Praying for our enemies

Jeff Olson —  September 23, 2011 — 11 Comments

The Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin recently published a series of studies that suggests saying a prayer for another person may help reduce negative emotions. Studies showed that after people were intentionally insulted, asking them to pray for a person in need helped calm them down.

One researcher said, “We found that prayer really can help people cope with their anger, probably by helping them change how they view the events that angered them and helping them take it less personally.”

These studies reflect the idea that prayer changes us as much as it changes anything else. Perhaps this is one reason why Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 6:28). He wanted us to genuinely pray for their well-being, but in doing so He likely knew the effect it would have on our own hearts.

Praying for those who persecute us is a radical idea. It’s typically not the first thing to come to my mind. My initial thought is to pray against them. But it’s hard to deny the benefits.

A man I once counseled found himself consumed by the rage he felt towards his ex-wife. For decades she would run him down to their children and intentionally exclude him from their lives. His ex-wife didn’t change, but his attitude started to shift once he began praying for her. In a way he couldn’t explain, praying for her freed him from the anger that had consumed him for years.

How has praying for others, even someone who acts like your enemy, had an impact on you?

Jeff Olson

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eff is a licensed professional counselor in the State of Michigan and has worked for Our Daily Bread Ministries as a counselor and a writer since 1992. He has authored a number of Discovery Series booklets ( on such topics as addictions, grief, depression and marital abuse. He also maintains a part-time private counseling practice in the West Michigan area. Jeff and his wife, Diane, have been married since 1986 and have raised two lovely daughters. He is an avid outdoors man who also enjoys sports, music, boardgames, books, and movies.

11 responses to Praying for our enemies

  1. God is so good. I have been practicing forgiveness and it is now a habit. A wonderful habit I must add. Just Wednesday my church taught about “Dealing with people and unforgiveness”. Thursday brought on the test. My oldest sons father became very upset with me since now after 14 years, I told him I was giving him heads up, that he would be receiving child support papers. His voice changed and even called me out of my name. I chuckled that he would be upset about it. I mean 14 years, he should have been praising God I took so long. I immediately prayed, Lord forgive him for he know not what he’s saying. I prayed that God would deliver him from the ungodly, selfish spirits operating in him and pleaded the blood of Jesus over him. You see, we all ask for something great to happen for us in form of a new job, new house, new cars and finances. Well I was ecstatic because I felt so great recognizing the strength God had given me to do this and not feel a bit of negative emotion in my body like i used to if he’d said something I didn’t like. I was completely free from the stronghold my emotions was had on me from other people, especially him. Hold on to your peace and recognize when you have spiritually matured. To God be the Glory, in Jesus precious name.

  2. This is exactly the word Of inspiration I needed in my life right now, God has been trying to teach me these very words and I have not been listening until I read this. Thank you

  3. Amen, thank so much for the encouragement.

  4. I struggle with bitterness and unforgiveness and I can’t get away from it. My mother is going through cancer for the second time and it is incurable. My father developed Alzheimer’s and is in a care facility-4 years now. During this time, my brother, one sister and wicked sister in law have stolen money, used timeshare vacations, bought my sister a car and lied about my oldest sister and I being the theives. We have tried time and again to stop it but Mom is weak and falls prey to their lies. We had the POA and will and trust changes but because they did their dirty dees in secret, by making mom sign things she should not of, and telling her they”needed this’ or making her believe sshe agree4d to it-there is little evidence or chance of seeing it again. Still, my sister in law, who had hundreds of thousand of her own in stocks, accounts and investments, tries to make my mother believe she is “poor”. Meanwhile, my brother-her husband-is in bed most days due to his addiction to pain meds-but in total denial. The other sister is a mooch and has lives off the government most of her life, lives like a loose woman, but believes she is :entitled” to mom’s money. This has gone on for 3 years, while my oldest sister and I, not taking into account our own financial and family issues, have tried to safeguard what is left for Mom and Dad to live out thier days in peace. So how do I let go when they lying and contrviing never stop? It has cost me thousand of dollars-and my family has suffered the emotional backlash as well-yet theylive off ill gotten gsin and God seems to be watching from the sidelines? I just can’t come to grips with it?
    I pray and beg for the ability to forgive but I keep getting the wound and they throw salt in it? I have received prayer for this and am open to wise counsel?

  5. Becky, I’m sorry to learn of your situation with your siblings. Given what you shared, this must be frustrating beyond words.You’re attempting to maneuver through tricky and deep waters, and it can be quite confusing to sort out just where you are in your heart towards people who continue to hurt you.

    I’m sure you struggle at some level with bitterness and unforgiveness. In our brokeness, who wouldn’t. But I would encourage you to reconsider whether or not you are as bitter and unforgiving as you think you might be. Yes, you are hurt and angry, which may indicate you have an unforgiving spirit, but it doesn’t automatically mean you are bitter and unforgiving.Forgiveness does not remove from us the capacity to feel hurt and anger. Some things (like the things you described) should cause us to hurt and feel angry (Eph.4:26-27). It is a desire for immediate revenge (rather than the conviction/repentance and change of the one who is harming us) that signals an unforgiving spirit.

    My guess is that you have a heart to forgive–that is, you would forgive your siblings if they came clean, owned up to what they did and stopped taking advantage of your mother for selfish gains. But forgiveness in the sense of restored relationship and putting this behind you can’t happen when they continue to do you wrong . Remember, Jesus taught that unlike love (which unconditionally never stops caring about the welfare of another), a part of forgiveness is clearly conditional. Restoration is desired, but is not given unless repentance occurs (Luke 17:3-4).

    To further help you sort things out, you may find it helpful to browse through Insights on forgiveness and read our booklet When Forgiveness Seems Impossible

  6. So, I do always pray for my enemies. Whether they be a friend who did wrong or somebody you was mean to me or my family. But I must say, it hard to turn the other cheek every time. Is there a time when getting knocked down by the same people/person ever stops. I’m tired of always being the bigger person and the devil makes me want to give people a piece of my mind. But, I do refrain because I do love Jesus and I want to set an example. I just repeat Proverbs 17:22 in my head.
    My brother is in prison for drugs, he stole from me, my parents and our grandmother after we all put ourselves in a huge bind to help him. My cousin molested me as a child and nobody in my family knows and all this time I’ve had to maintain a relationship with her and its driving me nuts. My husband knows about what my cousin did but the rest of my family thinks I’m just a loner who doesn’t love my family. I’ve been judged by all of them and my cousin hasn’t been judged at all and she’s always been the perfect one. Turning the other cheek, watching my mouth and praying for my enemies has become hard over the years. After I told my husband everything it did help me let go of a lot of baggage and I am so thankful for that! I felt/feel like a completely different person and it helped my spiritual life as well.
    Can you give me any advice to help me hold my tongue with certain people that specifically close to me? I’ve always been a very hoenst person, especially with those close to me. But not in a mean way. I’m the type who doesn’t talk behind your back and won’t let you leave the house wearing mom jeans that make your butt look too big. I can hold my tongue with a stranger but its hard for those who are close to me. What can I do? I don’t know how much longer I can turn the other cheek.

  7. And sorry for the grammatic errors, I was trying to get this done before my daughter and husband woke up :). You know…that alone time every parents needs.

  8. Karen, I’m sorry to learn that you were molested as child. I was glad to read that it was healing to share what happened with your husband. No victim should ever have to carry that heartache alone.

    In regards to holing your tongue, it’s impossible to give you any specific advice given that I don’t know enough about the details of your life. It does, however, appear to be a defense mechanism to protect yourself from those who are close to you. Beyond that, here a few general thoughts about turning the other cheek that you may find helpful to consider

    I’ve always understood the idea of turning the other cheek to be about disarming someone who attacks us.

    When people attack us, our tendency is to either withdraw in fear or fight back and match their aggression. Flight or fight. If we withdraw out of fear or fight back, then we have given them power over us that keeps us from responding to them out of a conviction for what is best. Turning the other cheek is in essence saying, “You thought you could make me run or fight, but I’m not going to do either. In case you think I’m not serious, here is my other cheek. If you strike me again, I still won’t run and fight. But I will be a person of conviction that will not go away.”

    This kind of response disarms those who are coming after us and throws them off balance. We’ve taken away their power to make us run or fight and now we have the power to instead respond out of a deep conviction. For instance, we can say to a person who has a habit of putting us down when we are alone, “You are putting me down again, and I’m not going to be intimidated by it or retaliate. If you continue, however, I will not talk with you alone. I want to have a relationship with you, but it won’t be the same if you continue to cut me down.”

    I hope that helps.

  9. Karen, no need to apologize for grammatical errors. That’s certainly not our focus. It’s the authentic sharing of your heart that is most appreciated. Thanks for sharing. I’m sure others will be encouraged by your courage.

  10. If you assume praying for your enemies means “desiring good things to happen to them,” then you have misunderstood. In the phrase “Love your enemies,” the Greek word agape—translated here as love—intrinsically means “a commitment to seek the highest good of another person.” The “highest good” for those who are genuinely wrong is that their hearts become genuinely right.

    The intent, you see, is not for us to pray that our offender would receive tangible blessings from God—more money, more power, more prestige, and all the rest. No, we are to pray for that person’s “highest good,” which first means salvation through Christ for an unbeliever… and, if that person is already a believer, being transformed into the character of Christ would be the “highest good.”

    We should then pray not for the Lord to prosper our enemies but rather to persuade them to repent, change, grow, and mature. Obviously, there must be some unmet need in their lives—or they would not cause us so much pain. Therefore, we can pray that our enemies would see their need for the Savior… and then would let the Lord meet their unmet needs (He is willing—they need to be willing to let Him). We pray for our enemies to allow the Lord to heal what is broken.


    For many reasons God commands us to pray for those who’ve wronged us.

    Prayer Insulates Us from Bitterness

    When we look at our enemy’s need instead of the fault, God begins to change our own hearts. I have experienced this firsthand―when I pray… even if my enemy doesn’t change, I change. Through prayer, our hearts and minds are aligned with God’s heart and mind.

    You can’t pray for someone consistently—and the key word is consistently—without developing compassion for that person. Through prayer, the Holy Spirit softens the hardened pieces of our hearts… hatred is turned to love… bitter is turned to sweet. We even begin to see our enemies through His eyes.

    Prayer Allows Us to be Controlled by the Spirit, Not by the Offender

    When we refuse to pray for our enemies, we give them illegitimate power over us. When we are in the presence of our offender, we react emotionally—and even physiologically. Therefore, our enemies are still controlling us! However, we can turn control of our lives over to the Lord… We can begin to pray and then forgive… even when we donÕt feel like it.

    What tremendous freedom when we allow Christ, rather than other people, to control our thoughts and emotions!

  11. Naomi,
    Thank you for your comments. You are so right, that most Christians misunderstand what “loving our enemies” really means. A book that has been helpful for us in better understanding what biblical love is all about is Dan Allenders’ Bold Love that addresses how to love difficult people, even those who are abusers.

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