But...you weren't being nice!
We probably all know how easy it is to be nice to nice people, but tell us to be nice to someone who isn't being nice back and we just wanna throttle both of you! The idea of being nice to someone who isn't being nice is like fingernails on a chalkboard - it gets our dander up and we just wanna scream! The idea of loving our neighbor isn't all that hard - but ask us to spend the 'energies' of prayer on our enemy and we might just think that is the biggest waste of our time. After all, can a leopard change his stripes? Our enemy will always be our enemy - right? They will always act as foolishly as they have been - right? Things aren't going to change - or are they? Maybe the change might not happen with them, but with us!
Some would propose there is not end to the 'hard stuff' God asks us to do in the course of our lifetime. This idea of praying for our enemy ranks up there as one of the harder ones, doesn't it? After all, they earned the title of 'enemy' for some reason - there was some action, attitude, or animosity shared that set things on edge between the two of us. We don't want to encourage them, so why would we respond with any kindness toward them? Wouldn't that just enrage them and make them behave toward us in an even more 'enemy-like' manner? Maybe so, but in turn, God asks us to respond with even more energies of prayer. Perhaps that single action is not so much for our enemy as it is for us - because God doesn't want us to form any sense of resentment and bitterness toward them!
Resentment and bitterness is all about us - although we may want to blame the other guy for it existing, it is entirely our own doing. Bitterness and resentment are rooted in our own reaction to our enemy - not necessarily in the actions of our enemy. We form anger, respond in unkind ways, and in time, we come to 'hate' what the other person stands for or who they are as a person. We don't let that 'hatred' end with them, though. In time, we begin to 'hate' what has become of us in our attitude toward them and others like them. We are angry and resentful - and that spills over - in time, affecting other relationships that should not have been affected.
A 'hard time' is given - what is your response? Isn't it based on where you are at that moment? If you are well-rested and kind of in a 'good mood', aren't you a little more likely to let it just pass? If you are tired and kind of grumpy because of all the effort you have put into your day, aren't you less likely to let it pass - probably! You can see how our response could be very 'situational' - it depends on us a great deal. Maybe this is why Jesus emphasizes US taking the issue to God in prayer - with some energies exerted in prayer. The 'situation' may just change a little when we get our attitude right and our heart renewed - and there is no better place to do that than in times of prayerful consideration before God.
I know I begin to prayer for my enemy by complaining a whole lot about him or her. This is only natural, after all, and God doesn't mind me getting things out into the open with him. He respects that I need that time to 'deflect' a little by telling him why I am angry with the individual. But...rest assured, he isn't going to let me 'deflect' very long. Jesus is going to let the tides of those prayers change a little, bouncing those words of complaint right back onto my hearing ears. In rather short order, he shows ME just where I need the greatest amount of adjustment in the situation. What began as a complaint AGAINST my enemy becomes an acknowledgement of MY need for help to be the light of Jesus TOWARD my enemy.
It may be that we feel like we aren't good enough to respond this way, but let me just begin by saying we all begin somewhere. For some of us, it will be in bringing our complaints to God, instead of sharing those with another who doesn't need to hear all about our circumstances with that individual. To others, it may come when we stop complaining just long enough to consider the other person's own naivety in the situation. Regardless of what is revealed to us in prayer, it begins by us beginning to talk - not so much to others or even our enemy - but to God about our enemy. Amazingly, we may find the conversation begins to focus not so much on the enemy as it does on our response toward our enemy. In short order, God shows us how to responds in kindness, even when others aren't being kind toward us. Just sayin!