Jesus told us to love our enemies. How can I love and pray for people like the Muslims who are killing Christians in the Middle East?
James F. Pope
You ask a good question. We can show love and we can pray for the people you mentioned by keeping in mind God’s will, God’s kingdom, and God’s heart.
PRAY GOD’S WILL BE DONE
In the Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that God’s “will be done on earth as in heaven.” Recall how Martin Luther in his Catechism explained it: “God’s will is done when he breaks and defeats every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, which try to prevent us from keeping God’s name holy and letting his kingdom come.”
Our request in this part of the Lord’s Prayer is that God crush and put down all opposition to his kingdom, including opposition that comes from some of his kingdom’s citizens. Imprecatory psalms—those psalms that contain curses or prayers for the punishment of the psalmist’s enemies, like Psalm 58—express that request in ways that can disturb some people, but they too reflect the pious desire that God control evil and evildoers. We can have these thoughts in mind—and in our prayers—when we consider what is happening to Christians in the Middle East.
Our prayers, however, do not stop there. After all, we are also to love our enemies as you indicated.
PRAY GOD’S KINGDOM COME
In the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that God’s “kingdom come.” In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther offered this explanation of that request: “We pray that [God’s kingdom] may gain approbation and adherence among other people and proceed with power throughout the world, that many may find entrance into the kingdom of grace, be made partakers of redemption, being led thereto by the Holy Ghost, in order that thus we may all together remain forever in the one kingdom now begun.”
Our request in this part of the Lord’s Prayer is that God would reach out through his powerful Word and change the hearts of those who persecute Christians, much as he did with the apostle Paul.
That is challenging, isn’t it? How do we love our enemies enough to pray for their eternal good? We look to God for the answer.
PRAY GOD’S HEART BE OURS
The Advent and Christmas seasons provide a window into God’s heart. He loved a world of sinners and natural enemies so much that he gave up his one and only Son to be their Savior (John 3:16). Consider how the Son of God treated people who were putting him to death. He cried out for their forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The heart of Jesus pulsated with love for people who were intent on harming him, and from it flowed the blood that cleanses people from sin.
We who enjoy that forgiveness through Spirit-worked faith now seek to reflect God’s love in our lives. That means loving others as God has loved us. That means seeking their eternal good.
No doubt you can sense a tension between praying that God crush his enemies and that God change the hearts of those who oppose him. But both those thoughts can be the content of our prayers.
Finally, when we do pray those and any prayers, we add our “Amen”—fully confident that God will hear and respond with the best answer.
Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.
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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 2014
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