They repay me evil for good
and leave me like one bereaved.
Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth
and humbled myself with fasting.
Reflection: Prayer for Enemies
By John Tillman
How quickly do we celebrate our enemies’ sufferings? Should we, rather, pray for them instead?
In today’s reading from Psalms, David describes a scenario in which he hears of a sickness that has struck his enemies. Instead of leaping for joy, or wishing for prolonged or worsening suffering on them as we might expect, the man after God’s own heart takes to his knees in prayer on behalf of his enemy.
In his commentary on the Psalms, Charles Haddon Spurgeon conjectures that this psalm may have been written during the time in which David was both fleeing from Saul and, simultaneously, continuing to support the king.
David had been a man of sympathy; he had mourned when Saul was in ill health, putting on the weeds of sorrow for him as though he were a near and dear friend. His heart went into mourning for his sick master. He prayed for his enemy and made the sick man’s case his own, pleading and confessing as if his own personal sin had brought on the evil.
Some may think it strange to pray for one who seems irredeemable; one who rejects any criticism and leans on pride. But this is just the kind of person David prays for.
David models for us in this psalm the essence of what Christ teaches about loving one’s enemies as oneself. Jesus is echoing David when he commands his followers to love their enemies and forgive those who do wrong to us.
We need not worry about prayers being wasted, no matter their subject. According to Spurgeon, “Prayer is never lost. If it bless not those for whom intercession is made, it shall bless the intercessors.”
May we redouble our efforts to pray for our communities and our leaders. We may pray for the “worthy,” knowing in our hearts that none truly are worthy, and that even the Pharisees loved those who loved them. But let us make special efforts to pray for the “unworthy.” Let us pray with renewed commitment for our enemies, our villains, our heretics, our corrupt officials, our attackers, and those who scoff at the mention of prayer.
When we do, we are following most closely in the footsteps of Jesus, coming close to the heart of God as David did, and following the emotional journey of God, who while we were sinners demonstrated his love for us through Christ.
Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High. — Psalm 7.18
– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.
Numbers 1 (Listen – 6:21)
Psalm 35 (Listen – 3:21)
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