Praying for Enemies

The psalms are filled with great messages of praise and worship, of love and adoration, fear and awe, woe and lament.  They are also filled with pleas to dump burning coals on enemies’ heads, to throw enemies into miry pits.  In as many words, the psalmist wants his enemies to burn in hell.

I wouldn’t bring it up if it happened, you know, once or twice.  Everyone gets angry at her enemies now and then.  But this is a reoccurring theme – over and over, the psalmist says silence my enemies, destroy all my foes.  Granted, the psalmist in many of these cases is David, who spent a good part of his life literally running from his enemies, trying to avoid being killed by the king.

As I read through the psalms, every time I come to a verse or psalm about pulverizing my foes, I think to myself, oh boy, here we go again, slay my enemies, destroy my pursuers, burn the evildoers, bury the slanderers, yadda yadda yadda. And then the psalmist says, “But, me, God, well, I am upright and holy and righteous and amazing, so protect me and be near me.”

I can be critical of this, but let’s be honest.  We do this all. the. time.  Maybe not in public, but between friends and in our heads, we grumble and mutter curses on the people that drive us crazy.

Rather than roll my eyes at the psalmist and his regular return to complaining about his enemies, I want to keep reading to see how the psalmist deals with his anger, frustration, and fear, and what God does for him through these laments.

It’s refreshing to know that God permits us to gripe about our enemies to him, to plea for them to be removed from our lives, and to protect us from our enemies.  In the gospels, Jesus pushes the issue even further and calls us to do something entirely other-worldly – love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us.  Prayer is absolutely necessary if we’re going to try to love our enemies, and the psalmist models the mode by which we can communicate these things to God.

God might not send your enemies into a miry pit, and he might not change your circumstances, but there’s a good chance that by unloading all of your anger, impatience, frustration, and concern at his feet, you’ll make room for him to change your heart and give you peace, even in the battle, and maybe some discernment, wisdom, perspective, and eventually, love, to deal well with your enemies.

“Lord, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.

Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.

The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.

So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.

I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.

I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.

Answer me quickly, Lord; my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.

Let the morning bring me
word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.

Rescue me from my enemies,
Lord, for I hide myself in you.

Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

For your name’s sake, Lord,
preserve my life;
in your righteousness,
bring me out of trouble.

In your unfailing love,
silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.

– Psalm 143

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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