Meeting Fire with Love

Scripture Focus: Psalm 35.11-15
11 Ruthless witnesses come forward;
     they question me on things I know nothing about.
 12 They repay me evil for good
     and leave me like one bereaved.
 13 Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth
     and humbled myself with fasting.
 When my prayers returned to me unanswered,
 14     I went about mourning
     as though for my friend or brother.
 I bowed my head in grief
     as though weeping for my mother.
 15 But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee;
     assailants gathered against me without my knowledge.
     They slandered me without ceasing.

Reflection: Meeting Fire with Love
By Erin Newton

My youngest child had a fierce toddler stage, which meant crying 98% of the day. There were developmental reasons, so we grew accustomed to his persistence. One day, however, I was met with the harsh glare of another person at the park. She walked over to me and began to tell me how terrible of a mother I was.

A year or two ago, a man set out to organize resources for a group of abuse victims. The day began with phone calls and text messages. Sitting down to his computer and logging into social media, he was met with a series of notifications. In reply after reply to his post for help was someone who questioned his motivations and demeaned the cause.

This past week a woman was met with the all too familiar attacks on her words. Replies and posts looked for ways to discredit and discourage her from speaking openly again.

When David was met with accolades of great success, Saul was angry towards him and vowed, “I’ll pin David to the wall” (1 Samuel 18.11).

Sometimes, we enter the arena of life and are met with swinging fists. No matter what good is done, some people are determined to fight. In school, we call them “bullies,” and online, we call them “trolls.” In workplaces, we call them “toxic.” In churches, we call them “brother” and “sister.”

Whether this psalm was penned by David or inspired by his life, we know those who rejoiced in his stumbling were his own people. The same people who worshiped with him later turned and sneered, mocked, gloated over him, and falsely accused him.

It is easier to meet fire with fire but that is not the way of our crucified Lord.

The woman this past week responded out of love. Instead of rising (or lowering) to the level of anger thrown her way, she spoke of the value and joy that existed within the other person. She spoke out of kindness and concern.

The man that day patiently answered questions or false assumptions. In a vow of transparency, books were opened and no deeds were covered in darkness.

I went home and prayed for that woman.

Like the silent lamb—our Christ—who uttered no response to his accusers, we are called to meet swinging fists with words of love. It is not easy and certainly not comfortable. They gloat; we intercede.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. — Psalm 31.1

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

​Today’s Readings
Proverbs 5 (Listen 2:08)
Psalm 35 (Listen 3:21)

Read more about Responding in Kind
There’s an old saying that we don’t have to attend every fight we are invited to. God doesn’t need our defense but he does desire our devotion.

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Wartime Prayers

Scripture Focus: Psalm 35:5-6
5 May they be like chaff before the wind,
     with the angel of the Lord driving them away;
 6 may their path be dark and slippery,
     with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.

From John: Erin and I are both ready for our daily readings, especially imprecatory psalms, to be less topical to current events. It’s distressing to write from the scriptures referencing some of the horrors we’ve recently witnessed up close and far off. But isn’t that what the scriptures are for? And what regular reading does for us? One of the best features of the way we approach devotionals at The Park Forum is that we don’t chase topics, we just walk in the scriptures. For no matter what valley we walk through, Jesus is with us in his Word, through the Spirit, and among the community of faith. Peace be with us, in us, and among us.

Reflection: Wartime Prayers
By Erin Newton

The book of Psalms reveals a wide range of emotional responses to life: praise, joy, lament, pleas for deliverance, and expressions that seek justice. Psalm 35 is one of the latter types of psalms—an imprecatory prayer.

The psalmist utilizes militant language asking for shield, armor, spear, and javelin to be set against the enemy. There is hope that the foe will be caught in a net, fall into a pit, and be disgraced and put to shame.

It is a prayer against injustice. It is a prayer for retribution.

Many of us are peace-time civilians in the West. Our conflicts are not wartime struggles but personal attacks, neighborly conflicts, and systemic injustices. But war still happens, is happening now, around the globe. The cry for justice is universal.

Federico Villanueva, a Filipino scholar, reveals the most important aspect to this type of prayer: “The difference is that this prayer is directed to God. It is not simply wishing that something bad will happen to a person; it is asking God to do this action.”

Psalm 35 is unique within the book of Psalms. Together with Psalm 34, it is the only place the angel of the Lord is mentioned. The plea is for the enemy to become worthless, useless, weak, chaff. The psalmist begs for the way of the enemy to be darkened and treacherous. The whole plot to disarm the enemy is done by the angel of the Lord.

Injustice should lead our hearts to lament and pray. Our emotions should rise with the stories of pain and suffering. These psalms give voice to the Spirit that stirs within us, “Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me!”

The desire to defend the weak is good and righteous. We are called to seek justice in every area of our lives. Let us seek God as we pray for his will to be done. When we are cornered and afraid, let us call upon God to impart perfect justice as only he can.

Federico reminds us: “Human justice is very imperfect…The imprecatory prayers become expressions of trust in God our Father who is not only powerful but is just and loving. It brings comfort to those who are weak and oppressed, who have no one else to go to but God. It also serves as a strong warning for the oppressors. There is a God who fights for the right of the weak.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me, O God of Israel. — Psalm 69.7

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

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 15 (Listen 5:30)
Psalms 35 (Listen 3:21)

Read more about Miracles of Deliverance and Judgment
In a warzone, however, wickedness removes its disguises…The lies of wicked rulers corrupt those around them and cost lives.

Read more about An Imprecatory Psalm for Mass Shootings
The imprecatory psalms and our angry prayers in crisis are still valuable to God.

Prayer for Enemies

Psalm 35.12-13
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.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 1 (Listen – 6:21) 
Psalm 35 (Listen – 3:21)

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He was willing to die to save the idol-worshiping sailors in the boat, but when Nineveh repented and wasn’t destroyed, Jonah pouted like a child for the destruction of his enemies.

Read more about Daily Bread for Others :: Worldwide Prayer
We pray for people throughout the world who suffer either from hunger, disease, war, or other calamities, that they may find relief in you, because, wherever you went Jesus, you did good.