A different kind of prayer

Every now and then you may encounter someone who for some reason proudly makes it their aim to oppose the values and objectives of God in the world. They are not simply indifferent. They actively oppose the promotion of righteousness and those who would seek to honor God the Father and Christ.

We see them from time to time in the pages of scripture. It’s a Pharaoh, a Korah, or an Ahaz. For Nehemiah it was the leaders of the surrounding peoples who did not want to see Judaism thrive in Jerusalem again. Their attitude was much like that of Hamas today, but they were subject to Artaxerxes. The king had authorized Nehemiah’s project, and they could not overtly wipe out the Jews in Jerusalem. So they did all they could to undermine the effort.

There are some in our world who actively work to make Christianity fail. They may attempt to silence Christian thought, penalize those who honor Christ, and mock the God of the Bible. How should a Christ follower respond to this unique type of person? What should we pray?

Here’s what Nehemiah prayed, “Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.” (Nehemiah 4:4-5) As I look in the pages of the Bible, I find lots of godly men addressing God in similar ways.

At first sight, this prayer does not seem Christian. It doesn’t look loving and kind and gentle. Some would assume that Nehemiah was not enlightened, and that this kind of prayer is flawed and pre-Christian. But I wonder? Is the assumption that we should pray God’s blessing on all people justified? The Bible declares that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. He does not affirm those who choose unrighteousness. So are we sometimes guilty of asking God to do what he has stated he will not do?

I don’t sense vindictiveness in Nehemiah’s prayer. He’s asking God to help those who reject Him to experience the consequences of those choices. Perhaps it’s like Paul, who experienced immediate distress so he might reconsider and find Christ in the long run. This seems similar to Paul’s response to Hymenaeus and Alexander, who rejected the faith that was presented to them. Our aversion to pain and discomfort may say much more about us than it does about God. It may be time to reassess the way we pray so that our intercession more closely mirrors God’s declaration of who he is and how he acts.

3 thoughts on “A different kind of prayer

  1. Yes, Prayer is a thorny issue. You know how I feel about all the prayer that goes up with the intent of telling God how to act. We don’t believe he changes his mind and yet… There is mystery here that is too deep for me to understand. We are capable of all sorts of weak prayer – prayer that informs God, prayer that preaches, prayer that distributes guilt and so on. This type that you address, sort of an imprecatory prayer is a tougher nut to crack. I agree with you to a point, but the section of scripture that bothers me is in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus instructs us about turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile. He seems to command that response from us in the face of adversity. Now, while that is not instruction about how we ought to pray,it is instruction about how we ought to live. Can we separate the two? I don’t know, but your comments made me think about it. Thanks for the musings.

  2. Neil,

    I appreciate your thoughtful remarks. This issue certainly has its mysterious dimensions. What has caught my attention lately is the prospect that my own definition of prayer is more cultural than biblical. I don’t want to slip into the kind of prayer that “nice Christians do,” but to approach God as biblically as possible.
    As you suggest, the personal response to personal evil is to exclude vindictiveness. We are commanded to love our enemies. But is that love always wishing for their happiness and success? If so, God doesn’t love some of his children very well when he allows adversity into their lives or permits (causes?) the nasty consequences of bad choices to explode in their faces.

    As I wrestle with this I’m wondering if the most loving prayers sometimes dare to color outside the lines of “warm and happy” and invite God to demonstrate the destructiveness of sin in practical ways in the lives of those who refuse to see the offense of their behaior.

    I hope for more feedback as we look at this tension. That’s the reason for the next blog post.

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