Last Saturday night Jolene and I put our granddaughters down to bed, and we had a great prayer time together. As often happens during this time, our granddaughters will ask questions. My oldest granddaughter asked if Russia was going to attack us. We assured her the war was a long way away and wasn’t coming here. Then our youngest granddaughter asked why we closed our eyes to pray. It was a precious time.
Then I got ready for bed. On Saturday nights before I preach, I try to go to bed a bit earlier as my Sunday morning starts at 5 am. My usual nightly routine includes a prayer time as I lay in bed. But I found my prayer going in a direction I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I started by begging God to stop the war in Ukraine. I prayed for my Ukrainian friends by name. But the longer I prayed, the more unsettled I got. I absolutely believe God is all-powerful. I also believe that he is good. So why doesn’t he stop this stupid useless war? He can. Why hasn’t he? The more intensely I prayed, the angrier I got.
Then the Holy Spirit reminded me that my anger, frustration, and confusion were not unique to me or this time. How many times during World War 2 did people beg God for the war to stop? How many times have parents of a child with a terminal disease cried out to God to heal their child? How many times have those who have been victims of evil pleaded with God for relief and help? There’s nothing new under the sun.
Then I remembered how David was also angry and prayed to ask God to severely punish those who are evil. Psalm 109 is one of those prayers. I’ve now read that Psalm over and over. As I read it, I substitute Putin and his cronies into David’s cry for punishment. If you’ve not read Psalm 109 lately, click here to read it. He prays that his enemy’s days would be few and that his children would become beggars without a father. He prays that all kinds of evil be done to one who did him evil. He calls on God to multiply curses on his adversary. That’s how I want to pray. I empathize with David’s anger and disgust.
In days past, when I was unaffected by evil, I would read Psalm 109 and think how strange that such a writing would be included in the Bible. About 30 statements of judgment, revenge, or curse are declared in this Psalm. These are in direct opposition to the teaching of Jesus – read Matthew 5. Frankly, this Psalm seems wrong and inappropriate. Why is it even in the Bible? Because that’s how godly people feel sometimes. It’s a reminder that we are broken human beings.
My two words for this year are kindness and gentleness. You don’t see any of that in Psalm 109. But the Psalms do not always proclaim an eternal truth for all to embrace, but rather express the real emotions of one who’s suffering. I’m suffering as my dear friends are suffering. I know that I’m not alone in this anguish. I hear from my friends in Ukraine their version of this angry prayer. I have prayed my version of this Psalm against Putin and his war on innocent people.
But you have to read the Psalm to the end (this is often the case in David’s psalms). Read Psalm 109:21-31. It describes me. It describes you. It’s an admission of our need for help. It is a confession of our weakness and brokenness. It’s an admission of our humanity with all its carnal reactions. It’s also a declaration that in spite of the evil, God has not abandoned us and is with us, and his love never stops.
This Psalm reflects life. We are human and react out of the flesh. We are also children of God who are led by the Spirit. Both are operating at the same time. Because the flesh and the Spirit are at war, Paul writes this in Galatians 5:16-17 – So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
It is a daily journey in faith to learn to walk by or be led by the Spirit and not let the flesh have its way. What a difficult journey it is. And thanks be to God that his grace is abundant as we struggle to follow the way of Jesus.