Praying for loved ones is natural; praying for unloved ones is supernatural.
If you’re like most people who pray, you talk to God not only on your own behalf but also on behalf of those you love—family, friends, fellow church members, coworkers, etc. You may go beyond that, of course, and pray also for people in need around you. Maybe for your city, state and national leaders too. Such prayers—and the answers they often invite—can be rewarding not only for those you are praying for but also for you, as you see God work and watch your faith grow.
But it should not end there. At least not if you’re a follower of Jesus. He said,
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. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:43-45, NIV).
“Pray for those who persecute you.” For many of Jesus’ listeners, that would have meant the worst people they knew. Foreigners. Collaborators. Crooked politicians. Scammers. Ungodly people.
The details of your list might be different from those who first heard Jesus’ words, but the challenge is the same: He says to pray for the worst people you know. That probably has both local and global implications. For example, you may have a neighbor who gets on your last nerve, so to speak; have you prayed for that person? Someone at work may be out to get you fired or reassigned; have you prayed for him or her? What about those who seem as if they are stepping on you on their way to “the top?” Or people who try to take advantage of you? Or those who offend you by their language, lifestyle or politics? Does that seem too hard? If so, then those are exactly the people Jesus had in mind when He said to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
It is also important to remember that Jesus paired love and prayer. Praying against someone is quite different than praying for someone. Praying for someone is far more of a stretch, because it requires us to lay down our anger and willingness to wound the other person in favor of a kinder, more empathetic posture. Praying for someone will probably compel you to try to understand, at least a little bit, where they’re coming from and what their needs might be. Praying for someone—if you’re sincere—will mean seeking their good and not just their agreement with or resemblance to you.
Notice also that Jesus said that praying for those who persecute you would have positive results specifically for those who were doing the praying: “that you may be children of your Father in heaven,” who shows kindness and generosity to all of His children, both the well-behaved and the wayward. When you pray for the worst people you know, you resemble your Father more and more, moment by moment, prayer by prayer.