Question:

I have an urgent question that is generating heat in my congregation. This heat is created by my wife.

She prays the Psalms, and I personally do not agree with her on this. But she insists that it is the word of God. I don't agree because we are New Testament worshipers and the Psalms have too many complaints and curses that I think a Christian shouldn't pray.

My wife recites Psalms after every morning devotion. Because of her influence over most of the women in the church, she has disciples who join her every night to pray for two hours. There is usually a Psalm from which to memorize a verse or a whole chapter.

One day she told me that I cannot be a Christian without praying the Psalms and that the promise God made to Abraham is also for us: I will bless those who bless you and curses those who curse you." How true is this?

Can a Christian today pray the imprecatory Psalms?

Answer:

Prayer is your personal communication with God. The idea of reciting verbatim another person's prayer is missing the whole point of what praying is about. "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:7-8). Pray should be about what is important in your life at this moment. It should be expressed in words that give meaning to your desires. "I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also" (I Corinthians 14:15). Reciting the words of someone else's prayer typically disengages the mind and the emotions.

The Psalms are a collection of poems to be sung. Some are prayers set to music, but not all of them. Studying the Psalms is worthwhile because we can learn the range of emotions and thoughts that we can express to God. "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Romans 15:4). However, learn from them so as to improve your own prayers. If you write hymns, use them to improve the content of your songs. But do not recite them and think this is your prayer to God.

The imprecatory Psalms are those which contain condemnation or ill-wishing on others. Psalms 69 and Psalms 109 are two notable imprecatory Psalms, though there are statements scattered in many of the other Psalms.

First, is the idea of condemnation or ill-wishing limited to the Old Testament? All we need to do is look at the list of woes that Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees to realize that this concept is found in the New Testament.

However, we need to understand why the condemnation was pronounced. In Matthew 23 the condemnation was upon Jewish leaders who claimed to be religious but were living unholy lives. "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger" (Matthew 23:2-4). The list of woes exposes the hypocrisy of these irreligious religious leaders.

Let's look at Psalms 69. What is the situation? "Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head; those who would destroy me are powerful, being wrongfully my enemies; what I did not steal, I then have to restore" (Psalms 69:4). But David put up with the mistreatment because of the God he followed. "Because for Your sake I have borne reproach; dishonor has covered my face" (Psalms 69:7).

After continuing a long list of problems caused by the wicked, David prays, "May their table before them become a snare; and when they are in peace, may it become a trap. May their eyes grow dim so that they cannot see, and make their loins shake continually. Pour out Your indignation on them, and may Your burning anger overtake them. May their camp be desolate; may none dwell in their tents. For they have persecuted him whom You Yourself have smitten, and they tell of the pain of those whom You have wounded. Add iniquity to their iniquity, and may they not come into Your righteousness. May they be blotted out of the book of life and may they not be recorded with the righteous" (Psalms 69:22-28). Is this wrong? Or is it proper to wish the wicked to not prosper from their cruel deeds and not enter into eternal life without consequence? In other words, reverse this. Is it proper to pray that blessings come upon those who ignore God and mistreat His people? Is it proper to ask God to allow the evil to enter into heaven? Our prayers are to be in accordance with God's will (I John 5:14-15). The punishment of the wicked is in accordance with God's will.

We should be working to get the wicked to change from their evil ways. We should desire that those who have left sin be forgiven of their past errors. But most will not leave sin and justice requires their punishment. Notice in the imprecatory Psalms, David never talks about taking his own vengeance. He leaves the task of punishing the wicked in the hands of the impartial Judge of all the Earth.

What do we learn? It seems today that people want to express "love" so badly that they are willing to ignore justice. Thus, they show themselves unloving to the victims of wickedness. Instead of turning people from sin, wickedness grows because it meets no resistance. "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). It has gotten to the point that people think there is no Hell and no eternal punishment and, thus, there is no reason to follow God.

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