persecutor.
Christ-followers don’t have the right to practice vengeance. [That doesn’t mean there isn’t a time to fight.] *
Lt. Gen. Boykin said the believer in Christ “needs to recognize that while there is a reference in the Bible to loving your enemies, there is also a reference in Psalm 94 (verse 16) that tells us to stand up against evil.”
But standing up against evil is not, for the Christian, about vengeance. Not being vengeful seems so hard, so impossible when we’ve been desperately wronged. But people notice when we leave the judging to God. As the Word says, we are to “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17).
Case in point: America stood amazed as the members of the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, refused to judge a man who murdered nine of their own. They offered forgiveness instead, and left the judging to the Lord and the courts.
The media couldn’t stop talking about their incredible love when so wronged.
3. Commission: Jesus tells me to pray for my enemies, not against them.
Jesus made it clear: He commissioned His people to pray for their enemies (Matthew 5:44-48; Luke 6:27-38).
The Lord didn’t say, “Pray for your enemies if they suddenly ‘make nice.'” No, He didn’t leave it open for discussion.
Paul takes this a step further when he says we are to feed our enemy and give him something to drink. We’re not to be overcome by evil (our enemy’s intent), but instead, overcome evil with good deeds of kindness and love (Romans 12:20-21).
4. Clarification: Jesus says I’m to pray, but what am I supposed to pray?
Living under grace, I’m not supposed to pray for bad things to happen to people. My prayers are to be motivated by love, not hate.
If I pray in love:
- I will pray for an “enemy’s” salvation. I can pray God will enlighten my enemy’s mind so he can understand the life-changing Gospel and believe. This might take more compassion than I can muster when I’ve been abused, but it will be the love of God that softens my heart and enables me to pray about an enemy’s eternal destination.
One thing is for sure: I would not wish hell on my worst enemy!
- I will pray life’s circumstances will cause my “enemy” to respond to the goodness of God and repent of sin (Romans 2:4). These don’t have to be awful circumstances. There are many stories of people moved by love or kindness—things they can’t understand—to seek the Lord.
- I will pray God’s purposes will prevail. I don’t have to like what’s happening, but I can yield in prayer to God’s sovereignty and trust Him for the outcome. All things will work together for good—my good and God’s glory—even when I don’t understand how (Romans 8:28).
Prayer for my enemy doesn’t make me a wimp. It makes me a warrior of love.
And as I pray, I will take a strong stand against evil in my world. Paul says believers wrestle against many “spiritual enemies” within and without. Beyond prayer, we must stand firm against the schemes of the devil and his followers by putting on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-19).
5. Supplication: I must remember my brothers and sisters.
Finally, I want to spend my time interceding for the family of God—praying the “saints” will stay alert and strong against our ultimate enemy and his strategies to defeat them (6:18).
Got any “enemies” you’re praying for today? Are you praying for the family of God?
Graphic adapted, courtesy of Morguefile
* A short word about war: It’s a topic that divides the body of Christ, and I’m not going to get into it in a big way here (“just war” or otherwise) except to say: While Jesus did say to “turn the other cheek” (Luke 6:29) and the principle there is forgiveness; on the other hand, I do think there is a time to go to war (Ecclesiastes 3:8b). It may be a matter of self defense (Exodus 22:2) or protecting innocents and our loved ones (which is a godly response). It’s not a matter of selfish conquest or wicked aggression. (For more on this, check out an article by Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM), “Should a Christian Go to War.”)