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.