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O’ Be Careful Little Heart What You Pray

September 3, 2011

by: Carole Hicks (September 3, 2011)

Sometimes things just begin to weigh so heavily on my mind that I must take time to “flesh out” the gist of the burden in order to have clarity of mind and a better understanding in how to process.  The most effective “fleshing” process (for me) usually involves a cycle of activities such as research and study, prayer, free-writing, prayer, mind-mapping and prayer … and then blogging and prayer. It can all be filed under “spiritual therapy.”

Without this “careful” cycle of “spiritual therapy,” things are just left to “flesh” which is obviously not pleasant, not practical and certainly not productive when dealing with a heavy burden.  If the “fleshing out” takes place solely “in the flesh” — well, it will manifest as ill-thinking, improper communication and irreverence for God and others.   So, what’s the bottom-line in all that jargon?  Simply, “pray before you speak.”

In Psalm 139:23, the psalmist writes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts.” 

Someone … anyone … who can pray this prayer is not only one brave soul, but also evidently one who could be deemed, “a man after God’s own heart.”  Asking to be held “accountable” for our thoughts is not something most of us would do.  Yet … David did.  And because David did this, he had the confidence … the heart … to offer another kind of prayer to God — an “imprecatory” prayer.

The word “imprecate” is a verb that means to “invoke or call down (evil or curses) as upon a person.”  (dictionary.com)  

In another psalm, written by David, such an imprecatory prayer is presented.  While some psalms are soothing or comforting, and others are soul-stirring, leading us to worship and praise, Psalm 109 is a bit more unpleasant and troubling as it offers one of the strongest imprecatory prayers in the Bible. In this psalm, David is asking God (in worship) to destroy his enemies in the most abhorrent ways. He not only seeks the demise of his enemy, but also asks for dire consequences to come upon his family.

“Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children wander about and beg; and let them seek sustenance far from their ruined homes.” (vv 9-10)

My study of this topic, and the “heaviness” it has created on my mind, has come about because since 2008, I have seen various reference to this passage used as a means of opposition by folks who do not like or care for President Obama. You might have seen it posted on Facebook walls, on bumper stickers or t-shirts, “Pray for President Obama … Psalm 109:8.”  When I first saw this posted by someone whom I regard as a spiritual leader and devoted follower of Jesus Christ, I went to my Bible to read it, and was heart-broken.  The verse referenced in the quote says, “May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership,” to which many claim is just a funny way of expressing their discontent and desire for him to be a “one-term” president.

Why not just say, “I’m hoping that President Obama is not re-elected,” rather than using God’s Word, and more specifically this imprecate prayer to foster your point?

I understand that we all have different opinions and live in a country where freedom of speech is protected.  If not, I suppose I would need to be fearful of many things that I write and say. I would not compromise anyone’s right to free speech.  But I will offer a challenge to employ more critical thinking and accountability in rhetoric so that our dialogue can contribute to the efficacy of freedom of speech, and not simply offer hateful diatribe and spur division among people who work, worship and live together.

If we pray for the destruction of our enemies, we must be as fervent as David to have God search our own hearts … and deal “justly” with us, as we would have Him deal/judge our enemies. Truly, imprecatory prayers can and must only be made by the righteous.  But, the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 3:10-12, (New International Version (NIV)

            10 As it is written:

   “There is no one righteous, not even one;
 11 there is no one who understands;
   there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
   they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
   not even one.”

David and God had a special relationship. God says that David is a “man after my own heart.” OH … how I wish that He could say that about me.  But I’m so limited by my own selfish heart. We look at David on the outside … we read the stories of David … and we know his limits and shortcomings are no different than our own. And yet, God looked inside David and saw more in spite of the obvious sin and wickedness that would be deemed unacceptable by societal standards (then and now). After all, how would various media outlets spin the story of a national leader who had his girlfriend’s husband killed, after he had impregnated her?  Hmmm?

And here David is … offering a prayer in worship … calling down curses upon his enemies. By our standards, we might conclude that we have as much “right” to pray such a prayer too. But … once again, have we also prayed, (like David), “search my heart … know my heart … test me and know my thoughts?”

In the context of this passage (the whole thing and not just the one verse 8), we gain a lot of information about the nature of sin and wickedness that stands against David and why he seeks revenge (or relief) from God through this prayer. The first and main thing that David brings up to God is the evil of his enemy’s tongue. 

2for people who are wicked and deceitful have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
3 With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause.

They were attacking his character. CHARACTER-ASSASINS!

In all seriousness, most good-people (Christian or not) … have a “list” or some “unwritten”  “understood” rule of what is acceptable and not acceptable sin or wrong-doing.  There are a plethora of philosophies/teachings, (and what some would erroneously call doctrine) regarding ills such as smoking/drinking/dancing/cursing … or portions of the BIG TEN, lying/stealing/murder/adultery.  But rarely is back-biting or character assassination included in those list of “don’t do’s or else.”  In fact, way too often, these sins are strategically-cloaked in “prayer concerns” or other subtle spiritual-sounding rhetoric that serves to diminish our responsibility in bad-mouthing, disrespecting and gossiping about our fellow man.  AND once again, “there is none righteous … no not one.”

Ironically, in this psalm … this imprecatory prayer, we can learn that this very sin serves as substantiation for the most severe judgment that is being called down by David. Imprecations are prayers for punishment of the wicked … enemies of God.  We also need to note (and know) what is taught in Proverbs 26:2,

“Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, so a curse without cause does not alight;” meaning that an imprecatory prayer without basis has no effect. 

Imprecatory prayers are only effective when we see sin as God does, and that when we ask Him to deal with it … we must surely have clean hands and a clean heart … “right before God and men.” 

Since, in this context, the enemies of God (and David) are guilty of “offense of the tongue” … it would behoove us all to “check that” before we use our tongues to offer up such a prayer.  God takes our words seriously … as should we. 

Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” 

And while I will not include the commentary from my studies in this text, here is a link to further study Galatians 6:7, and I DO ENCOURAGE visiting this site and reading the commentary at the bottom. (very insightful)

http://bible.cc/galatians/6-7.htm

Unlike his enemies, David was not willing to participate in back-biting/character assassination. Why even when he had the opportunity to capture/possibly kill Saul (1 Samuel 24 — in the cave while Saul was using the bathroom, and David was hiding in the back) and end all his running as a fugitive … he did not. 

Perhaps, what’s most important to glean from this or at least to consider is the “one” behind all the back-biting, accusations and character assassination — SATAN.  Maybe that’s who David was ultimately directing his prayer of imprecation toward.  The human beings (people) who were accusing David were being used … agents of the Enemy … operating from a spirit of Satan.

So … if we as committed, professing, followers of Jesus Christ attempt to offer up such imprecatory prayers against our enemies … The Enemy … we must first sincerely check our hearts and hands … confess/repent of our own sin and offenses (especially offenses of the tongue).  We must know who the “real” enemy is, and in the spirit of Jesus, who spoke of forgiveness and praying for your enemies, regard him/them as someone standing in the need of redemption and grace.

Words spoken, written, posted or displayed on t-shirts/mugs/bumper stickers or billboard signs, or even sung in worship (as is the case of many psalms), are reflective of our doctrine … the beliefs that we profess to the world.  We need to understand that God’s Word is sharper than any two-edged sword, and has meaning … REAL MEANING and REAL IMPLICATIONS in our lives.  Don’t take it or use it lightly … embrace it with your whole heart, and let it serve as a LIGHT for your path.

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