Prayer To Keep Me From Spiritual Pride
Why Keep Praying?
In the year 587 BC, the city of Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians after an 18 month siege. Once they controlled the city, the Babylonians deported most of the leading citizens to exile in Babylon and set up military control over the southern kingdom of Judah.
There were resistance fighters who carried on the war hoping to overthrow the new rulers and the foreign governor who had been left behind to assure compliance.
The Babylonian military official at this time was Gedaliah, and soon after the siege he and a party of his men were ambushed by Jewish guerrilla fighters and they were killed.
Of course, this was against God's will because through the prophet Jeremiah God had told the Jews to comply with their new rulers.
After the plot was discovered by Jewish civilian leaders, they became afraid of the retaliation by the Babylonians and so began planning an escape to Egypt. Before they escaped they went to seek counsel from the prophet Jeremiah.
In Jeremiah 42 we pick up their story, which will raise the question that I want to discuss with you in this Mini Book.
Then all the commanders of the forces, Johanan the son of Kareah, Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people both small and great approached and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Please let our petition come before you, and pray for us to the Lord your God, that is for all this remnant; because we are left but a few many, as your own eyes now see us, that the Lord your God may tell us the way in which we should walk and the thing that we should do.” Then Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard you. Behold, I am going to pray to the Lord your God in accordance with your words; and it will come about that the whole message which the Lord will answer you I will tell you. I will not keep back a word from you.” Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us, if we do not act in accordance with the whole message with which the Lord your God will send you to us. Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, in order that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God.” Now it came about at the end of ten days that the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.
– Jeremiah 42:1-7 As for Jeremiah's answer, he said not to go, to remain in Judah and God would protect them. The Jews refused and many of them sought the protection of Egypt. Eventually, the Babylonians returned to defeat the Pharaoh and the rebel Jews in Egypt.
There is a good lesson here about being careful in obeying God's word and trusting in His strength – but the verse I want to highlight is verse 7 – Ten days later the Lord gave His reply to Jeremiah.
Isn't it amazing that even though Jeremiah was a good and faithful servant of God, even though he was an experienced prophet, even though God knew the answer – Jeremiah had to wait 10 full days for a word of prophecy! Seems to me that God could have just as well revealed the message to Jeremiah on day 1 as day 10 – yet He chose to make Jeremiah persevere in prayer.
We find ourselves in similar positions today, asking God over and over again for certain answers, certain things to happen, but He make us persevere in prayer. He encourages us to keep praying a long time before an answer comes.
I believe there are several good reasons why He does this…
1. Waiting is good discipline
When our prayers are not answered right away it means we have to wait and waiting upon the Lord is a good spiritual exercise. Note what Isaiah says are the benefits of waiting upon the Lord:
Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.
– Isaiah 40:27-31
The person in this verse thinks that God does not hear his prayer, is unaware of his problems. He is tired of waiting, he is growing impatient. Isaiah explains what the discipline of waiting upon the Lord will do for him: waiting helps an individual grow strong and overcome his enemies (whoever or whatever they are).
Isaiah reminds this tired and impatient person that God is not him: He does not get tired or impatient when things don't happen right away.
As Christians, we don't depend on exercise or yoga to create spiritual poise or a calm and trusting exterior – it's waiting upon the Lord that builds these things for us.
When our petitions are not immediately answered and we experience a period of prolonged prayer, let's remember that time spent waiting upon the Lord is never wasted.
2. We may not be ready to understand God's will yet
I used to have my own “formula” to successful and fast acting prayer:
- Believe God can do it (pray believing)
- Ask clearly and specifically
- Ask in Jesus' name
- Be ready to receive NO as an answer
This was a “safe” combination, if I could get all these little ducks in a row it would be buying something from a vending machine: you make the right selection, put in the right change, bingo you get your candy! Of course these things are correct, you must ask believing and put your needs before God coming before Him in Jesus' name; however, one element I did not consider in those days was if God thought I was ready or the time was ready yet.
Abraham and Sarah desired and prayed for a child most of their married life but their prayer was answered only when she was 90 years old! Both she and Abraham were not ready in matters of faith when they first began to ask.
The fact that she had a child at 90 years of age served God's purpose better than if she had had one at 19. She could have at 19, but the birth at 19 would not have created the glory that it did when she had a child at 90.Paul the Apostle desired in his prayers and strategy to go to Asia to preach the gospel. God prevented (blocked) it, limited it, thwarted his plans, and refused his prayers in this thing.
Paul didn't realize that by going west he would establish the church in the dominant culture of the future.
Because Christianity went west instead of east, it became the largest organized religion in history.
When we pray and say that we are ready to accept God's will, we must be ready that it be radically different than our own. It is important to persevere in prayer because if we do, God will not simply answer the prayer, He will reveal His will to us – this is much more important.
3. Perseverance in prayer reveals the quality of our faith
James says, “I will show you my faith by my works” in James 2:18. When we read this we usually think of good works as those things done to help others in a holy and dedicated lifestyle. But “prayer” is also a work of faith.
- To direct our words to Christ – this is faith.
- To believe that He hears, He answers – this is faith.
- To continue to do so over and over again, to wait patiently for an answer – this is showing that our faith is sincere.
This is a work of faith. That we pray to God in Jesus' name shows that we believe the right things in the right way. That we continue to do so, that we persevere in it is a way of showing that our belief is not only accurate but that it is strong, and real, and goes deeper than just our lips.
Sometimes God leaves us in prayer for a long time because the testing and shaping of our faith is more important than the answering of our prayer.
A good example of this is Paul's constant prayer to God to remove “a thorn in the flesh” that he was suffering from (II Corinthians 12:7). We never find out what the thorn was, and until that moment Paul says that God had not answered his prayer.
However, Paul's persistent prayer had helped him grow in faith to the point where he was ready to suffer with his thorn regardless of God's answer.
When we become bored repeating our prayers at meal times, or prayers during worship; when we become discouraged when our prayers are not answered the way we want, or not answered at all – we need to remember an important reason for persistent prayer.
It is more important that we are a faithful people than a people where prayers are always answered, or quickly answered. Persevering in prayer may not always produce a satisfying answer but it is always a sign of a sincere faith.
When Jesus returns it won't matter what we're praying about so long as He finds us persevering in it.
Practical Pointers in Persevering in Prayer
Prayer is every other exercise, whether physical or spiritual. The more you do it, the better you get at it. If you're going to persevere, here are a few pointers to help your prayer life:
1. Focus on God, not on what you want
The most precious benefit of constant prayer is fellowship with the Lord. If your focus is only on the thing you want, then you're missing the whole point. Jesus says that God knows what you want and need before you even ask for it (Matthew 6:8).
The purpose of prayer is not to continually describe and request what you want; the purpose of prayer is to draw you closer to God, to know Him and His son Jesus Christ.
Jesus says that if we seek His kingdom (His will in our lives) first, He will grant us everything we need.The great benefit of persevering in prayer is that we develop a relationship with God, not that we finally get what we want.
Remember that it's about:
2. Submission not repetition
Many think that the “thing” to be accomplished in persevering prayer is to repeat every day what it is that they want. Two times a day is better – morning, noon, and night is great. Jesus says, “…
they suppose that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7).
This passage is speaking of those who thought their prayers were effective because they repeated them over and over, or they were very flowery and elaborate.
The goal of prayer is surrender, not repetition until you get what you want. In Luke 11:5, Jesus tells the parable of the person who wakes up his friend at midnight to borrow bread. The repeated knocks on the door in the middle of the night were a sign that this man had surrendered all his reserve and pride and was willing to lower himself to disturb his friend because his need was great.
There's no magic number of repetitions where we get what we ask for after asking for it 1,000 times. The exercise of constant prayer should enable us to give up our lives and surrender our wills to God as we lay ourselves open before Him. It's as if we open the portals of our hearts, minds, wills, emotions, memories, and imagination – for Him to enter and fill.
John Powell, in his book “Happiness is an Inside Job,” says that God communes with us through all of these. Constant prayer sees us surrendering our lives bit by bit to God who will provide all the things we need – including the things we ask for, or the ability to live without the thing we ask for. Therefore, submission in prayer yields greater blessings than repetition in prayer.
3. Peaks and valleys
Be ready for mountain top experiences where the presence of the Lord is almost palpable, where His word is so rich and convicting, His will for your life so clear, that your time in prayer will leave you breathless. The only thing stopping you from continuing in the moment is your own weak flesh. These prayer times are separated by many hours of dry reading and times where you think you're only talking to yourself.
We should not be discouraged, even the Apostles who were physically with Jesus, spent many hours simply walking the dusty roads from town to town or rowing across the Sea of Galilee to their next stop.
The time of uninterrupted fellowship in a glorious setting will come when Jesus returns, for even we must persevere in prayer and await those times the Holy Spirit fills us with insight and holy encouragement in the Lord.
The title of the Mini Book is, “Why Keep Praying?” because I assume all of us are already doing this on a regular basis. If you are not praying or only praying once in awhile, you are limiting your spiritual growth and the blessings that come with constant faithful prayer.
There are a lot of things that come with hard work, talent, drive, and dedication — but these things will not produce spiritual balance, or understanding of God's will, or a strong faith — only constant prayer can give you these things.
If these things are missing in your life, perhaps it is time to renew your prayer life before God.
Praying for the Destruction of Your Enemies
Have you ever prayed for someone’s complete to ruin? That God would destroy them and wipe them off the face of the earth.
It doesn’t seem very Christian does it?
Nevertheless these kinds of prayers are recorded in the Bible and especially in the Book of Psalms.
Prayers that call for the death and destruction of others are called imprecatory prayers. You may not have given much thought to this kind of prayer before, and I hope that you never need to.
Before the war started in Ukraine I also had not thought very much about the place of imprecatory prayers in my own life and in my theology. War, however, has a way of shaping your thinking and calling into question certain ideas.
War or not, if you read your Bible seriously you can’t ignore the passionate plea for the violent destruction of enemies. Check out a few of them for yourself in the following Psalms: 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 139, 140.
They Are Inspired
We can’t just write these Psalms our Bible, Jesus himself considered them inspired and he never apologized for them, corrected them, or indicated that they do not teach truth.
Jesus quoted from at least two imprecatory psalms; Psa 35 and 69 (Joh 2:17 and 15:25). The Apostle Paul and Peter also quoted from Psalm 69 (Acts 1:20 and Rom 11:9).
For a good example of what an imprecatory prayer looks let’s look at Psalm 69.
Psa 69:22-28(22) Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.(23) Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually.(24) Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.
(25) May their camp be a desolation; let no one dwell in their tents.(26) For they persecute him whom you have struck down, and they recount the pain of those you have wounded.(27) Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you.
(28) Let them be blotted the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
There are many texts in the Bible that talk about God’s judgment but an imprecatory prayer does more than just talk about God’s judgment it calls for God to bring judgement on someone.
But Jesus Said Love Your Enemies
One of the biggest problems Christians have with imprecatory prayers is that Jesus’ words seem to contradict the idea of praying for the destruction of your enemy.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Some claim that imprecatory prayers represent David’s sinful desire for revenge and thus we should not copy him. Others claim that Jesus revoked this type of prayer when he told us to love our enemies in Matthew chapter 5.I don’t believe that either of these solutions work well. Neither Jesus nor any of the other New Testament writers specifically correct the imprecatory prayers of the Old Testament. In fact there are some New Testament texts that also seem to be imprecatory in nature.
For instance, in the book of Revelation, those martyred cry out to God and say,
“They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
It’s important to understand the difference in context between the imprecatory prayers of the Psalms and Jesus Sermon on the Mount. It’s clear from the context, Jesus is speaking about personal relationships what he asks us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us or to go the extra mile.
Jesus is not talking about mass genocide or a full military invasion of another country, he is talking about personal offenses and that’s exactly why he uses the example of turning the other cheek (Mat 5:39) there’s nothing inherently dangerous about receiving a slap on the cheek but it is humiliating personally.
On the other hand if we look carefully at the imprecatory Psalms we find a much different situation. They were written by a king, the leader of a nation, a general of an army. Although, sometimes his prayers may look very personal, they are personal in the sense that he represents God’s people, thus an attack on him was an attack on God’s people.
The imprecatory prayers also focus their attention on how evil men have offended a holy God. Thus they call for judgment not simply because these men have killed the innocent but because they have offended the Holy. In this way the imprecatory prayers are also prophetic as they look forward to God’s just punishment on wicked men who will not repent of their evil deeds.
Where Does that Leave Us?
We know we are supposed to love our personal enemies and pray for them as Jesus commands us, but what if we find ourselves in a different context, one that looks more David’s context?
Can or can’t we pray David did against our enemies?
Here are some principles that I see in the imprecatory prayers that may help you decide if you should pray for the destruction of your enemies or not.
1. It should not be about personal revenge
In every instance of an imprecatory prayer in the Bible it’s clear that it’s not simply personal revenge and pride on the line. While the offence takes on a personal nature this is simply because the author is the representative of an entire nation.
You, LORD God of hosts, are God of Israel. Rouse yourself to punish all the nations; spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah.
Imprecatory prayers are never against the neighbor down the street who doesn’t you and has called you a few bad names. Instead of personal revenge imprecatory prayers are about just retribution against an evil enemy who has come against another nation and against God.
2. It’s about stopping evil
A common theme you can see in the imprecatory prayers is that of stopping evil short so that it can not continue destroying the lives of the innocent. These prayers are directed at evil men who have the power to take thousands or even millions of lives.
Here’s and example from Psalm 109
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out! Let them be before the LORD continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth! For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted, to put them to death.
Let’s face it, war is the handy-work of Satan and he enjoys the death and suffering that it brings. Unfortunately no one suffers more in war than the innocent. Often the quickest and most effective way to end the killing of innocents is by taking out the evil man/men who are in charge.
That’s what an imprecatory prayer is about!
3. It’s about honoring God
Above all the imprecatory prayers show a desire to see God honored and glorified. God is called upon to bring justice against men who do not honor him or worship Him. The psalmists call upon God to restore his fame, to defend his name, their deepest desire is not for revenge but for God’s glory and honor.
Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!
Reminders for Us
I believe the imprecatory prayers were the right thing at that time in that situation for those who prayed them, thus they are righteous and inspired prayers.
On the other hand I cannot tell you whether or not you should ever pray an imprecatory prayer. My suspicion is that few of us will have the exact circumstances that David had when he prayed these prayers.
Nevertheless, imprecatory prayers serve to remind us of two things.
1. Sin is worse that we thought
First they remind us of the awfulness and terribleness of sin. The reminder us that sin always brings destruction and death, that sin always against God, and that it is often the innocent who suffer because of sin. They remind us that sin causes all of war.
We underestimate sin, we underestimate the consequences of evil, we underestimate its power to destroy, and we underestimate how much is offends our holy God!
2. We aren’t concerned enough about God’s honor
Second he reminds us of our responsibility to honor God in all circumstances.
In individualistic Western cultures is easy to focus only on your personal responsibility to honor God, yet we all live in nations cities societies families who are also called to honor God.
Our desire to bring God glory should be set so deep within our hearts that when we see that someone not honoring God it bothers us!