This past week I have been in some discussions with a dear friend of mine regarding some very hurtful and wicked things that have been taking place in their life at the hand of others. During the conversation the following question arose, “How do you pray for those that persecute you?” The following context was added to that question, “What specifically should be prayed for and what heart attitude should you have when praying for those that persecute you?”
We have commonly heard the following verses about Christians turning the other cheek and praying for those that persecute you:
Matthew 5:38-39 – “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
Matthew 5:43-44 – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you”
To begin this discussion, I asked a question myself: What is the Lord’s ultimate will for people? In other words, what is the Lord’s end goal (wishes/desires) for people? If we look at the first couple of chapters of Genesis, God’s initial will/desire was to create man in His own image to live forever in unity with one another. Thus people are designed to live in immortality and unity, treating each other how they want to be treated. Once “The Fall” occurred, the original plan was altered but the end goal is still intact. God will see His plans through and thus His ultimate will is for His people to live eternally and in unity with one another. In this current life, we are training ourselves to relate to others in preparation for eternal life. (For more detailed information on eternal life, ‘The Other Side’ book is a great resource. You can download it free here.)
So with that concept in mind, why and how should one pray for those that persecute you?
When you are persecuted (e.g. abused, falsely accused, mistreated, harassed, etc.), especially by those whom you were close to and you call friend, it is extremely painful and it hurts… a lot. You feel betrayed. You will often get angry with those that treated you or others badly and want justice. I want you to know this is a perfectly normal response and there is nothing wrong with feeling that way and justice is a godly thing. However we must be careful not to let our anger turn to bitterness (hatred, extreme wickedness). Bitterness and not forgiving those that hurt us, is damaging to ourselves. When we hold these things in our hearts, it’s like poison to ourselves. The Lord does not want this for us, which is a reason why He tells us to forgive others. In addition to that, if the person repents (turns away from their harmful actions) there is an opportunity for the relationship to be restored (in this life but ultimately for the life to come).
In regards to loving your enemies and praying for those that persecute you, we are to love our enemies as we are not to repay evil for evil (1 Peter 3:9, Roman’s 12:17-21). Praying for those that persecute you is ultimately about their salvation (life eternally) and our well being (if the Lord convicts them they will treat us better). The Lord is big on justice. There are many psalms from David that talk about justice for his enemies (Psalm 109 for example). With that being said, David never repaid with evil but let the Lord avenge his enemies. Think of King Saul, he was continually trying to kill David but David never repaid with evil and continually prayed for justice. (See Psalm 7, 11, and 59 for some examples of David praying for justice). We see in the New Testament, Revelation 6:9-11 talks about those who were slain for the Word of God crying to the Lord asking Him how long will it be until the Lord avenges their blood. These are very unpleasant things for those going through them but they are intended to get the evil doers to repent.
So being angry in these situations and asking/praying for justice from the wicked is completely okay. This is a mature response in the Lord with the ultimate goal of eternal life for the evil doer. If you have gone or are currently going through some form of persecution and begin to feel that bitterness is gripping you and that it is becoming damaging to your soul, it’s okay to remove yourself from the people and situations that are causing it. David fled from all those that persecuted him (1 Samuel 21), Paul fled from his persecutions (Acts 14), and the church scattered during persecution (Acts 8). Guard your heart! (Proverbs 4:23). The Lord does not want the righteous to be destroyed.