The Hardest Prayer of All: Praying for Our Enemies

G.D. Watson

From: Soul Food (1895)

I am convinced we have far too shallow views of that command to pray for our enemies. It means vastly more than to say, “God bless our foes.” It means that we are to take them on our heart in good earnest, and intercede for them – particularly, lovingly, perseveringly – pray for them till out of a living heart we can unite their highest welfare with our own.

I have been blessed all my life with a few enemies; at a few periods in my life with a great many, and sometimes they have been exceedingly bitter. But in reviewing the past, I notice that I have had the fewest enemies and the most popularity when I was the least spiritual and the farthest away from God, and that, when I have had deepest fellowship with Christ, I have been the most misunderstood by religious people and the most intensely hated by bad people. I can recall many seasons when I felt it a necessity to pray especially both for positive enemies and for Christian people, who had greatly injured me while they did not intend to be my foes.

One such circumstance occurred in the early summer of 1895. A certain very bitter enemy had done many things to greatly damage both me and my family. I had often prayed for him in my secret devotions, but one day I felt drawn to go off alone into a forest and spend some hours in pleading to God for him and his family. At the beginning of my prayer, I tried to exercise great charity for the man by putting myself in his place and looking at my own miserable self from his standpoint. But the Spirit soon showed me that was the human way and not the Divine.

It came to me that what I needed was to love that man with the identical same love that Jesus had for him – to pity, sympathize with, and feel toward him exactly as God felt, up to my capacity; that I was to be a living vessel in such union with the Holy Spirit that Jesus could love him through me and pour His Divine love through my affections. It was revealed to me that in order to love him as Christ loved, I must utterly abandon my being to the Holy Spirit for the purpose of becoming a channel of the perfectly unselfish, impartial, disinterested, tender, and boundless compassion of God. I complied with the suggestion of the Spirit and before I had prayed an hour, the fountains of my soul were broken up, my tears flowed like rain. I felt a warm, soft love for him. All his welfare of body and soul, all his family, all his temporal and eternal interests, became very precious in my sight.

As I continued to plead with God for his soul’s salvation and for all his welfare in detail, suddenly that Spirit opened to my mind what a lovely Christian that man would make if he was thoroughly washed in Jesus’ blood and filled with the Holy Spirit. I seemed to see his soul and all his gifts and powers – now so perverted by sin – how lovely they would be if transformed by Divine grace! As I viewed him under the possibilities of saving grace, he seemed transfigured in my vision. I then prayed that I might feel a Christ-like grief for any trouble that might befall him. From that moment it has been easy and sweet to pray for him, and I never think of him except with a peculiarly tender love.

A few months after, that man had a great calamity which brought pain and sadness to my heart, yet I was accused of praying the misfortune upon him. Our neighbors and acquaintances can never really know what is in our hearts till that great day. It is infinitely more essential that we actually love our fellows than that we convince them of our love. If Jesus was unable to convince men of His love to them, are we greater than He? It is the deep reality of having the Christ-love flow through us to everybody that we need, far more than the success of showing it to people. I find the more I pray for anyone, the easier it is for me to think well of him and to look at his conduct in the most favorable light.

Not only must we pray long and fervently for our positive foes, but pray much for religious people who are cold and severe to us, for if we do not keep our hearts warm and pure and very tender to everybody on earth, we lose that sweet sense of oneness with Jesus, which is worth more than all the friendships of creatures. It is not my calling to make people love me; it is my great business to have perfect union with the Holy Spirit and to love all with God’s love, whether they love or have confidence in me or not.

Excerpted from: Soul Food, Chapter 25, “Praying for an Enemy” (1895), by G. D. Watson. George Douglas Watson (1845-1923) was a gifted evangelist who preached throughout the United States and the world, leaving a legacy of intimacy with God and a reputation for offering spiritual meat, rather than just milk, wherever he preached.