“The practical problem about charity (in our prayers) is very hard work, isn’t it? When you pray for Hitler & Stalin, how do you actually teach yourself to make the prayer real? The two things that help me are (a) A continual grasp of the idea that one is only joining one’s feeble little voice to the perpetual intercession of Christ, who died for those very men (b) A recollection, as firm as one can make it, of all one’s own cruelty which might have blossomed, under different conditions, into something terrible. You and I are not, at bottom, so different from these ghastly creatures” (C. S. Lewis).
It’s one thing to pray for our enemies in theory, but quite different to pray for actual people in positions of leadership who are actively seeking to do us harm. Many of the Roman emperors during the early days of the Church were set on destroying Christianity in its infancy. Think of how many believers gave their lives during this time, yet their sacrifice was not in vain — Christianity took off like a wildfire (pun not intended).
In these days, it’s hard to pray for men like Putin who are not only aggressively invading other countries but also targeting civilians, hospitals, and maternity wards. How can you pray for those who seem like evil incarnate?
First of all, it’s helpful to remember that these men are also the ones that Jesus died for. They still bear the image of God and can be redeemed as much as anyone else. Remember the Apostle Paul was once the foremost enemy and persecutor of the Church.
Second, we must bear in mind that apart from the grace of God, there’s no telling how low we might have sunk. You or I, left to ourselves and given free rein, are capable of any and every kind of evil known to humankind. The only difference is that in our case, grace won.
So I’m praying for Putin. I’m praying that he will have a change of heart and pursue peace instead of war. I’m praying he will seek reconciliation and not violence. I’m even praying he will come to a saving faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. I’m not above praying that if he won’t back down from warmongering that he will be removed from office and that another will take his place.
Above all, I believe prayer works. Prayer is not the preamble to the battle. Prayer is the battle itself, and we will not see victory where we do not engage in prayer like our very lives depend on it.