An Imprecatory Psalm for Mass Shootings

Scripture Focus: Galatians 6.7-10
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Reflection: An Imprecatory Psalm for Mass Shootings
By John Tillman

In the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, when you ask how far away something is, we answer in minutes, not miles. Allen, Texas is about a 40-minute drive from us but this weekend it seemed much closer. As I tried to write today’s devotional the morning after the Allen shooting my thoughts kept returning to it. 

I went to church after writing the 1st draft of this. As normal, I paused to think about what I should do in case of a shooting. Every Sunday, I think about the exits, the likely direction of an attack, and what, if anything, I could do other than help people escape. 

This shouldn’t be normal.

I was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary when the shooting at Wedgewood Baptist Church happened on September 15, 1999. I did not know any of the victims personally but one of them was in a class with me. I remember stepping out of the memorial service in SWBTS chapel to get tissues from the bathroom and pass them out to those weeping near me. It wasn’t enough for me to weep with the weeping, or pray without doing something.

Shootings weren’t normal then. Now they are so normal, we do nothing about them except pray.

Someone asked, “What do you pray for when you pray about mass shootings.” My prayers in these situations mirror the imprecatory psalms of scripture. 

Perhaps this prayer is too raw or angry for you to pray. That’s okay. Pray your own prayer. The imprecatory psalms and our angry prayers in crisis are still valuable to God:

An Imprecatory Psalm for Mass Shootings:
Jesus, be with the victims and their families. 
Heal physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds.

God, may swift justice fall on attackers and accomplices.
“Kings” do not bear the sword for nothing.
May that sword swing and find its target.
May evil be punished in this world to the best of our ability.

Holy Spirit, convict those leaders who continue to do nothing in response to these crimes.
Afflict them with lack of sleep and lack of peace.
Do not listen to their prayers!
Turn your face away from them until they establish just laws that:
Prevent these events prior to their happening
Protect victims during these events, and
Prosecute those who contributed to these events afterward.

Throw your covering over us, Lord. Have mercy.
How long, O Lord? How long?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
To you I lift up my eyes, to you enthroned in the heavens.
As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he shows us his mercy. — Psalm 123.1-3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 17-18(Listen 6:58)
Galatians 6 (Listen 2:18)

Read more about Justice of God
Sometimes when we find penalties in the Bible harsh, it is because we have been fortunate enough to never suffer serious harm.

Read more about Praise God for the Justice of the Gospel
The psalms were artistic endeavors, not legal documents or court decisions. They are the cries of the victims, not the verdict of the judge.

Fasting is for All

Scripture Focus: Galatians 6.8
Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

From John
: This post from 2018 is worth repeating even when we already feel like we are fasting from everything. Even in our new crisis, when as Andy Crouch quipped on Twitter, we are all giving up a lot more for Lent than we intended, we can turn unchosen isolation and unchosen cancellations into willing sacrifices. As my own pastor, J.R. Vassar has been encouraging our church, may we use well the “margin” cancellations and losses of social obligations bring to us. May we fill our unexpected margin not merely with more streaming entertainment, but with a more serious approach and commitment to prayer.

Reflection: Fasting is for All

By John Tillman

We sometimes treat fasting like a spiritual version of Mixed Martial Arts—only the strongest should attempt it. But fasting can and should be experienced in some way by believers of all maturity levels.

How do we expect young believers (or new believers) to mature at all if we deter them from learning and practicing one of the major disciplines of our faith?

No matter our age or maturity level, we may begin in fasting as we would begin any new practice. With small, achievable steps.

“As with all the Disciplines, a progression should be observed; it is wise to learn to walk well before we try to run.” — Richard Foster

Fasting may be the most important spiritual discipline for the church to focus on in the next decade. In an instant gratification culture, where we often find ourselves angry when a web page doesn’t load instantly or when a streaming video lags for even a few seconds, we need both a reality check and a spirituality check.

We desperately need to pursue spiritual focus amidst notifications and distractions. We desperately need to cultivate longings for God that won’t surface until we strip away the spirit-numbing stimulants of modern life.

“Fasting helps us keep our balance in life. How easily we begin to allow nonessentials to take precedence in our lives. How quickly we crave things we do not need until we are enslaved by them.” — Richard Foster

Fasting from food is only the beginning of what, for many of us, may be a spiritual quest for stillness, mindfulness, and disconnection from the noise and haste of digital faux-life so that we can connect to true life in Christ.

May we explore fasting beyond fasting from food. May we explore the call of God to withdraw and abstain for a time from anything in our lives that creates false dependency, false assurances of competency, and false feelings of necessity.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading

Then, speaking to all, he said, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me.” — Luke 9.23

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 7 (Listen -2:21) 
Galatians 6 (Listen -2:18)

This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 8 (Listen -3:26), Ephesians 1 (Listen -3:10)
Proverbs 9 (Listen -1:50), Ephesians 2 (Listen -3:04)

Read more from Spending our Way to Asceticism
May our pangs of emptiness lead us to make more room in our hearts and lives for the Holy Spirit and for the community of his Holy Church.

Read more about Calloused Hands and Softened Hearts
There is suffering coming to our lives.
There is death coming to our lives.
There is destruction on its way.
We may still be encouraged.

Limits of Human Grace

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 2.8-9
“‘When he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord: ‘I will not put you to death by the sword.’ But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.”

Reflection: Limits of Human Grace
By John Tillman

One could read the scripture through the lens of any major figure of the Bible. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had chosen Moses as their lens. But it would be just as possible for them, or us, to look at scripture with a Davidic lens. 

Today’s passage highlights one reason we use Christ as our lens for viewing scripture. Because every other lens is flawed.  Moses, and David after him, were sinful, flawed leaders.

Last week, we reflected on the grace God grants to us. This week, in our reading of David’s final instructions to Solomon, David shows us the limits of his human grace. David had been gracious and forgiving to many people during his lifetime. But some will find out that the grace extended to them died with the king. 

David, when dealing with these offenders, had seemed magnanimous, humble, forgiving, and gracious. But on his deathbed, David sounded hurt, petty, vindictive. David discussed this unsettled and unsettling business with Solomon. Many parents leave their children valuable possessions and wisdom. Some leave only bad debts and inherited enemies. David, left Solomon a mix of things, including a hit list.

David is being protective. There are good and practical reasons for David’s instructions. Solomon is young and may be seen as weak. He is the child of a woman with great influence and power, whom powerful men may wish to silence. She also happens to be a woman David stole from a friend thorough adultery (many believe rape) and state sanctioned murder.  

Is David just being practical, reasonable, and protective of his son and God’s kingdom with which they are being entrusted? Perhaps. However, in his attempts to protect Solomon from Joab and other dangerous men, David gives Solomon a push towards turning into Joab. Joab understood that being practical, reasonable, and protective, usually meant killing others before they killed you.

Peter striking and taking off the ear of Malchus was protective. 
The disciples’ concern about not having bread in the boat was reasonable.
The marketplace set up in the Temple was practical.
These kinds of things often earn a rebuke from Christ.

The grace of king David died with him. 
The grace of Christ lives on with him and within us.
May we learn to extend Christ’s undying grace past the limits of our own.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory because of your faithfulness. — Psalm 115.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 2 (Listen – 7:45)
Galatians 6 (Listen – 2:18)

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Read more about Grace Displaces Retribution
The kind of humility and gracious forgiveness often shown by David is as greatly out of place today as it was in his own time. 

Read more about Dealing with Joab
Joab’s kind of loyalty is a twisted form of “honor” that cripples accountability, truth, and justice.