My quiet time with God today revolved around Psalm 109. It’s an imprecatory psalm in which, among other things, the psalmist prays: “Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes.” (Psalm 109:6-10)
The language is jarring! It doesn’t seem consistent with biblical, Christian faith.
And, in truth, it’s not the kind of thing that a Christian should say or even think.
But, honesty compels us to admit that while we may not go as far as the psalmist does here, there are vexing people in our lives we don’t exactly wish well in our thoughts. And, if as believers, we want to lay our entire lives before God, we cannot conceal such sentiments from Him. It’s only when we acknowledge such thoughts to God (not to our neighbor), that we can be set free of the slavery that goes with grudge-holding and be set free to be the joyful people God desires for us to be.
A touchstone passage from the Psalms for me is this prayer: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)
We “vent” to God, whether it’s in complaining, praising, confessing, or imploring so that the free, clean air of His grace can make us new, so that He can set us free to live in closer fellowship with Him and so that our lives can give Him glory for saving us from sin and death through Jesus. When we try to sweep our ill-feelings toward others under the carpet before God, we’re really concealing reality from ourselves. After all, God already sees everything.
Jesus tells us, “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…” (Matthew 5:43-44) Few of us today think of people as our enemies and, in America anyway, we don’t have anyone persecuting us. But there are people who vex us, speak ill of us, and give us a hard time. These are the people for whom Jesus says His disciples are to pray.
I have found that the more I pray for people, the less I’m able to hold grudges, withhold forgiveness, or have ill feelings toward them. God also gives me a heart to be more understanding. But Psalm 109 and other imprecatory psalms tell me, anyway, that until I can own my ill feelings toward people, I can’t be free enough of myself to pray for their good.
Lord, today help me to be honest about all of my feelings with You. Help me to pray for others. And help me to so reflect Your love and grace that I don’t vex people for the wrong reasons. In other words, if I’m going to vex people today, grant that it will be because I’m following You and not because I’m following my own sinful impulses or feelings. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]