“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Five days ago, ISIS launched a coordinated attack on six different locations in Paris killing 129 people. The brutality and scale of this attack captured the world's attention. Of course this was only the most recent example of the heinous barbarism of which ISIS is capable. Over the past four days many have stood in solidarity with Paris pledging support. Others have called for renewed efforts to combat ISIS. And many have called for and offered up prayers for the victims' families. Each of these responses is appropriate and Christian.
But one response remains. One that is deeply Christian. In fact, it is commanded of us as Christians. Yet, I hesitate to write the words. It's almost unthinkable; it seems un-American even, to say that we should pray for ISIS.
For me the admonition to pray for my enemies has always been more or less an abstract concept. I haven't ever really had any enemies. I haven't ever really been persecuted or in danger. But for me this attack brought it home. The Lord whispered to my heart two days after the attack that a truly Christian response would be to not only pray for all those affected and for justice but also to pray for the radical muslims themselves. His words landed like a thud on my heart. I didn't want to offer up such prayers. How could I honestly pray for these men? How could God expect me to do something so absurd?
God calls us to imitate Him by loving our enemies, by praying for those who seek to kill us and our religion. Let us not forget that Christianity's greatest missionary, the man who wrote roughly half of the New Testament, began as Christianity's most zealot persecutor. This same Paul would later write these words:
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10- emphasis added)
Still it took a few days for me to find the words. This is the prayer I have formulated over the last few days. Perhaps it can help you find your way as you pray not only for the victims' families and for peace, but also for our enemies.
I pray for the Islamic State, Father, because You tell us to pray for our enemies. I know that they deserve to be annihilated, wiped out. I pray for justice. I pray for vengeance and vindication for Your holy name. But I know Lord that you are often most glorified by displaying the wonders of Your glorious grace. I know that You have been just in forgiving the sins of many terrible sinners, including myself, by pouring out Your wrath toward our sins on Christ in our stead. It is hard for me to imagine anything that would prove Your infinite power and worth more readily to our world at large and to the Islamic world specifically than for Your Spirit to move in mighty power and start saving souls throughout ISIS. So do so, Father. Not for their sake, not because they deserve it (because they don't), but for the sake of Your great name. Do this so the whole world will know that there is but one God and His name is Yahweh. But for those who refuse to repent and bow the knee to Your infinitely worthy Son, Jesus; Lord I pray that You would bring them to Your eternal justice in punishment and rescue Your children from their murderous intentions even now. Even those who do cry out to You for salvation must be brought to earthly justice, Father, so give our leaders wisdom as they determine the best way to combat and punish such men. In the righteous name of Jesus I pray. Amen.
A helpful article written on this topic by Dr. Russell Moore can be found here: Should We Pray for ISIS to be Defeated or Converted?