The private message arrived. I had not heard from the sender for years. She simply told me of the death of someone I had interacted with in a church years ago. Her note said, “Pray for her husband.” Remembering these people brought up sadness, resentment, and feelings of being wronged. And yet, Jesus said, “…love your enemies and pray for those who hurt you that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Well, now my back was against the wall. To obey Jesus means totally forgiving your “enemies,” and praying for them. Besides, no matter what I feel they did to me, one member of this couple has died and the other is now alone and grieving. Truth is, I have let obedience to my sweet Lord slide, because recalling these people should not trigger these negative emotions now. On the contrary, because it did, it means I failed to do the work of forgiveness in the past. Now, it’s in front of me on my “to do” list.
Jesus said, “Pray for enemies.”
Jesus was actually teaching at the moment He spoke about loving and praying for enemies. His words are contained in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:43-48. He was teaching what was the norm for society at that time: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'” But, then He contrasted that with how life ought to be for true followers of God. If we’re His, we will love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
I love how the King James Version of the Bible puts a phrase from these verses, “pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” “Despitefully use you,” is such a great way of saying just how awful it can feel to be deeply hurt by others.
Forgiveness must be a lifestyle
Always Jesus was demonstrating that forgiveness must be a lifestyle. In this same sermon, He said,
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV)
How often must we forgive?
On one occasion, when asked how many times we must forgive another person who has hurt us, Jesus responded, saying, “If your brother or sister sins against you seven times in a day and seven times comes back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:4 NIV) Immediately, the apostles said to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5) (Like us, I bet they were thinking, “NO WAY, JESUS!! How on earth can that be done?”)
But, we know from the cross that Jesus, rather than cursing or condemning His tormentors, instead cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34 NIV) He demonstrated that it can be done.
Why should we pray for those who hurt us?
To be children of our Father
We’ve already seen above that one of the reasons to pray for someone who’s hurt you is that this is being obedient to what God wants. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven,” are direct instructions from Jesus in one of His most famous sermons ever. Obeying this command shows our allegiance to God.
We reflect the glory of God when we forgive
Continuing, Jesus explained more about how God operates and said this is a motivational foundation for us to be similarly forgiving. He said, God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5: 45 NIV)
“Pagans” are those who are good only to friends
Jesus continued, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48)
Prayer changes things
Finally, as we pray for those who’ve hurt us, our hearts change. We grow stronger, wiser, and free. Additionally, and most wonderfully, the ones we’re praying for may also change. Prayer changes things! That’s why Jesus is asking us to do it – largely for our sake.
How do you pray for people who hurt you?
So, how do we bring ourselves to pray for someone who has hurt us? We may be so angry, so wounded, it’s hard to take that step. Therefore, a place to start is to tell God about your feelings. Your prayer might look like this or something similar:
Oh God, I know you ask me to love and pray for enemies, but do you know how deeply I was hurt by ________. Dear Father, of course, you know. I am struggling so much with my feelings. Rage is in my heart not a desire to pray. Help me, in Jesus’ name.
1. Tell God your feelings in a very real way
The next thing to do is to remind yourself that people have been in conflict since the world began. You are not alone in being hurt and angry with someone else. But, think about what your negative feelings do to you, the bitterness, resentment, rage, or desire for revenge – or any other similar feelings. Do they give you peace, allow you to concentrate on the good things in your life? Of course, they don’t. The old saying is “being constantly bitter about someone else is like eating poison and hoping they will die.” The point is you destroy yourself.
So, after you tell God how resistant you are to praying for this person who has hurt you so much, tell God you will do your best to obey Him but you will need His help.
2. Agree with your need to obey God
I find if I think about how sweet my union is with God and how much I love the presence of the Holy Spirit, that gives me momentum to always try to be in obedience to God’s commands. Holding a grudge and reflecting God’s glory cannot fit in the same space.
James wrote in his letter in the Bible, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” (James 3:9-11 NIV)
I do not want to grieve (Ephesians 4:30) or quench the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19) so when I realize I am not in sync with God because of my wrong thoughts or behavior, I want to quickly change. This is always a good help to push us into prayer. And remember, this struggle is but for a moment. Eternity with God is forever.
3. Think what the presence of God means to you.
As you’ve made up your mind that you need God’s help with what you’re feeling; as you decide you must obey God; and when you think about what it’s like to push away His sweet presence, then just begin to pray.
Find ways to bless and ask God to move in the life of the person who’s hurt you. Just do it. “But you don’t know what they did to me,” you might say. Yes, it’s hard to think about asking God to care for someone who’s really mistreated you. By the way, this does not excuse what they’ve done or require that you relate personally with them again. Some people are dangerous or toxic and you cannot bring them back into your life.
But, you are only asking God to care for them, provide for them, and help you release them from your negativity. You are putting them in God’s hands.
4. Simply begin to pray for these difficult people
And finally, commit yourself to staying at your prayers, to a life of forgiveness, and to allowing God’s Word, the Bible, to influence your move in this direction.
“Lord, I want to live this way. Help me to have a lifestyle of forgiveness and releasing others. Make me able to let go of grudges, resentment, and the need to get even. Remove from me the pride of self-righteousness and feeling I have the right to remain angry. Make me an instrument of your peace. Transform my heart to look like yours, Jesus.”
Here’s the thing. The peace you will receive out of being willing to do this and then doing it will far surpass the woundedness you once felt. It’s a glorious way to live.
5. Commit yourself to a lifestyle of forgiveness
I hope these 5 prayer helps will cause you to get started if you need to pray for someone who’s hurt you. This is a hard prayer to pray, but it brings us freedom and release. It also may be the beginning of significant change for the person for whom you are praying. God bless you and help you make these prayers.
Now, I have some people to pray for too!! Every blessing in Christ be yours!
A wonderful book that describes how to forgive is Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall. You can find this book here.
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