Shocking Prayers and Promises

Scripture Focus: Psalm 109.6-8
6 Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand. 
7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. 
8 May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.

Reflection: Shocking Prayers and Promises
By John Tillman

You’ll probably never hear Psalm 109 or other imprecatory psalms read in church. The condemnations are harsh. The cries for violent retribution are unsettling. Is this praying or cursing?

When the suffering cry out, they don’t consider the feelings of those listening. They chuck civility and cordiality out the window. They employ emotional language and evocative metaphors. They abandon the vocabulary of propriety and politeness. They may even go beyond cursing to “cussing.”

Imagine yourself standing in front of someone shouting out the curses and demands of this psalm…

If you are like me, you probably picture yourself giving one of two responses: disengagement or discouragement. You want to get away from them or tell them to calm down.

“Be respectful.” “Ask nicely and I’ll listen.” “I can’t be around you when you are like this.”

God responds differently. God turns his ear to them. God leans closer. God joins them in their suffering. God’s face looks on them with compassion. God’s hands lift them up and punish their oppressors.

We are not God. We are incapable of his level of listening, patience, empathy, and compassion.

When people protest loudly, we say, “Be quiet.” When they protest at inconvenient times, we say, “Not now.” When they protest in our faces, we say, “Back off.” When they protest in our spaces, we say, “Get out.”

We are also powerless to enact the fullness of God’s justice and righteousness.

There are problems we cannot comprehend. There are oppressors we cannot correct. There are powers we cannot oppose. There are wrongs we cannot make right.

We can, however, lean on the listening, patient, empathetic, compassionate heart of God revealed in scripture. We can work for the problem-solving, corrective, overcoming, good-creating justice and righteousness revealed in scripture. That is what the psalmist is doing.

The psalmist’s cry, “May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow,” (Psalm 109.9) echoes a promise of God from Exodus 22.24 and Jeremiah 18.21. It is God who promised to punish those who harm the vulnerable. We can pray shocking prayers.

Are you hesitant to hear out the hurting?
When the suffering won’t be silent, do you shut your ears?
When the abused are red-faced with anger and shame, do you turn your face away?
When the oppressed open their mouths with curses, do you open the door and leave?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. — Psalm 85.10

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

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah 10.5-34 (Listen 5:14)
Psalm 106 (Listen 4:52)

​This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah  11-12 (Listen 3:39), Acts 1 (Listen 3:5802)
Isaiah  13 (Listen 3:11), Acts 2 (Listen 6:35)

Read more about An Imprecatory Psalm for Mass Shootings
I went to church…As normal, I paused to think about what I should do in case of a shooting…This shouldn’t be normal.

Read more about Wartime Prayers
Imprecatory prayers become expressions of trust in God our Father…not only powerful but…just and loving.

God’s Feathers

Scripture Focus: Psalm 91
1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High 
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 
2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, 
my God, in whom I trust.” 
3 Surely he will save you 
from the fowler’s snare 
and from the deadly pestilence. 
4 He will cover you with his feathers, 
and under his wings you will find refuge; 
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. 
5 You will not fear the terror of night, 
nor the arrow that flies by day, 
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, 
nor the plague that destroys at midday. 
7 A thousand may fall at your side, 
ten thousand at your right hand, 
but it will not come near you. 
8 You will only observe with your eyes 
and see the punishment of the wicked. 
9 If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” 
and you make the Most High your dwelling, 
10 no harm will overtake you, 
no disaster will come near your tent. 
11 For he will command his angels concerning you 
to guard you in all your ways; 
12 they will lift you up in their hands, 
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. 
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra; 
you will trample the great lion and the serpent. 
14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; 
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him; 
I will be with him in trouble, 
I will deliver him and honor him. 
16 With long life I will satisfy him 
and show him my salvation.” 

Reflection: God’s Feathers
By John Tillman

Even in our relatively comfortable lives today, we have parallels to the dangers the psalmist fears.

We fear snares, traps, scams, and conspiracies. We fear terrors of darkness and unknown enemies and dangers. We fear pestilences, plagues, and illnesses that can strike early or late in life. We know of weapons that fly overhead and are more deadly than arrows. We know of enemies and armies that can swarm around us to harass and attack us both online and in real life.

The psalmist portrays humans as fragile, vulnerable, and defenseless birds. We are easily ensnared by grift, infected by filth, or broken by force. 

Birds are dual symbols in scripture. Many times, they symbolize helplessness, struggle, and chaos. Fluttering flocks are metaphors of panic, terror, and fright in the face of danger. When sheltered in trees or craggy rocks, birds represent the poor and oppressed. Jesus described birds as relying on God and as being cared for despite their low monetary value.

Other times, birds symbolize power, freedom, and protection. God and the living creatures that surround his throne are associated with birds, feathers, and flight. God carries his people on eagle’s wings and empowers them to soar on wings of their own. (Exodus 19.4; Isaiah 40.31) In this psalm, God is a protective bird. We are covered in God’s feathers. God’s wings are our refuge.

In his commentary, Federico Villanueva says, “In Asia and Africa, Psalm 91 has been used as a kind of magic charm…on amulets and inscribed on buildings.” It’s not hard to see why. The psalm makes some of the most explicit claims of protection in the Bible. Who would not want to lay claim to such bold promises?

Scripture is not magic, and it is a snare to think that it is. Satan spoke of Psalm 91 as magical protection to tempt Jesus. But the psalm also promises that Satan, who is the snake, the fowler, and the roaring lion, will be trampled. 

Carving scripture onto an amulet or a building is educational but not protective. However, carving it into our hearts brings change. Through scripture, make God your shelter and dwelling. 

When we dwell in his shelter, fragile as we are, we are shielded in God’s feathers. Powerless as we are, we fly towards God’s purposes. Foolish as we are, God’s wisdom keeps us from the snares of the fowler.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Wake up, my spirit; awake, lute and harp: I myself will waken the dawn. — Psalm 108.2

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

​Today’s Readings
Malachi 3 (Listen 3:13)
Psalm 91 (Listen 1:39)

Read more about Quotations from the Desert
Satan quotes Ps 91…stops before the verse about him: “You will…trample the…serpent.” He is speaking to the one destined to do the trampling.

Read more about Bearing Reproach
Mary was slandered as a prostitute. We must not be surprised at our mistreatment as the Lord’s messengers

A Broken Rebel’s Prayer

Scripture Focus: Psalm 90
A prayer of Moses the man of God. 
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place 
throughout all generations. 
2 Before the mountains were born 
or you brought forth the whole world, 
from everlasting to everlasting you are God. 
3 You turn people back to dust, 
saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.” 
4 A thousand years in your sight 
are like a day that has just gone by, 
or like a watch in the night. 
5 Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death— 
they are like the new grass of the morning: 
6 In the morning it springs up new, 
but by evening it is dry and withered. 
7 We are consumed by your anger 
and terrified by your indignation. 
8 You have set our iniquities before you, 
our secret sins in the light of your presence. 
9 All our days pass away under your wrath; 
we finish our years with a moan. 
10 Our days may come to seventy years, 
or eighty, if our strength endures; 
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, 
for they quickly pass, and we fly away. 
11 If only we knew the power of your anger! 
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. 
12 Teach us to number our days, 
that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 
13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be? 
Have compassion on your servants. 
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, 
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. 
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, 
for as many years as we have seen trouble. 
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants, 
your splendor to their children. 
17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; 
establish the work of our hands for us— 
yes, establish the work of our hands.

Reflection: A Broken Rebel’s Prayer
By John Tillman

Psalm 90, the prayer of Moses, is the prayer of a broken rebel, humbled and wise, relying on God.

Moses was a rebel from the beginning. Born illegally, the state condemned him to death from birth. Secreted into the wicked king’s palace as a child, he grew up like a sleeper agent. His family did this for his safety but also must have hoped that their little rebel, like a well-slung stone, might take down the oppressive giant.

Instead, he fails miserably. Commits murder. Gets caught. Flees for his life. Marries foreigners. Has uncircumcised children. He stutters. He hesitates. He hides. Yet, God speaks directly to him and does wonders before his eyes. But, despite the burning bush and the voice of God and all those miracles, Moses still says, “Please send someone else.”

Who better to emulate in prayer than a man this broken, purposeless, ashamed, and fearful? Through prayer, Moses became a different kind of man. He became a man used for God’s purposes, breaking the might of a national superpower. He became a man of humility instead of shame. He became a man who stood his ground in faith rather than fleeing in fear.

A Broken Rebel’s Prayer
Lord, whether in a precariously floating basket, a gleaming palace, or a desert lit by burning bushes, you are the source of our life.

All our strivings are pointless before you.
You are the better dwelling place we long for.
Everything we hope for is in you.
We dwell enslaved to our brokenness, our shame, and our fear.
We return to the dust with you as our only hope.

Lord, you see thousands of years like a day and our lives like a blink of an eye.
Help us live our brief lives wisely, with your righteous wrath and merciful love before our eyes.

Have compassion on us, Lord, weak as we are.
Help us praise you with our faltering voices,
Raise our unworthy hands to see you win what our rebellions never could.

Let us pursue your power for your purposes.
Let us release our shame and stand before you in humility.
Let us stand our ground defending the weak with faith that seas will part and armies will fall without striking a blow against us.

Establish your work through our hands and speak your words through our voices.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Lord, God of hosts, hear my prayer; hearken, O God of Jacob. — Psalm 84.7

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

​Today’s Readings
Malachi 2 (Listen 3:12)
Psalm 90 (Listen 2:03)

Read more about Outward-Focused Rhythms
Instead of focusing mostly on activities that are forms of self-investment, practicing daily rhythms that are rooted in Christ can take us beyond ourselves.

Read more about Offal Leaders
God smeared their faces with offal, but some keep trying to wipe it off and pretend nothing is wrong.

A City to Live In

Scripture Focus: Psalm 87
1 He has founded his city on the holy mountain. 
2 The Lord loves the gates of Zion 
more than all the other dwellings of Jacob. 
3 Glorious things are said of you, 
city of God: 
4 “I will record Rahab and Babylon 
among those who acknowledge me— 
Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush— 
and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’ ”
5 Indeed, of Zion it will be said, 
“This one and that one were born in her, 
and the Most High himself will establish her.” 
6 The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: 
“This one was born in Zion.” 
7 As they make music they will sing, 
“All my fountains are in you.”

Genesis 4.16-17
16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.

“I’ll find a city. Find myself a city to live in. Help me. Find a city. Find myself a city to live in.” — David Byrne, Talking Heads, “Cities

Reflection: A City to Live In
By John Tillman

In the Talking Heads song “Cities,” David Byrne sings of searching for a place to live. He weighs good points and bad points and longs for “home cooking” and a place where the river doesn’t stink. He’s checking them out and trying to figure them out, but this elusive city cannot be found.

Cities have good points. Cities have bad points. Anyone considering a move knows it is difficult to “figure it out.” Anyone who has left a familiar city knows the isolation of feeling like a wanderer.

The condemned, restless wanderer Cain named the first city after his son, Enoch. (Genesis 4.11-17) Cain was cursed and prevented from cultivating the ground, but in Enoch City, other skills were cultivated. From this city came arts and technology. (Genesis 4.21-22) Cast out of Eden’s garden, humans planted cities to protect and provide for themselves, but like other things humans planted, cities were subject to the curse. The cursed ground produced thorns and thistles, and soon, cities bore the fruits of violence, oppression, and evil rather than peace, advancement, or justice.

Most cities in the Bible are mentioned because of evil, not good. From the front pages to the last, the Bible uses the city of Babylon as a symbol of human wickedness. Other cities and empires such as Egypt, Tyre, the cities of the Philistines, and more represent rampant violence and evil.

These cities are covered in darkness. Their rivers stink of death. But there is another city for us.

Psalm 87 names Zion as a city God loves. Zion is another name for Jerusalem, but the city God loves goes beyond a physical location. This city is God’s city. It is founded on holiness rather than sinfulness. It hints at Heaven, described by biblical writers as a city of healing, peace, justice, and mercy, from which the river of life flows.

God loves cities. If they acknowledge God, even wicked cities are spiritually connected to Zion. God writes down Babylon, Rahab (here a nickname for Egypt), and Tyre as “born in Zion.” 

Cities have good points. Cities have bad points. But God loves cities and sends us to them. Small ones. Big ones. What are you doing to bring the freshness of the river of life and the aroma of the home-cooked banquet of the gospel to your city?

Video:The City,” by The Bible Project

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. — Psalm 118.23

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

​Today’s Readings
Micah 6 (Listen 2:28)
Psalm 86-87 (Listen 2:26)

Read more about The Urban Sprawl of the City of God
Jesus calls us to live within the borderless, wall-less, ever-sprawling city of New Jerusalem.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
May we make our light shine through good deeds, showing God’s mercy and his grace to us, and turning slums and suburbs into cities on a hill.

Favored Undertakings

Scripture Focus: Psalm 82
1 God presides in the great assembly; 
he renders judgment among the “gods”: 
2 “How long will you defend the unjust 
and show partiality to the wicked? 
3 Defend the weak and the fatherless; 
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. 
4 Rescue the weak and the needy; 
deliver them from the hand of the wicked. 
5 “The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing. 
They walk about in darkness; 
all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 
6 “I said, ‘You are “gods”; 
you are all sons of the Most High.’ 
7 But you will die like mere mortals; 
you will fall like every other ruler.” 
8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth, 
for all the nations are your inheritance. 

Reflection: Favored Undertakings
By John Tillman

Spiritual and physical worlds overlap in Psalm 82, and interpretations also overlap.

Is God raising objections in the assembly of other gods, or is God speaking in judgment against human “gods,” the rulers and wealthy leaders? In either case, God judges and punishes them for defending the unjust and showing partiality to the wicked.

Federico Villanueva observes Westerners seem uncomfortable with the idea of many “gods” and one “Most High God.” But the rest of the world, including biblical writers, see no conflict with Yahweh ruling over other spiritual beings. Asaph’s original meaning seems to refer to such a spiritual realm, but Jesus quotes Asaph and interprets “gods” in a way that includes human leaders who received the word of God. (John 10.33-39) Neither interpretation negates the other. Both can be true simultaneously. But don’t let the “who” make you miss the “why.”

Why God is angry is more important than who the other gods are. God is angry at injustice.

God cries out, “How long?” We are used to humans crying out “how long” to God when suffering injustice, but in this case, God raises the lament when gods and rulers defend the unjust.

In the United States Senate chamber, senators assemble beneath a Latin phrase carved into the edge of the balcony above their heads: annuit coeptis, or “God has favored our undertakings.” Americans, especially Christians, often take God’s favor for granted. “We’re the good guys. God is on our side.” But is he? Many of the most horrible undertakings in history claimed to have God’s favor. Care and humility are needed. Do we claim God’s favor while causing him to say, “How long?”

God is angry when the unjust and wicked are defended and shown partiality. Are we?
God is angry when the cause of the weak, the vulnerable, and the oppressed is ignored. Are we?
God takes his stand in the assembly, speaking against injustices. Do we?

God’s objections to unjust undertakings imply undertakings he would favor.

We must speak against, not defend, unjust events, leaders, or causes.
We must refuse to defend or show partiality to the wicked for any purpose, power, or profit.
We must take up the cause of the vulnerable, lending our voices and support, defending them from the powerful and wealthy.

God favors undertakings aligned with him. Let’s undertake them, no matter what assembly we stand in or who opposes us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4.6

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

​Today’s Readings
Micah 3 (Listen 1:51)
Psalm 81-82 (Listen 2:36)

​This Weekend’s Readings
Micah 4 (Listen 2:33), Psalm 83-84 (Listen 3:20)
Micah 5 (Listen 2:21), Psalm 85 (Listen 1:25)

Read more about Turn Out the Lights
In choosing prophets that please us, we will soon find ourselves ashamed in the dark and isolated from the God we stopped listening to.

Read more about Honey and Grace
Christ pours out, upon those who follow him, extravagant grace that goes beyond a dry court ruling of “not guilty.”