The Gift of Enemies

The first prayer-proper in the Psalms (Ps. 3) is a not a praise or thanksgiving. It’s a cry for help, “O Lord, how many are my foes!” In the Psalms–the prayer book of God’s people–enemies are everywhere. Out of 150 chapters, there are only 7 confession or penitential psalms. There are upwards of 68 psalms of lament or complaint and many, if not most, have to do with the enemies of God’s people.

The entirety of the Bible is clear that our biggest problems are inside of us, not outside of us. Sin condemns us. But because of sin, the world is a scary place. The enemy-psalms aren’t there to make us paranoid. They are there, however, to ensure we don’t become naive. Not everyone in the world is singing kumbaya and trying to get along. Some people actually are out to get God’s people.

Who is an enemy? Simply, anyone who doesn’t have your best in mind and who actively seeks your hurt.

There is some horrifying stuff in the Psalms when it comes to enemies. Like Psalm 137:9, “Blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your babies and dashes them against the rock!” That seems un-Christian to pray, right? But it’s not.

These psalms teach us that when God feels distant because of enemies, we must go to God as we actually are, not as we think we should be.

Therefore, when we pray because of enemies, we seek to be accurate, not nice. Many of us were taught to pray sweet little angel prayers to Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with that as far as it goes. But if so many of the psalms seem more like war than precious devotional moments, we should take note.

Second, we need to cry out for God’s justice. Be honest. Be raw. Call down for God’s holy wrath on injustice. If we aren’t angered by sin and evil, something is wrong with us. We’re not seeking personal vengeance here. We’re asking God to show up. Appealing to God’s justice is the most powerful resource in the world to keep us from violence against others.

Finally, we need to walk the line between God’s justice and loving our enemies. Jesus has the last word on enemies. He told us to love our enemies and pray for them. On the cross, he cried out, about those enemies who were killing him, “Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

He was praying for you and me. At one time, we were at enmity with God. If God can save us, he can save those who are against us.

So now we pray the same. And we love our enemies. Why? Horrible and real as they seem and are, they aren’t the ultimate enemy. Satan and his dark realm is (Eph. 6:12).

Yet, truth be told, Jesus doesn’t call us to love our enemies even mainly for their sake. It’s for ours. “Love your enemies…so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:44-45).

Jesus had the privilege of loving his enemies even unto death. He gives us the gift of enemies so that we have the opportunity to share in his sufferings and become like him.

We might even say that we are never more like Jesus than when we are loving our enemies.


What Kind of Peace on Earth?

Full disclosure: I love Christmas songs.  I especially love Christmas hymns.  One of my favorites is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Henry Longfellow.  The first verse goes like this:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Many Christmas songs talk about “peace,” and rightly so.  The night Jesus was born a new song of peace was recorded — one which Longfellow was inspired by: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!'” (Luke 2:13-14).

Thousands, if not millions, of angels sang to God’s glory on this night because a little baby would bring peace to earth. But Jesus didn’t come just to bring peace to a hectic life or war-torn countries or tense relationships. If that is all the peace you think Jesus brings, you are missing out on something great.

Jesus came to bring the ultimate peace: peace with our Creator, because we were at war with him because of our sin. The Bible says that we were God’s enemies (Rom. 5:8-10). There is no peace between enemies.  But God, our Creator, the one who we have infinitely offended, rebelled against, and declared war upon, came to earth in the form of a baby so that there might be a holy armistice.  It was as if God said, “Lay down your arms, my enemies, poor rebels! I will forgive your rebellion and bring you to myself as a friend.” Jesus was born so that one day he might die on a cross so that we might believe in him by faith and have peace with God (Rom. 5:1).

Christmas is truly about peace. It’s about Jesus bringing peace to the war that existed between God and his enemies, namely us.  Lay down your arms, Rebel, and flee to the arms of your peace-giving Savior.


Pour Out Your Indignation Upon Them

I was in the Twin Cities area this weekend and on Saturday I had the privilege of visiting Bethlehem Baptist in downtown Minneapolis to hear John Piper preach.  He’s preaching through a series of Psalms right now and this past week he spoke on chapter 69.  You can read or listen to the sermon here.  Psalm 69 is about cursing our enemies and what that actually means.

On Sunday night, driving back to Lincoln, there was a sweet application of the sermon.  One of my friends with me told me that his roommates hated me.  “They say all you do is preach at them,” he said.  That’s funny, considering I don’t know these guys very well at all and have never had a spiritual conversation with them.  So, thanks to Psalm 69 and the truths that Piper spoke, I was able to forgive them, shrug it off, and pray that God would change their hearts.  I am not called to hate them back.  I am called to love, forbear, and forgive.

Romans 12:19 says, “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”  O, that I will always leave matters into the Lord’s hands and not try to get even with my enemies.