“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
Prayer for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love, because it means that you have to really want that something good happen to them.
You might do nice things for your enemies without any genuine desire that things go well with them. But prayer for them is in the presence of God who knows your heart, and prayer is interceding with God on their behalf.
It may be for their conversion. It may be for their repentance. It may be that they would be awakened to the enmity in their hearts. It may be that they will be stopped in their downward spiral of sin, even if it takes disease or calamity to do it. But the prayer Jesus has in mind here is always for their good.
This is what Jesus did as he hung on the cross:
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)
And it’s what Stephen did as he was being stoned:
Falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60)
Jesus is calling us not just to do good things for our enemy, like greeting them and helping supply their needs (Matthew 5:47); he is also calling us to desire their best, and to express those desires in prayers, even when the enemy is nowhere around.
Our hearts should desire their salvation and desire their presence in heaven with us and desire their eternal happiness. May God give us grace to pray like the apostle Paul for the Jewish people, many of whom made life very hard for Paul:
My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. (Romans 10:1)