Pray The Church To Life: Fight
When was the last time you asked God to crush your enemy? Have you ever prayed to God that He NOT cover someone's guilt, or NOT blot out someone's sin? For many of us the presence of this type of prayer in Scripture is difficult enough let alone the personal use of it in our prayer lives. In many ways, it is good that we are hesitant to pray like Nehemiah does in Neh 4.4-5. Nehemiah's petition for cursing on God's enemies is inspired by the Holy Spirit and isn't about personal revenge but the glory of God and the good of His people. Nehemiah was fighting and laboring for the rebuilding of a city and of the church, and all around enemies were actively laboring to crush, discourage, distract, and destroy the work and God's people. So Nehemiah prays that God would turn taunts back on the heads of their enemies. He prays to God that He would not cover their guilt or blot our their sin, and he does all of this because men like Tobiah and Sanaballat "have provoked you [God] to anger."
Nehemiah is actually standing in a long line of people offering imprecatory prayers (just read Psalms). Praying like this isn't unbiblical and is in fact grounded in God's promises found in places like Genesis 12. Thousands of years before Nehemiah God covenanted with Abraham that He would bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him. Among many things, this means God cares about what happens to His people and that He will protect, defend, avenge, repay, and judge those who are hostile to the restoration, mission and people of the church. This truth is meant to encourage and embolden. God sees, God cares, and God will act. Take a minute and allow that truth to set in. As you fight for the church, as you labor to see Her thrive, as you offer your very lives in the mission of making disciples of all tribes and tongues God takes notice of every insult, every blow, every drop of blood from every martyr.
Nehemiah's prayer goes even further than giving us personal confidence and hope that God cares about our opposition, it provides corporate fervor to keep laboring. The context for Nehemiah's prayer of imprecation is the coordinated effort of God's people to accomplish their God given task while facing a hostile environment littered with slandering, threatening, violent enemies. No doubt, God's people then, as now, are prone to discouragement and fear, and one of the ways God encourages us is to know that what we suffer He sees and what we endure He will do something about. This was true for Nehemiah and the church at that time, it is true in places like Revelation 6 where those killed for their faith are told that God will judge and avenge their blood, and it is true for the church today.
How To Fight
It would be a mistake at this point to encourage any of us to constant imprecation. In fact, we would do better to allow the Biblical prayers to teach us more about who God is and what He is doing, and will do, than how to pray for the dashing of our enemies. However, this doesn't mean that there is never a place to pray prayers loosely patterned and inspired after those seen in places like Nehemiah 4. We can rightly claim the promises that God will judge, God will avenge, God cares, God sees, God defends, God protects, and so on. Utilizing these truths in the context of our personal and corporate prayer lives gives glory to God as sovereign over all people and also strengthens His saints to keep fighting even as they face opposition at every step.
Here are a few ways you might incorporate 'imprecatory' type prayers:
"Soveriegn Lord, I know you see all things. You see our enemies and you see our suffering. God we are facing fierce opponents. Would you save them and would you stop them. Do what you deem right for your glory. Let us know and believe that the blows and the blood of your saints matter to You. Let us with confidence and courage fight trusting that vengeance is Yours, and that you will repay."
"Papa, right now there are great and wicked obstacles against your people. There are legal, cultural, spiritual, physical assaults issued forth by real people who despise and hate us. Your church is insulted and ridiculed. Your church that is called by your name. For your glory would you turn the taunts of our culture back on their own heads. Would you show the foolishness of opposing You by opposing your people. Would you cause knees to bow, and if they don't bow, would you cause knees to break. However you choose to do it would you save and stop our enemies. Would you bring to an end their taunts. Would you remove their power over us. Would you vindicate your church that those who are now discouraged would be revived as our enemies are put to shame and your might is seen in the saving and stopping of those that currently curse You and hate us."
As you can see I am slow to pray specifically like Nehemiah that God wouldn't forgive sin or wouldn't cover guilt. As a sinful man, prone to ungodly self serving revenge, I want to pray that God changes, saves, restores, and forgives my enemies much more than I would ever pray that He would curse them. Even more than the tendency to sin, we have the words of Jesus in places like Matthew 5.44 that say, "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." Or Paul's words in Romans 12.14; "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." However, this doesn't mean we can't pray in more general terms Nehemiah 4 type prayers that God would save and stop our enemies according to His good pleasure. In fact, sometimes that's exactly what we need to pray, both for ourselves and for the people we are laboring with. Not so much prayers of cursing, but prayers of conquest.
The One Who Really Fights
Perhaps the biggest reason we should be slow to pray imprecation against others is that without Christ we are all enemies of God that deserve cursing. We must remember that before we were ever like Nehemiah, or the builders laboring, or even the people who's strength was fading, we were like Sanballat and Tobiah discouraging, oppressing, and opposing. For many of us our activity may not have been as outwardly overt as the enemies facing Nehemiah, but we were no less opposed to Jesus. And in our opposition, as enemies of God, Jesus prayed and Jesus died. Amazingly, instead of cursing us, God blesses us by cursing Christ. The reason we fight in prayer by asking that our opponents would be saved is because Jesus died for us that our guilt would be covered and our sin would blotted out. No doubt, we can still pray that God would stop enemies of the church but the Gospel compels us to pray He stops them first and foremost by saving them, just like He did for us. For those He doesn't save we know He will ultimately stop. He will bring justice. He will avenge the blood of His saints. He will defend His people and vindicate His name. With confidence in God we fight and we pray; 'God would you save and stop our enemies, for our good, their good, and most importantly, your glory.'