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Stupid People, Covid-19, Imprecatory Psalms, and Justice

I’ve wondered for a long time how to understand imprecatory Psalms. There are so many of them, and they seem so antithetical to Jesus’ command to love enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Are they products of a bygone era we should just ignore?

Reading C.S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms helped me with this, and so did reading the notes from the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (I have it through the Tecarta Bible app). I started reading through the Psalms again a few weeks ago, and I’m surprised how much grace and beauty I see in these Psalms (I know, call me crazy).

In the ancient Near East, people believed that gods won battles, not necessarily people. If your nation/army won, it was because your god was stronger than the other nation’s god (or gods). Your god was superior. Additionally, ancient Israel was in a covenant with God in which God promised blessings if Israel obeyed Him. (This is a general statement. God never said nothing bad would ever happen to them if they obeyed, but He did say bad things would definitely happen if they didn’t obey. We are in the New Covenant, not the Old, so drawing direct parallels between the modern church and ancient Israel is often fallacious).

Many of the imprecatory Psalms take place in some sort of military context. David (or the psalmist) is being pursued by enemies, and he is praising God for deliverance or asking God for deliverance. For one, the psalmist often defends his own righteousness to God and points out his enemies’ wickedness. He is advocating to God that he has obeyed, and he hopes for God’s favor upon him. He is also pointing out to God that his enemies have not obeyed, and he hopes for God’s judgment upon them. He also believes that his God is stronger than his enemies’ idols, and he asks God to demonstrate that.

The psalmist bemoans that the wicked seem to prosper, and that the wicked oppress him and others when they don’t deserve it. He can’t stand seeing this, and he knows God can’t either. So he prays for justice. He prays that the righteous would be vindicated and that the wicked would be judged.

The psalmist demonstrates that anger against injustice is a valid and godly emotion. He also demonstrates that wanting justice to be done against the wicked is a valid and—dare I say—godly emotion.

This is good news. I want a God who will judge the truly wicked, those who take advantage of and oppress the vulnerable. There is very little more infuriating to me than when I see people with power oppress the vulnerable. And if you read the Bible, you’ll see there may be nothing that angers God more. To those who have been abused, taken advantage of, oppressed: God will never let your oppressor go unpunished. He will vindicate you. As a loving God, He cannot do otherwise.

But how do we reconcile this with “love your enemies”? I think the desire to see justice done to those who have wronged us and the desire to see them repent can go hand in hand. There are two options for the oppressor: either he will bear the judgment for his sin or Jesus will (meaning Jesus took the punishment for his sin on the cross—if the person repents). Either way, God’s justice on the person is satisfied. However, from our perspective, it would be preferable for the person to repent. There is nothing more vindicating to the oppressed than the oppressor falling on his knees, confessing how he has wronged you, and asking forgiveness. True love doesn’t just want someone to suffer for his sins; true love wants others to experience the joy of the Father—while knowing that God took care of justice when Jesus bore the punishment for us. God’s justice and mercy are not at odds. He can be merciful to sinners because His justice has been fulfilled on the cross.

This frees us to love our enemies and not seek revenge. We don’t need to seek revenge because vengeance belongs to God. While we don’t need to be asking God to smash our enemies’ teeth (nowadays, our “enemies” aren’t seeking our lives, so our prayers don’t need to sound like they are), it is okay to express the desire that justice be done on oppressive persons. We also need to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who do have enemies that brutally oppress them and/or seek their lives, and we can pray imprecatory Psalms on their behalf.

For those of us who may not necessarily experience extreme oppression or abuse, we can still have the desire to see justice done whenever we are significantly wronged. For example, right now during the Covid-19 crisis, there are inconsiderate people who don’t care about the elderly or immunocompromised, and they continue to party and venture into public spaces. They may not be actively oppressing others, but they are committing sin by their arrogance and absence of compassion. If you are elderly or immunocompromised, it is right for you to be angry at them. They are essentially saying your life doesn’t matter, and that is egregious. Experiencing the desire for justice to be done to them is okay. Just remember that God takes care of the justice, not us.

Whenever it is that someone oppresses us for his or her gain, the resulting desire for justice is valid. We just need to rethink our definition: justice on that person isn’t necessarily that they lose all their possessions or they lose all their power (or anything like that). Justice isn’t childish retribution. But when we realize that God is the perfect judge, we are freed to cry justice, justice, justice!

 

W.R. Harris is the founder and owner of Persevering Hope. He is an author who has written six books to date. You can check out his author website here: http://wrhwriting.com/

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Seek First His Kingdom, and All These Things Will Be Given to You

The following is an excerpt from my devotional book Pursuing God’s Kingdom Day by Day https://www.amazon.com/Pursuing-Gods-Kingdom-Day-ebook/dp/B07SL2GHFM/

Considering the current Covid-19 situation, this passage might be helpful. I pray our nation would lean into God and have peace.

 

There are many things that can distract us from seeking the Kingdom. Money may be the primary distraction, although pursuing sexual pleasure and social status are big ones, too.

I can certainly relate to money. It’s not that I chase after fortune so I can have a big house and lots of cool stuff. It’s just that I worry about not always having enough to pay the bills. My wife and I have never had that problem, but it’s a worry at the back of my mind. What if this happens? What if that happens?

Some of you may relate. Yes, we should be cognizant of and wise about our finances, but we have to be able to trust God and not let worry consume our lives. It doesn’t matter how much you know about God’s kingdom and how to pursue it if you spend all your time worrying about money (or anything else). I understand some of us may have to work a lot to pay the bills, and that’s okay. As we discussed earlier, your work brings the Kingdom to earth. But if we’re spending our free time worrying about money and not seeking God, we need to seek help from our small group, trusted friend or pastor, a recovery group, or counselor. Or, we may just need to pick ourselves up and go serve someone.

Jesus addresses this in Matthew 6. He exhorts His audience not to worry about life’s necessities: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Matthew 6:31). We should remember that His audience in this passage likely consisted largely of poor people. They were dependent on the harvest for food, so we can imagine they worried about the harvest’s productivity. Jesus knows that. He grew up in Galilee—He knows the people’s mindset and how they think about food. His response to this concern is to trust that God will provide because He “knows that you need” all these things (verse 32).

God wants us to trust Him enough to pursue His kingdom. In fact, He wants us to pursue His kingdom “first,” and, He says, “all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). That is, make God’s kingdom your priority and He will provide life’s necessities for you.

Questions: What worries or distractions are keeping you from pursuing God’s kingdom? What steps can you take to break free from those worries and distractions?

Prayer: God, it’s hard sometimes to focus on your Kingdom. I’m worried about and distracted by _______ (fill in the blank). Teach me how to trust you instead and pursue your Kingdom. Show me the steps to take to get there. Amen.

 

 

W.R. Harris is the founder and owner of Persevering Hope. He is an author who has written six books to date. You can check out his author website here: http://wrhwriting.com/

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Just Because You’re Lonely Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Close to Christ

I’m a part of a few Christian mental health Facebook groups, and one thing I hear repeatedly is the notion that if we feel lonely it’s because we’re not close enough to Christ. Don’t get me wrong: I believe closeness to Christ can help loneliness. Feeling His presence is amazing. But He also hard-wired us for human interaction, and if we don’t get it, then the natural (and God-given) response is to feel lonely.

In our individualistic church culture, people talk as though your personal relationship with Christ is the only thing that matters. But a healthy walk with Christ necessitates that we seek out Christian community. God didn’t design us to walk with Him alone—He designed that a people would walk with Him. To deny others in favor of a one-on-one relationship with Christ is to object to His desire and call for our lives. Misguided Christians guilt lonely brothers and sisters into thinking they aren’t close enough to Christ when in reality to seek Christ at the expense of community is to fall farther away from Christ. Their solution is the problem. To walk with Christ is to walk with others. We should seek community while not neglecting our individual closeness with Christ.

If we feel lonely, we should do our best to find community. We should think of ways to invite others over or to create hang outs that others would want to attend. When we get frustrated, we keep trying. And during this process, we continue our personal prayer and Bible reading time. That, I think, is a better solution than simply telling people to get closer to Jesus.

 

W.R. Harris is the founder and owner of Persevering Hope. He is an author who has written six books to date. You can check out his author website here: http://www.wrhwriting.com/

 

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Help Me to Want Healing

Depression can be addicting. We grow accustomed to our negative thinking patterns. Something in us enjoys chastising ourselves for every little mistake. We don’t know any other way to deal with pain besides feeding it. We don’t want to deal with the world, so we close ourselves off. It becomes instinct.

Some part of us wants healing. We know life is miserable and that it can be better. But depression can become what we know, and we can’t imagine life without it. So we refuse help because we don’t really want it.

This is a hard position to be in. I’ve been in it before, and it took me coming to a place where I wanted help more than I didn’t want help before I finally spoke up. If you find yourself not wanting help, pray that you would want help during those moments when you feel desperate. Pray something like, “God, so much of me doesn’t want help, but I want to want it. Please help me to want help.”

Keep praying that prayer. Never stop. A few years from now, you may be pleasantly surprised at the result.

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You’re Not Lazy

Sarah works with special needs students in a middle school. She suffers from depression, and sometimes she gets so exhausted at work that she leaves early, drives home, and takes a nap. But every time she does this, she feels shameful. “I can’t even make it through a whole day at work… I skipped out on work to go sleep…”

 

Brittany suffers from depression. She has good days and bad days. She works a good-paying job that she excels at. But sometimes on her bad days, she can hardly get anything done. Thankfully, her boss is understanding and allows her to take breaks when she’s having a hard time.

 

These are both real stories (the names are changed). I’m sure there are countless similar stories.

 

Let’s face it: depression sucks the life out of you. Sometimes it feels like it takes every ounce of energy just to lift a finger. It’s hard to function like a “normal” person. Unfortunately, society often still expects us to.

 

We should not feel guilty for managing ourselves. In fact, we need to advocate for ourselves and others with mental illness. We can’t control how others think, but we need to help them understand what mental illness is like.

 

Managing yourself doesn’t make you lazy. It just means you’re being smart. Perhaps you can’t do everything you think you should do, or everything someone else can do. But that’s so okay. You are you. Be you and no one else. And know that you are a gift to everyone around you. Their lives wouldn’t be whole without you, just as your life wouldn’t be whole without them.

 

Be okay with resting when you need to. In no way does it make you lazy.

 

 

W.R. Harris is the founder, owner, and publisher of Persevering Hope. He mainly writes about living with OCD and depression as a Christian. He has written six books to date. You can check out his author website here: http://www.wrhwriting.com/

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You’re Not a Loser

Life doesn’t always go our way. Sometimes it rarely goes our way. We make plans but they don’t work out, we make goals but they change, we set expectations of ourselves and we don’t meet them, we want to be somewhere in life (career, financially, spiritually, family life, etc.) and we don’t see how we’re ever going to get there. It’s tough.

Compound that with depression and we can easily feel like we’re losers. Depression lies like that: you’re unworthy, you’ll never succeed, you can’t handle life, etc. But that’s simply not true.

You’re God’s child; therefore, you’re not a loser and you never will be. And these difficult experiences and life circumstances? A therapist once told me that if we learn from all of our perceived failures, they will never be empty experiences. Those experiences make us more like Christ and better at ministering to others.

If you’re faithful to Christ in the present moment, you are doing what He asks of you. Remember: Christ followers possess the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead. If you simply trust Christ and His process of making you new, you will do powerful things in His name. And that’s the farthest thing from being a loser.

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Give Yourself Some Grace

I recently went paddle boarding at one of our beautiful state parks here in Colorado. It was a hot day, but the breeze felt amazing as I slowly paddled through the water. Just to the west, I had an awesome view of the mountains. Even when the lake is crowded, I always find paddle boarding relaxing.

I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to get out of the house. My depression often leaves me zapped of energy, and if that’s not hard enough, my OCD goes into overdrive when I’m about to leave my house (is the oven off, are all the doors locked, are all the faucets off, etc.). The result? It’s easier for me not to leave the house.

I love being outdoors, and it usually helps my depression. But getting outdoors is hard.

For those of us with this kind of issue and those who know someone with this issue, we need to give ourselves (and those we know with mental illness) grace sometimes. Yeah, perhaps we don’t get outdoors as much as we should, but we do get out sometimes. Not much is easy for us, so the fact that we’re doing some activities means we’re trying, working hard, being strong. We may never get outdoors or do whatever activity that helps quite as much as we “should,” and that’s okay. The thing that matters is we’re trying.

So next time you feel shameful for not doing whatever as much as you “should,” give yourself some grace. You’re working hard to do what you do.

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Do You Ever Feel That Your Depression Keeps You from Serving God and That He’s Mad at You for It?

Have you ever felt like your depression keeps you from serving God?

Whether it’s because of the exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, or another symptom, do you feel as though you should be doing more to serve God? Do you feel He is mad at you for being lazy? Or do you feel He is constantly disappointed in you?

If so, I think you may be surprised to find that that god you’re thinking of isn’t the God of the Bible. That god you’re thinking of is a god of your imagination.

First of all, in some sense I don’t think it takes all that much to please God. He’s not looking for you to accomplish all these lofty church or “God” projects. He’s not looking for anything flashy. He’s not necessarily looking for things other people will notice. He may not even be looking for you to do anything outside of your house (this is especially true and helpful, I think, for people whose mental illness keeps them home-bound or mostly home-bound).

Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). Perhaps your depression significantly limits you. That’s okay. God knows how hard the struggle is and how much you’re limited. He is merely calling you to be faithful in your context. That means different things for different people. Perhaps for you that means supporting your spouse when he or she is having a hard time at work. Perhaps that means being kind and friendly to your caregiver. Perhaps that means praying for your kids. It means focusing on someone else, if only for a few seconds. For those with depression, focusing on someone else takes a lot of effort—not because we want it to, but because that’s just the nature of the condition. Because it takes that much more effort, I think it glorifies God that much more.

God doesn’t ask us to be successful. He asks us to be faithful. If we’re simply obedient in the context we’re in, God is pleased. I love the following quote because it illustrates this principle: “A British journalist once asked Mother Teresa how she kept going, knowing that she could never meet the needs of all the dying in the streets of Calcutta. She replied, ‘I am not called to be successful; I’m called to be faithful.’”[i]

Second of all—and most importantly—God loves us, period. He doesn’t love us because of what or how much we do. He loves us because we are His. We don’t earn His favor more by doing things for Him.

This means that He’s not mad at us for not living up to some standard. He’s not disappointed because we don’t serve Him enough. He is constantly loving us and He constantly delights in us because we are His children.

I pray we would rest in these truths.

 

References

 

[i] Bailey, Kenneth. “The Parable of the Pounds.” Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kindle Edition, InterVarsity Press, 2008.

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Holding on to the Hope of Eternal Bliss

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” – 2 Corinthians 4:17

For people suffering from anxiety and/or depression, sometimes it feels like God is literally the only reason you have for living. It’s hard to “live” for much else when you can’t find joy anymore in activities you used to love. It’s a terrible thing not to find joy in fun hobbies and activities, and God doesn’t want things to be that way. But as I mentioned earlier, He can use it for good. When your life feels emptied of all else, God can be your everything. You can experience an intimacy with Him you never thought possible.

That’s not to say it’s not hard. This kind of suffering is hard, no matter how close you are to God and especially with a disorder that constantly drags you down and depletes you of energy. In these times I think it’s helpful to remember our great hope of eternal joy with God.

The Bible, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, constantly points us to a better world where everything will be made right. That’s why Jesus came—to usher in the Kingdom of God. To all those who trust in Him, He promises eternity in this New Kingdom. He promises to reward those same people for their good works in His name and for persevering.

“God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Romans 2:6-7).

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:21).

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done” (Revelation 22:12).

So hold on. God sees you fighting, and He will reward you richly for it. It will be more than worth it. “Our…troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (my emphasis).

 

This is an excerpt from my book Anxiety and Depression Are (Not) Always Sins.

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Two Quick Verses for When You Feel Overwhelmed

I’m not sure if this post needs an introduction. Life gets overwhelming. It happens. And it happens for numerous reasons. Whatever the reason, God’s word helps because God is the God of rest. He is peace. I hope you can read these verses and rest in His love.

 

  1. “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” (Joshua 1:5-6)

 

After Moses’ death, God speaks to Joshua, who has been appointed the new leader of the Israelites. Joshua faces quite a tall task, and he knows it. It appears as though he was nervous, afraid, or that he didn’t believe he was up to the task because God tells him to be “strong and courageous” three times in a span of four verses.

This passage gives me comfort. I struggle with self-confidence, so naturally I don’t always feel confident I’ll do a good job in what God has called me to do. I can get overwhelmed quickly and give up. In this passage, God doesn’t rebuke Joshua for his lack of confidence. Instead, He repeatedly encourages Joshua. God knows that if Joshua will just trust in Him and move forward, he (Joshua) will do great things. And that’s what happened.

I think this principle applies to us as well. If we’re scared about something God’s calling us to or we feel overwhelmed, God encourages us to trust Him and take the first step forward. He really is a good Father.

 

 

  1. “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

 

Worrying can certainly makes us feel overwhelmed. It’s not uncommon to worry about bills and money and food. What if this happens? What if that happens? What if we don’t have enough?

Jesus addresses this problem. I recently wrote about this verse in my new book Pursuing God’s Kingdom Day by Day:

 

He exhorts His audience not to worry about life’s necessities: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Matthew 6:31). We should remember that His audience in this passage likely consisted largely of poor people. They were dependent on the harvest for food, so we can imagine they worried about the harvest’s productivity. Jesus knows that. He grew up in Galilee—He knows the people’s mindset and how they think about food. His response to this concern is to trust that God will provide because He “knows that you need” all these things (verse 32).

God wants us to trust Him enough to pursue His kingdom. In fact, He wants us to pursue His kingdom “first,” and, He says, “all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). That is, make God’s kingdom your priority and He will provide life’s necessities for you.

 

Worrying is hard because we want to have control over our lives. We want to know there’s going to be enough food or enough money tomorrow. It bothers us that we don’t always have that control. But Jesus tells us to just trust Him.

If this kind of trust is hard, I think the number one thing to do is pray. Ask God repeatedly for the faith to believe that He will provide. Our Father gives good gifts: He will give you the faith you ask for. He wants us to rest in His love, so to speak, so we will have room to enjoy Him and pursue His kingdom. That, after all, is where we find true joy.