Praying for those who hate us

A couple of weeks ago Richard Dawkins, the eminent English biology professor and outspoken atheist, announced that he had suffered a minor stroke and that as a consequence he was cancelling his upcoming trip to Australia and New Zealand. Normally someone suffering a minor stroke wouldn't make the news, but what caused a media storm is that the Church of England sent out a tweet urging people to pray for the professor's recovery. The tweet stirred a great deal of discussion within social media as to whether it was appropriate for the church to urge its followers to pray for Dawkins given his distain for religion. Some people even accused the Church of being insensitive or insincere in its prayers.

In response to this criticism the Rev. Arun Arora, director of communications for the Archbishops' Council of the Church of England, said it meant no offence and that the Church had long history of praying for people in the public sphere like Dawkins. He said "some of the reaction showed that many people assumed that Christians only pray for other Christians. He said in reality Christians pray for all kinds of people. They pray for their friends and families. They pray for their community. They pray for the government (of whatever persuasion). They pray for terrorists, kidnappers, hostage takers. They pray for criminals as well as giving thanks for saints. Poets write poetry, musicians play music, Christians pray . . ."

While I am not a fan of Richard Dawkins or of his atheist rhetoric, I agree wholeheartedly with the Rev Arun Arora – why? Because Jesus unequivocally said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). He also said, "Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:27–28).

So whether it is someone who has made their name out of trying to persuade people that God doesn't exist, or whether it is someone who abuses us, or hates us, or curses us, or even persecutes us we are to pray for them. They may be someone well known like Richard Dawkins, or they may be family members who we don't think of as "enemies," but sometimes act like they are – because they take advantage of us and hurt us emotionally. Or they may be mortal enemies who really do plan to kill us like we have seen with the ISIS terrorist. Whether they are well known or unknown – small or great we are commanded to pray for them.

The great thing is when we pray we communicate with God. So in praying for our enemies we connect with a loving powerful God who in turn gives us through the Holy Spirit not only the will and ability to pray for those who hate us, but eventually, and somewhat miraculously, even love for them. So what do we pray for those people who hate us? In Dawkins case the Church of England has encouraged us to pray for his healing and recovery, but what about those whose only ailment is their hate for us. I think John Piper here gives us some good advice in his article "Pray for those who abuse you". He says the place to start is the way you pray for yourself – i.e. do unto others what you want them to do you (Matthew 7:12):

So what do people pray for themselves? Generally they pray for food and shelter, healthy and safety and success and happiness. However, Piper argues we shouldn't stop there. He says because many Christians today are so worldly they generally only pray for their physical needs and don't pray for more faith, or holiness, or contrition, or purity of heart, or love for Christ, or courage in witness. So he says, we need to do more than simply pray for our enemies what we pray for ourselves, because most of the things we pray for are not what we really need. Therefore he suggests we also need to go to the Lord's Prayer for guidance when praying for our enemies.

So he says whatever else you pray for your enemies, you should pray for them like this:

Father, grant that my enemy — the professor who mocks what I believe, my wife who belittles me, my child who disrespects me, the ISIS member who wants to kill me — grant that they would come under the saving, purifying sway of your kingly rule and that you would exert your kingly power to make my enemy your own loyal subject.

Grant, Father that my enemy would love to do your will the way the angels do it in heaven with all their might, and without reservation, and with the purest motives, and with great joy.

Grant, Father that my enemy would have all the physical resources of food and clothing and shelter and education and health-care and transportation that he needs to fulfill your calling on his life.

And forgive my enemy his sins, as you bring him to repentance, and make him a forgiving person, and protect him from overpowering temptations, and from the destructive power of the devil.

As Piper says, this is what we should be praying for ourselves. And therefore it is what we should be praying for our enemies if we love them as Christ commanded. If we only pray and work for our enemies natural needs, and omit his eternal needs we don't really love them as we should.

While it is true that our prayers may not succeed in opening our enemies eyes to Jesus, we need to understand that our love shouldn't be conditional on results. God asks us to pray and to love our enemies and it is He who determines the success of our prayers. But let us not forget that history is full of men and women like Dawkins who have hated Christians and then had an encounter with the living God and become some of the Lord's greatest saints. Perhaps the greatest of these was the Apostle Paul who prior to encountering Christ on the Damascus Road was dragging Christians out of their homes to be imprisoned and killed. That's why he called himself the "Chief of Sinners". But I would not be surprised to find that there were Christians in the early church who were praying for Paul just like people are praying for Dawkins, my prayer is that the people today are not just praying for his physical wellbeing but his spiritual wellbeing as well.

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8


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