Category Archives: Scripture Meditation

“But I say to you…Love your enemies…”

          As New Testament believers, we often classify the words of Christ in Luke 6:27-28 as part of the group of Christ’s teachings which were radical reformations of Old Testament (OT) Law.  We all too often assume that it was biblically acceptable in OT times to hate those who had wronged you.  After all, wasn’t the law of the day “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth?”

          But even an “eye for an eye” is in context of legal jurisdiction as demanded by a judge (see Ex 21:22-25) and does not allow for the victim to exact vengeance himself (see Lev 19:17).  The OT never endorses hate as the proper response to our mistreatment by others.*  This became quite clear to me as I was reading and meditating today on Psalm 35, especially verses 13-14:

But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer kept returning in my bosom.  I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother.

When those who sought for David’s life experienced sickness or difficult times, his reaction was not one of smug satisfaction or pleasure at their expense, but of genuine, sincere sorrow on their behalf!  He fasted, prayed, and mourned on their behalf as if they were his own family.

          While I would not consider myself the most vindictive or begrudging person that I know, I fall quite short of the mark of David’s empathy for his enemies.  Though it is a rare occasion that I seek revenge toward someone who has wronged me, it is an even rarer occasion that I mourn their calamity, pray, or fast on their behalf.  Frankly, these are actions that I rarely do for friends, much less enemies!  When someone cuts me off and flies past me on the interstate and I pass by them and a state trooper a mile up the road, I’m not mourning their calamity!  In fact, I’m tempted to stop and tell that state trooper just how fast and reckless they were driving before he saw them!  (And it’s not because I’m concerned with justice being done—which is a perfectly legitimate attitude—it’s because they’ve wronged me and I’m glad to see them suffer!)  But David’s reaction toward the calamity of those who’d wronged him is exactly what Jesus meant in Luke 6.  This is the love that both David and Christ demonstrated: the love that turns the other cheek and prays for the forgiveness and well-being of those who have wronged us, even those who would kill us given the opportunity.  This is that attitude I must imitate.  This is part of what it means to be Christian and the essence of what it means to show the love of Christ to the world.

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*There is a proper time and place for righteous indignation, or “hate,” but not in response to the infringement of our “rights.”  Look for a later post on the usage of “hate” in the Bible, which is used quite frequently by the psalmists.

God Answers Prayer

          One of the passages that I read today was Psalm 120.  It is, as are many other psalms, a prayer for God’s deliverance of the psalmist from wicked men who seek his life.  One thing that I really took note of while reading this psalm was the very first verse: “In my trouble I cried to the LORD, And He answered me” (Ps 120:1, NASB).  It’s really quite a simple verse, and is probably one that I’ve read over before quickly and without notice.  However, it resonated with a truth that I had read previously today in Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life about the fact that God answers prayer.  The psalmist states a simple truth in this first verse of Psalm 120: “when I pray, God answers.”

          Though this is a very simple verse with a very simple meaning, it has profound application for our lives.  I am certain that I am not the only Christian who has not always experienced a consistent, powerful prayer life in the past.  I am not sure what the reasons others may have for a lack of prayer, but to be brutally honest, my reason for not praying—whether I was willing to admit it or not—was never that I didn’t know how to pray, or didn’t have the time, but simply that I doubted its efficacy.  That’s bad, especially coming from a minister, but it’s the unfortunate truth.  I didn’t really believe that God would answer my prayers.  I didn’t think they really had any effect.  As a left-brained scientist, I saw nature as a series of causes and effects, and chain of natural events that was only ever broken in Biblical times.  My view of God was so small that I subconsciously (though I would have never said this or admitted it!) thought that God was somehow bound by the laws of nature and cause and effect.  I found myself saying things like, “Sure, prayer is great, but God helps those who help themselves.”  Prayer, to me, was simply an obligation or, at best, a method of requesting forgiveness for sins.  If I was experiencing financial difficulty, I didn’t truly pray expecting God’s help, I began searching for ways to “pull myself up by my bootstraps.”  When I struggled in school to understand a concept, I rarely prayed for God’s help, but instead would exhaust every other possible option until, sitting in my desk taking the test, I would mutter a last ditch plea for God’s mercy.

          But that is not what the Bible teaches.  Why would God tell us “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matt 21:22) if He didn’t mean it?  Certainly, there are exceptions.  Scripture teaches that God will not answer our prayers if we have unrepented sin in our life (Ps 66:18) or if we ask out of selfish motives (Jam 4:3), nor does God always answer the way we want him to (2 Cor 12:8-10), but these are exceptions, not the rule.  The rule is: when God’s children pray from a faithful, selfless heart, God always answers their prayers.  Recently, Jennifer (my wife) and I have had to trust God more than ever, financially speaking.  I am a full time student with a part time ministry position (which does not pay much!) and Jennifer is a waitress.  Financially, things have been tight.  But I’ve noticed a trend: when I pray for God’s provision, Jennifer makes more money in tips!  Thus far, I have not ceased to be pleasantly surprised by the results.  There have been a couple times when I even prayed for a specific amount, which God either granted or surpassed!  And there’s a corresponding trend I’ve noticed as well: Jenn has had her hardest nights on nights when I didn’t pray for her.  Frankly, I’m quite embarrassed to admit that it’s taken me 23 years to really grasp the truth of the Bible’s claims about prayer. My wife, on the other hand, seems to have never suffered from this lack of faith in prayer that has been so epidemic in my life.  When she looses her keys (which seems to be a daily occurrence!  lol), she’ll pray for God’s help to find them.  And, while I’m rolling my eyes and silently laughing that she would pray over such a small and petty thing, she’s found the keys.  Sure, some may call it coincidence, but in the words of one man, “I sure have a lot more coincidences when I pray than when I don’t!”

          Now, that doesn’t always mean that he will necessarily grant my request.  I can remember many times praying in junior high and high school that God would allow me to marry my current girlfriend.  Thanks be to God that he denied my requests!  (Garth Brooks’ “Unanswered Prayers” anyone?  though perhaps “unanswered” isn’t the best way of putting it.)  I would have never met or married Jennifer, whom I am eternally grateful for.  My relationships as a puppy-love-stricken teenager pale in comparison to the love that Jennifer and I share.  God knew that I didn’t really understand what I was praying for, and he, in his infinite wisdom, denied those requests.  But, he did answer my prayers–he provided the perfect woman for me to marry.  He answered, just not in the way I’d expected.  Assuming that I have faith that God will answer my prayer, am not hindered by unrepentant sin, and I’m not asking for something out of selfish ambition or pride (like a Ferrari or the lottery, for instance), “when I pray, God answers.” And while he may not always answer the way I’d like him to at the time, in hindsight I have never been disappointed.

“In my trouble I cried to the LORD, and he answered me.”

Psalm 120:1

God is my refuge

          Today as I was reading Psalm 59, an obvious truth struck me that I have overlooked so many times in my reading of the Psalms.  Oftentimes when I have read psalms of David I have noted in passing that some of his psalms are from times of extreme difficulty, especially when he was being chased by the mentally instable King Saul.  But, what I have so often missed is the depth of emotion expressed in these psalms.  When you realize that David’s very life was being threatened by the ruler of the most powerful nation in the known world, you begin to get a taste of the gravity of the situation.  I can only imagine the hopelessness and fear that must have overcome him when he saw the massive armies of trained warriors pursuing him.  Saul was out for blood—David’s blood.  Yet, did David despair?  No.  Instead, he prayed to God, his “shield, stronghold, and refuge.”

          Secondly, David was unwilling to strike at his enemies personally, but realized that God had the power to bring them to destruction in due time (and was unafraid to pray for just that!).  Realizing that he was not that he was not being punished for sinning against Saul (vv. 3-4), David could have responded in one of two inappropriate ways: 1) get even with Saul by killing him and assuming the throne, and/or 2) charge God with injustice for allowing such events to occur.  David did neither.  Frankly, my reaction to such events may have been one of these two options!  But, instead, David prayed for God to bring about the deliverance through the destruction of the wicked.  While such a prayer may rub modern readers the wrong way (as they think such language to be incompatible with a “God of love”), David realized that God is just and righteous.  Praise be to God that he does not allow injustice to go unpunished!  What an awful world this would be if He did!

         From David’s experiences in Psalm 59, I can see a direct application to my life.  This past May, I was fired from my job unexpectedly.  While I was not perfect at my job (who is?), it was not entirely clear to me that my firing was necessarily a result of my “sins,” since I had put forth my best effort to do my job well and had received praise from coworkers for my hard work.  Fortunately, this occurred during a period of intense spiritual growth and during that time I had felt that God was preparing me for a difficult time to come.  Was He ever!  While I often wondered what good God intended to bring about from that situation, God provided the faith necessary for me to trust Him.  Indeed, through that trial, God brought me to Louisville to attend seminary, an experience that in hindsight I would not trade for the brief humiliation and pain I endured in May.

          When such sufferings/trials occur, we ought not to withdraw from God or charge Him with injustice, but rather flee to God as our refuge!  After all, God is the only one who has the ability to alleviate the suffering!  While it is easy to trust God when all is well, it is through the hard times in life that we learn to have faith.

“But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, for You have been my stronghold and a refuge in the day of my distress.  O my strength, I will sing praises to You; for God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness.”

–Psalm 59:16-17 (NASB)