10 Jul 2006

A Prayer for Our Enemies: Insight from Anselm

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Books, Contemporary Ethics, Jesus, Ministry, Mission, Prayer, War -Peace

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Jesus, Matthew 5.43-44, NRSV)

Anselm (A.D. 1033-1109) was a medieval theologian as well as a spiritual giant. His Prayers and Meditations remains a favorite of mine. One of his prayers is “A Prayer for Enemies” I find particularly moving and relevant. Whether our “enemy” is Iraq, another ethnic minority, a husband, wife, son, daughter or whomever, I think this prayer shares some insight with us. I wanted to share it with my family at Southside. (Anselm wrote this about A.D. 1070 to 1080ish). I realize there is some terminology that we may disagree with in this prayer, however, we should not let that obscure the real spiritual wisdom expressed here.

A Prayer for Enemies

Almighty and tender Lord Jesus Christ
I have asked you to be good to my friends,
and now I bring before you what I desire in my heart for my

For you see, O God, the reins and the heart,

you penetrate the secrets of my mind.
If you have sown in the soul of your servant
something that can be offered to you,
you see it there;
nor can it lie hid from you
if I and the enemy of mankind have sown there
that which will have to be consumed by fire

Most gracious God,
do not despise what you have sown,
but cherish and increase it,
perfect and preserve it.
I can begin nothing good without you,
neither can I bring anything to fruition
nor maintain it, without you.
Merciful God, do not judge me
according to that which displeases you in me,
but root up that which you have not sown
and save the soul you have created.
For without you I cannot amend,
because whatever is good in us you have made
and not we ourselves.
My soul would not be able to bear it
if you should judge it accoring to its sins.
You alone, Lord, are mighty;
you alone are merciful;
whatever you make me desire for my enemies,
give it to them and give the same back to me,
and if what I ask for them at any time
is outside the rule of charity,
whether through weakness, ignorance, or malice,
good Lord, do not give it to them
and do not give it back to me.
You who are the true light, lighten their darkness;
you who are the whole truth, correct their errors;
you who are the true life, give life to their souls.
For you have said to your beloved disciple
that he who loves not remains dead.
So I pray, Lord, that you will give them love for you
and love for their neighbor, as far as you ordain that they should have it,
lest they should sin before you against their brother.
Tender Lord Jesus,
let me not be the cause of the death of my brothers,
let me not be to them a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence.
For it is more than enough, Lord
that I should be a scandal to myself,
my sin is sufficient to me.
Your slave begs you for his fellow slaves,
lest because of me they offend
against the kindness of so good and great a Lord.
Let them be reconciled to you and in concord with me,
according to your will and for your own sake.
This is the punishment
that in the secret of my heart
I want to exact
for those who serve with me and those who sin with me —
this is the punishment that I ask
for those who serve with me and hate me –
let us love you and each other
as you will and is expedient for us,
so that we may make amends to the good Lord
for our own and for each other’s offences;
so that we may obey with one heart in love one Lord and one Master.
This is the revenge your sinner asks
on all who wish him evil and act against him.
Most merciful Lord
prepare the same punishment for your sinner.
Do this, my good Creator and my merciful Judge,
according to your mercy that cannot be measured.
Forgive me all my debts
as I before you forgive all those indebted to me.
Perhaps this may not be so
because in your sight I have not yet done this perfectly,
but my will is set to do it,
and to that end I am doing all that I can.
So I offer this to you here, Lord,
so that you may perfectly forgive my sins
and deal with me as gently as you can.
Hear me, good and great Lord,
for my soul hungers and longs
to feed upon the experience of your love,
but it cannot fill itself with you;
for my heart can find no name to invoke
that will satisfy my heart.
For no words have here any taste to me
when my love receives from you that which you give.
I have prayed, Lord, as I can,
but I wish I could do more.
Hear me, and answer as you are able,
for you can do all that you will.
I have prayed as a weak man and a sinner;
you who are mighty and merciful hear my prayer.
Fulfill my prayer, Lord, not only for my friends
and the enemies for who I have prayed,
but distribute the healing of your mercy
wherever you know it may help anyone
and not be contrary to your will,
both to the living and the departed.
Hear me always with your favour,
not according as my heart wills or as my mouth asks,
but as you know and will that I ought to wish and ask,
O Saviour of the world,
who with the Father and the Holy Spirit
lives and reigns God throughout all ages.
(The Prayers and Meditations of Saint Anselm, With the Proslogion, trans. Benedicta Ward, pp. 216-219). This is a Penguin Classic.
I realize this is a fairly lengthy quote but this is a rich prayer. The idea of the “punishment” to be received is that we “love” one another is, in my view, wonderful. Can you imagine what might happen in our divided churches, our divided communities and broken marriages if we prayed for our enemies like this? A revival might come!
May it be so!
Bobby Valentine

11 Responses to “A Prayer for Our Enemies: Insight from Anselm”

  1. Dottie Says:

    There is something more here, also..it is a yearning to express something to God that we human beings cannot express though we use many words. Praise God for His Holy Spirit who intercedes for us when we don’t have the words.

    Thank you for this blog.

    Love’s prayers…Dottie

  2. Dee O'Neil Andrews Says:

    Bobby –

    Do you think that we (as Americans, maybe? I don’t know who you think of “we” as being) consider Iraq to be “our enemy?” I’ve never thought that, nor do I know anyone personally who does.

    I’ve believed – and do believe – that America and American Christians view the people of Iraq as our friends, not our enemy. Do you see it differently, perhaps?

    I mean, whatever our view may be of the current conflict (war) in Iraq is, I don’t know of anyone who thinks that the people of Iraq were our enemies. It was the actions of Saddam Hussein and those like him, not only in Iraq, but other predominantly Muslim countries.

    Just this evening on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams one segment was about the fact that in Saudi Arabia’s schools – from the time children enter school until they graduate – the textbooks still, after supposed big reforms had taken place to the contrary – Muslim children are taught daily that all Christians and Jews are enemies of Muslimism to be slaughtered in the name of Allah. All Christians are considered “swine,” the report said, and to be killed in jihads, which are promoted.

    I don’t know about you, but I view that as those in control of such dictates as being our enemies. Not on our part, but on theirs.

    As I said in comment in your last post, I do not consider anyone my enemy as far as I can “peaceably” live and act with them and toward them. I don’t believe many Muslims believe “all Christians and Jews” to be enemies. Not at all. But many do and many more are being taught to view the rest of us that way. The NBC Nightly News when on to restate the fact, already well known, that 15 of the 19 terrorists who demolished the Twin Tours in New York City, demolished more than 3,000 lives instantly and many, many more in those families left behind, were from Saudi Arabia and were avid Muslims.

    Anselm’s prayer is very eloquent and astute. I particularly like the lines that read:

    “You who are the true light, lighten their darkness;
    you who are the whole truth, correct their errors;
    you who are the true life, give life to their souls.
    For you have said to your beloved disciple
    that he who loves not remains dead.
    So I pray, Lord, that you will give them love for you
    and love for their neighbor, as far as you ordain that they should have it,
    lest they should sin before you against their brother.
    Tender Lord Jesus,
    let me not be the cause of the death of my brothers,
    let me not be to them a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. . ..

    Let them be reconciled to you and in concord with me,
    according to your will and for your own sake.”

    That is the end we should each and every one work toward, I deeply believe. With every ounce of energy we have within us. We should be on the offense in this battle for the Lord, not the defense. Only then will true change ever come in this world. And that battle is fought one on one, one at a time.

    May God help us to ever and always have an abiding awareness of this, our great commission. May God help us all.

  3. preacherman Says:

    Excellent post.
    I loved the prayer and may God send a revival like never before to church.
    Prayer is so powerful. It is just so many Christians fail to realize it.
    May Chrisitans understand that God want us to pray for our enemies and that God does hear our prayers. My church is a praying church and we have seen as a congregation the power of prayer as God has sent his healing power on members who were without hope, he has restored relationships, marriages, and the unfaithful. Prayer definately powerful.
    Thank you Bobby for your post.
    God bless you brother.

  4. cwinwc Says:

    Dee pretty much summarized my response. In most armed conflicts, the “people” are at the mercy or rather serve at their government’s pleasure. Having friends who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, I’m convinced that for the most part the good relations that our armed forces are building with most of the people of these 2 countries isn’t being reported by the mainstream media. Thus another indicator that governments can be enemies of each other but face to face, people are people.

  5. Laymond Says:

    I pray that God will show his mighty power, and love to all through his forgiveness and grace. and please God don’t give us what we deserve. Amen

  6. Mark Says:

    Good old Anselm. Thanks for sharing, Bobby. The more I read these older church leaders, the more I wish I had time to read them. It’s a shame that so few people not in seminary take the opportunity to read them. Our churches would surely be stronger and more mature for having done it.

  7. Velcro Says:

    Great Post.

    A professor of mine told me once about a dormmate who caused him a lot of emotional grief. my prof felt like God was telling him to pray that God bless this dormmate more than God bless my prof.

    He said it was a very humbling experience.

  8. Gary W. Kirkendall Says:

    This is a great prayer for today’s religious climate. Perhaps it could be that someday wecan raiseup a generation of belivers that is more interested in God’s vision and hope for this world than the issues that so often overwhelm our true identity.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    dee o’neil andrews, mentioned those in control of such dictates,(teaching’s)are our enemies, not on our part but on theirs.

    1Corinthians 2:8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.

    When Sadam was captured the announcer called him a rat. I prayed for his salvation in that moment because that hole in the ground was where I also spent 33 years of my life until I recieved Christ. Yet, I live in a free country. Because of this I consider my blindness deeper than that of Sadam. Our dear Paul had the knowledge of the law but not the heart to live it until Jesus knocked him on his butt.

    The god of this age is satan and our own flesh that chooses to believe in what we can see vs. what we can not(the power of the Holy Spirit to love and transform lives).

    I believe there is truth in what you say, yet, we as christians battle moment by moment our own biases and prejudices. Jesus prayed for the rulers of that age when he said,”Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”

    In Christ,

  10. "Snapshot" Says:

    Praying for the “hellish” actions of dictators is hard, but must be done. I don’t believe we have a choice. I think it’s important to realize who made them our enemies though.
    Scripture teaches us that we will have enemies, but we are to pray for them and in the divine scheme of things love them too.
    You are right Dee, the people are of Iraq are not our enemeis. They are the field. And the harvest is white. God loves them and so do I.
    My enemies are those who try to persecute because of faith and strong hold in the Lord.
    Bobby, the prayer is beautiful and one I will add to my “collection”.
    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

  11. Heather Says:

    Bobby, thanks for posting this. I have kind of slacked in the area of praying for my enemies. I use to do this, but not as much lately. I needed the reminder.
    There are so many that need our prayers. Even the terrorists need prayers and they need Jesus. Wouldn’t that be awesome if one of those men or women who are terrorists began to serve Jesus?
    You are so right Bobby! The revival that would break out would be amazing. We get caught up (I have done this so much) in just praying for our family and for the body of Christ and for the lost, but the lost that are in our area. There is a whole world out there that needs Jesus. Thanks again for the reminder.

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