“Pour out Your indignation upon them, and let Your burning anger overtake them…add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from You. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.” Psalm 69:24
“Wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me…they…attack me…let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few…may his children be fatherless and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg…let there be none to extend kindness to him…let curses come upon him!” Psalm 109:1-17
Prayers for Punishment
The “Imprecatory Psalms,” as they are called, are prayers in which imprecations (curses) are called down upon uniquely evil men. The most prominent imprecatory psalms are Psalm 35, 58, 59, 69, 109, but the language of calling for punishment on evil people is sprinkled throughout the Old Testament psalms and prophets (cf. Jeremiah 18:19-23).
Though Old Testament theology of the afterlife is a bit murkier than what we find in the New Testament, we must know that this kind of prayer is not just a prayer for God’s enemies to be stopped. This is a prayer for God to kill them. This is very serious because the Bible is clear that if someone dies as God’s unrepentant enemy, they will forever be under the wrath of God in hell (John 3:36; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; Revelation 14:11).
Can Christians pray for this? Can Christians pray imprecatory prayers against evil people in the same way David and Asaph prayed?
Some answer this question with a “no” by saying that these prayers were only permitted in the Old Testament and in their unique historical contexts. We certainly acknowledge that it is dangerous to jump from King David’s divinely inspired prayers to our personal application. We must look to Christ as the fulfillment of these psalms and then seek to apply them. This does not however mean that there is no application.
One relevant passage is Luke 9:51-56 where we find James and John coming from a city that rejected the Gospel and they asked Jesus “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Jesus “turned and rebuked them.” His rebuke certainly wasn’t because He was opposed to bringing judgment on unrepentant sinners (Luke 19:27), but likely because their first impulse was punishment rather than patient hope for repentance.
But I don’t think that means calls for punishment are always unacceptable.
In the New Testament, we see the imprecatory psalms quoted by Jesus (Psalm 69:9 in John 2:17 and Psalm 35:19 / 69:4 in John 15:25), Luke (Psalm 69:25 and 109:8 in Acts 1:20) and Paul (Psalm 69 in Romans 11:9-10, 15:3). Jesus also makes provision in “The Lord’s Prayer” for us to ask God for His kingdom to come, which includes destroying the godless kingdoms of this world (Matthew 6:10).
And most clearly, we see Christian martyrs pleading for justice to fall on those who took their lives in Revelation 6:9-11 “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10They 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?” 11Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”
How amazing is it that slain saints in heaven are not praying for God to give mercy to their killers, but they are calling for justice? This kind of prayer reminds us that God can be trusted to bring justice on the wicked. This is a good thing, and He will be just as glorified in bringing justice against sinners as He will be in extending mercy to them (Romans 9:13-23). Does this mean we should be excited to pray for wrath to fall on terrorists? No, I don’t think so.
Prayers for Mercy
Jesus taught us many revolutionary truths, one of them being that we are to “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, bless those who cruse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28). He also commanded us to “pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) and then modeled it when He prayed “Father, forgive them” while hanging on the cross (Luke 23:34).
This call for followers of Jesus to ask God to give mercy to their enemies is echoed in Romans 12:14 where Paul says “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” This of course doesn’t mean Christians don’t care about evil, but rather we choose to “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19; cf. 2 Timothy 4:14).
Does this mean Christians should only pray prayers of mercy and never prayers for judgment? No, I don’t think so.
How Prayers for Punishment and Mercy Meet
How should we pray about extraordinarily violent and wicked people like ISIS terrorists? Should we pray for mercy or for punishment?
1. Pray first and enduringly for mercy.
Jesus meant what He said when He told us to pray for our enemies. We are to perseveringly ask the Lord to shower mercy on these people. David, who wrote many of the imprecatory prayers, showed mercy to his enemies (Psalm 35:12-14). And Jesus who fulfilled the imprecatory prayers certainly did.
2. Be slow to pray prayers for punishment.
While we pray for mercy to come to sinners, we also pray for justice to come. The prayer for punishment should likely be one that is rarely used, and when it is used, used with great caution.
3. Guard your heart when praying for punishment.
Praying prayers for punishment should never be motivated by vindictiveness. We do not pray as vengeful hatemongers. Rather, we pray as people who need God to move in mercy—or in justice.
Other resources for your study:
- John Piper has an excellent message on Psalm 69. In the end, he counsels us not to pray imprecatory prayers, but has excellent Christ-centered application.
- J. Carl Laney wrote a helpful scholarly article in Bibliotheca Sacra entitled “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms.”
- Sam Storms gives straight-forward pastoral counsel about these psalms in his article“Those Troubling Psalms of Imprecation.”
- Bob Deffinbaugh’s exposition of Psalm 109 gives a thorough consideration of imprecatory psalms and is also worth a look. He concludes that we can pray these kinds of prayers.
Eternal Father, we come to you this morning in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. We come to you having new life birthed in us by the Holy Spirit. We come to you this morning praise your name, magnifying your worth, adoring your person. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of our God. How unsearchable are your judgments and how inscrutable are your ways. For who has completely known your mind Lord? You wondrously show your steadfast love to those who seek refuge in you; we praise your holy name this morning.
We thank you for the grace you continually pour out upon our church. We thank you for the unity we have in Christ Jesus. We thank you for the gospel community here, for the ways members sacrificially and joyfully serve each other. We thank you for the ministry of Restoration Kids, where even the little ones among us hear the good news of Jesus. We thank you for the faithful preaching of your word. We thank you for the profitable discussions at Community Group. We thank you for the opportunity to serve at Friendship Terrace. For the hallowing of your name, continue to knit our body together in love; continue to give us opportunity to not just serve each other, but to also serve those around us in the love of Christ Jesus.
We praise you for the way the gospel is going deeper and deeper in our church. We pray that would continue. Lord, we pray for M and T. Give them grace to love each other well in the gospel. Grant them wisdom and discernment as they grow their business. Use their faith in Christ to love and serve their employees. We pray for our sister A. C. Embolden her heart for the nations and use her desires to spread your gospel among the nations. Use our sister to build other members up in the gospel. And use her as a teacher to serve children helping them develop socially and intellectually. We pray for our brother Sebastien. We praise you for the faith and repentance you have given him. Grow him deeper in the gospel; continue to increase his desire to not just know theology, but to know and love you. Make him a joyful co-worker loving and serving every customer with a Christ-like attitude.
Father, this morning, we pray that you would give our church wisdom as we seek to understand how to best advance your gospel locally and globally. In the name of Jesus, we plead with you, that you would give us the resources and knowledge and favor to plant a Spanish-speaking church in Columbia Heights. We pray for Alejandro and his family. Continue to use his ministry in Venezuela to make disciple-making disciples. And give him discernment about potentially moving to Washington, DC. We also pray for 20Schemes as they seek to plant churches in Scotland. Bring them men and women desirous of making disciples among the poorest of the poor. And we pray for the gospel to go forth among the Behdini Kurds. Father, use your people to get them the gospel and to get them a Bible in their own language.
Lord God, we praise you that we are not the only church. We praise you for All Nations DC, The District Church and for Redeemer Arlington and Christ Our Shepherd. Use these churches to advance your gospel. We thank you for your brothers and sisters at Capitol Hill Baptist and Grace DC and Church of the Resurrection and National Community Church. Exalt your Son Jesus Christ in and through these local churches. We also thank you for campus ministries that seek to faithfully proclaim the gospel. Use the ministry of Blane at Chi Alpha, and Andrew at CRU to make much of Christ at American University. Use the ministry of Chi Alpha and Campus Outreach at George Washington and Georgetown to herald the gospel.
And, Father, this morning we pray not just for those who are like us, but even those who are against us. We pray for Kim Jong-Un of North Korea. Open his eyes to the light of the gospel. Give him the grace to use his power not to be served but to serve those around him. We pray for the men and women who are a part of the Taliban and ISIS. We pray that the evil they seek to accomplish would be restrained. We pray that your grace would be upon them and would save them from their sin. Forgive them Lord and use them to help humanity prosper not suffer. We pray that your love would overwhelm Abubakar Shekua and abound in the life of Omar Al-Bashir. For the hallowing of your name, grant these men repentance and faith in Christ Jesus. Radically change them and use them to advance peace, not destruction.
Father, we thank you that when we were your enemies you sent your Son Jesus to die for us. Oh, how amazed we are at your sacrificial, steadfast love for us in Christ Jesus. We praise you that Jesus rose on the third day and sent his Spirit to indwell us that we might be reconciled back to you. Help us never to lose sight of this gospel truth. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
Oh God, there is no God like you…majestic in Holiness, full of splendor and glory. Blessed be your Name, Father…all power, majesty, and dominion are yours. Great is your Name and Greatly are you to be praised.
May the sea and all that fills it, praise you. May the coastlands and all their inhabitants, praise you. May the desert and its cities lift up their voices to you, our God. May voices shout, this morning on the tops of the Andes mountains that there is no God, but you! May the whole earth give glory to you, our Lord. We have no hope, but in you and you alone.
We confess that this week we have put our hope in a thousand lesser things. From relationships to technological gadgets we have longed for things in creation more than you, our Creator. We have ears, yet it is rare that we sit still to hear from you. We have eyes, but it is not often enough that we stop to wonder at your handiwork in the world. We can speak, and yet, our mouths do not offer you the praise that you are due. We have minds, but we confess that it is few and far between that we meditate on the glorious redemption that is ours in Christ Jesus.
Having ears, we, too often, listen and believe lies. Having eyes, we look for our own glory. Having mouths, we speak of trivial things while neglecting things of greater consequence. Having minds, we often dedicate them to good things, but we don’t draw lines back to how those things can be made great if they find their home in you.
We confess the guilt of how trivial we are when it comes to you and your will for our lives. With our mouths we praise our Lord and Father and with it we also curse people who are made in your image…have mercy on us in our sin.
Deepen in us a holy affection for the things of God. Open up a way in our minds to attend to our daily responsibilities while also seeing that you are not disconnected from those things. Help us not just believe that you are Sovereign over the Universe, reigning Redemptively from a throne of Grace, but help us SEE that in our daily lives, help us HEAR that on Wednesday at 3:43pm, help us SMELL the splendor of your glory even while we walk to work…oh God, rescue us from trivial lives that take you as our Lord, yet live as though you are not, except for an hour and a half on a Sunday morning.
Thank you for the Forgiveness of Jesus Christ that is found in Jesus Christ. Thank you for His love and forgiveness…thank you that as we trust Him, our sins are not held against us, but they are pushed away as far as the east is from the west. Thank you that in Christ…we can have hope in the darkest of days and rejoice in the brightest of mornings.
Teach us to Rejoice that this Truth is being Resounded in a hundred thousand different places around the globe today…in all different tribes, tongues, and languages. Remind us, Father, that this glorious Gospel is not American, not white, not black, not 21st century or domesticated to our neat categories. Let us live in the freedom of your grace knowing that a day is coming when all those who have dedicated their lives to Christ will stand together and sing to you as ONE body…hasten that day, Lord God.
For we are mindful of the poor in Burundi, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, and Afghanistan. Give them relief, we pray in the name of Jesus! We are mindful of the poor here in our own city…God grant them relief and show us how we can be your hands and feet in that process!
We are mindful of Senior Citizens here in our own city that have largely been forgotten by our society…because they no longer have anything to offer us. God bring friends and neighbors around them to offer them the warmth of friendship and the love of Christ. Grant that we, at Restoration Church might be particularly helpful in this endeavor. Grant that many would come to join us in worship here each Sunday.
We are mindful, Lord, that there are churches in this city that love you and long to be effective for your glory who are hurting this morning. Give them life through the proclamation of your word and grant that their congregations would grow with people who have been changed by the glorious Gospel….be they Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, or Lutheran churches…revive churches in our city with Biblically Faithful, Gospel loving, mission minded people…do the same for us here at Restoration Church.
Lord, we also pray for the unborn and the mothers and fathers that are considering abortion. God, may they choose life…and may we in the church stand to provide care for those children. May our hopes not rest in the halls of Congress, but may it rest in you as we seek to impact our common man with news of life, not death. Protect little boys and girls in the wombs of mothers…let us be the generation that sees abortion, as we know it, come to an end…yes, grant our elected officials the courage to stand against abortion, even if it may cost them their jobs…because they know that it is that important.
Now…as we turn to your word in just a moment, I pray for us this morning that we would be active listeners. Eager to hear your truth and live in light of it. Grant grace upon grace to your servant Joey as he comes to preach your Word. Thank you for our brother and all the ways he serves this community, and this church. Likewise, thank you for our brothers Chris and Deholo who give some much additional time to already busy lives in order to serve this body with their gifts.
For the glory of your Name, Lord God…be pleased to move in us, now…Amen
“As to ‘caring for’ the Sermon on the Mount, if ‘caring for’ here means ‘liking or enjoying’, I suppose no one ‘cares for’ it. Who can like being knocked flat on his face by a sledgehammer?”
“Satan never stops testing us. He says, ‘This idea of self-giving love, where you make yourself totally vulnerable and you orbit around other people – that’ll never work.’”
(1950-present; New York)
“Quarreling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a [football player] had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football.”
“Glory is the outshining of [God’s] internal excellence.”
“The best advice I can give you: Look unto Jesus, beholding his beauty in the written Word.”
Eternal God, we come to you this morning praising your holy name. You are worthy to be praised. All blessing and honor and glory and power and dominion be to your name. You are rich in love, and You’re slow to anger. Your name is great, and Your heart is kind. You are the fountain of every blessing. Holy triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit, eternally love giving and glorifying one another. Self-sufficient. Holy. Sovereign. Glorious. Mighty. Yes, Lord we praise you this morning.
Father, fill us with your Holy Spirit that we might know you, and your eternal Son, Jesus Christ more deeply for this is eternal life. Holy Father, keep us in your name, that we may be one even as you and Christ are one. Sanctify us Lord, sanctify us in the truth; your word is truth. Open they eyes of our heart to understand the depths of Scripture and rest in Jesus that our joy might be fulfilled. Send us into the world with great joy to share the good news of the gospel.
Father, we pray for those hurting and broken. Some here today are filled with pain and suffering, emotional and physical. Great Physician would you mend these wounds. Apply the balm of the gospel to the hurting; ease the pain of those suffering physical ailments. In the name of Jesus, bring healing in ways that only you know best. And we pray not just for those in this room, but for those around the world battling trials, suffering and sorrow. As we read the news our hearts break as we see terrorism and racism and violence and war. The suffering of the world is ever before our eyes. Forgive us for being so numb, so calloused, so unconcerned; cause these things that break your heart to break ours. We pray for racial peace in this country. We pray for religious peace and national peace around the world.
Father, we pray for our own government. As elected officials at the national, state, and local level begin new terms, grant them wisdom and insight. Help them rule with a sense of justice and to do what is right for well-being of the people. Father, as these officials and as supreme court judges have so often make decisions in weighty, complex polarizing ethical matters, would you grant them conviction to do what is right in your eyes, not just what is wanted. We thank you that we live in a country where freedom exists. Show us how to use our freedom wisely and how I’m to show proper respect to everyone, including those elected officials with whom we disagree.
Thank you for raising up men and women to serve as police officers and firefighters and other first responders. Thank you for those serving in the military in this country and in others, seeking to protect the welfare of citizens. We thank you have gifted men and women to serve and to protect your image bearers.
Lord God, we pray for our own church this morning. That you would continue to protect and deepen the unity we have. Cause us to always lay aside personal preference that we might have gospel unity. Cause us to treasure Christ above all things, delighting in his supremacy. Help us by your Spirit to behold your glory in the face of Christ. Give us the grace to serve one another selflessly, rebuke each other graciously, spur each other on eagerly. We pray for our sister Paola. Make your Word sweet to her and grow her in the gospel. We pray for J and L Bruce; we praise you for the work you’re doing in their lives and ask that the joy of the Lord would take root all the more. Thank you for the labors of M.H. and W. K. as they serve our church in so many unseen ways. Thank you for the labors of each Community Group leader. As we start back Community Groups this week, use these gatherings to develop new relationships and deepen existing ones. Use our time in Community Groups to help us care for one another and to labor and strive to present everyone mature in Christ Jesus.
Father, as we come to you this morning, we confess that we are not perfect; we have sinned against you. Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We confess that we are prideful and self-righteous. We confess that we get sinfully angry and carry around bitterness in our hearts. We confess that we are greedy. We confess that we discipline our children not out of love but impatience. We confess that we lie to protect our image. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. We thank you for the perfect life, sin-paying death, and life-giving resurrection of Jesus. Thank you for the mercy and forgiveness found in him alone. Fill us with your Spirit that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name.
During our corporate worship service we take time to pray for other churches locally and globally. You may wonder why we do this? Well an article at Ligonier Ministers mentions 5 good reasons to pray for other churches:
- It encourages congregational humility.
- It will stimulate relationships between church leadership.
- It helps build networks of known faithful churches.
- It can help provide protection against the prince of this world, Satan.
- It strengthens our evangelistic witness.
Read the whole article here.
“We are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
That is amazing. It’s amazing that we are being transformed back to the way it’s supposed to be – into the image of Christ. This is also perhaps a bit disheartening. It’s disheartening because it only happens one degree at a time.
Degree by degree? Really? Wouldn’t we much rather get a formula where we could plug in this behavior plus that circumstance equals a change of 20, 40, 90 degrees at a time. But that’s not how God works. “One degree of glory to another” that’s how God works.
You can’t microwave true change. You can’t quickly manipulate Christ-like maturity; it comes from beholding over time. The trajectory of your life is not made in the big heroic moments; it’s made in the 1,000 small decisions made every day and week. Will you behold Christ or turn the other way? Little degrees here and there with every decision you make.
Will gather for corporate worship only if nothing else is going on or go out of your way to gather with the saints? A little degree. Will you use an excuse to miss Community Group or meaningfully engage? A little degree. Will you pursue comfort or deny yourself to serve another? A little degree. Will you check your email or Facebook 1st thing in the morning or read the Scriptures? A little degree. Will you cancel that discipling relationship meeting because you’re too busy or get done what you need to get done so you can meet up? A little degree.
I’m not trying to guilt you into any of these things. I simply want to show you that it’s the little things that add up over the course of time. Degree by degree; that’s how we change. If we’re not careful we can begin to think the little things don’t truly matter. But as you can see they do. We behold God even in the little things and this is what God uses to change us.