Our psalm for prayer this week is rather sobering. In Psalm 79, God’s people had been invaded, assaulted, slaughtered, and had their corpses left as food for vultures and jackals. It’s very difficult to read. My question is this: how is a believer supposed to pray in such a situation?
There’s good indication that this devastation was punishment for persistent, unrepentant sin. God was “angry” (v.5) about “former iniquities” (v.8). It’s very hard to know that your suffering is the result of your own foolish choices. Have you ever found yourself in that dilemma? Once again, how is a believer supposed to pray in such a situation?
Well, I can see a couple suggestions from this psalm that would help the child of God pray when life seems as if God is angry about past sin.
First, pray that God would execute justice. We all have an innate sense of justice, a desire to see the right thing done. Thank God that he is just (v.13), and pray that he would continue to be just. In praying for justice, it is only fair to ask God to execute justice on the very people whom God uses to discipline his own children. Even though we need discipline and should be honestly thankful for it, God holds all moral creatures responsible for their own choices, even when those choices advance the purposes of God, which they always do.
Read Habakkuk sometime, especially the first chapter. The prophet complains that God is letting evil go unpunished among the people of God. God tells the prophet that he’s planning on punishing his people through a Chaldean invasion of Jerusalem. The prophet complains that God would use somebody more wicked than the Jews to punish his own people. God then says that he’s going to destroy the Chaldeans for the role that they play in the destruction of the capital city. God uses evil to accomplish his good and then punishes moral agents for their evil choices. He is just.
Asaph says “Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name! For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.” That’s a legitimate prayer. It helps to know that God is righteous with everybody. I do believe that our prayers for our enemies should not end there. Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of those who crucified him. And yet, many of them never experienced that forgiveness. There is nothing wrong in praying for justice and forgiveness at the same time.
Second, pray that God would be the one who gets the credit for answered prayer. Verse 9 says, “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!” For the sake of God’s honor in this world, we need God’s help. We can’t accomplish this on our own; we need to be delivered. And if anything good is really going to come to us through it all, it will be because God exalts himself.
People who are truly repentant for their sins against God also desire that God is visibly vindicated. Truly repentant people experience a godly sorrow over the black mark they’ve left on the honor of God’s name. They want that smudge to be erased. They pray primarily for the glory of God’s name through their deliverance rather than concerning themselves primarily with their own comfort or relief.
Are you obviously reaping the fruit that you have sown? Paul warns us in Galatians that God is not mocked by our fleshly choices. We will reap what we sow. Not all of our difficulties are due to poor choices, but some certainly are. And if you are in an obvious “cause and effect” trial, pray. Pray for justice in this world and for and God’s honor to be upheld.
This was an easy psalm to pray yesterday and today as I prayed for government leaders throughout the nations and for missionaries, especially the persecuted church. It will take some more creative prayerful meditation on Thursday through Sunday when I pray for extended family, immediate family, church leadership, and my own spiritual growth respectively. But God’s justice and his honor touch everything I am and do so the Spirit of God will help me pray for these things on those days too.
It would be an encouragement to me if I knew you were praying with me through this psalm.