Envisage this scenario: You’re a Christian and your next-door neighbour is keeping you awake playing oppressively loud music in the middle of the night every night despite your repeated attempts to ask him to let you sleep. You also hear him being abusive towards his son, and witness him dealing with every life circumstance with aggression and bullying.
He’s been in prison several times for causing bodily harm to others, and you know he is currently engaged in criminal activity that has not been brought into the light. You and others are suffering a great deal as a result of this man’s behaviour, and you feel that something needs to change, and quickly.
You know you need to pray for this guy, but what kind of prayer should you pray?
You reach for your Bible in the hope you can find some inspiration, and decide there must be something in the Psalms to give you direction. You turn to Psalm 10, and read the following passage, where David is crying out to God for justice against his enemies:
For there is no faithfulness in their mouth;
Their inward part is destruction;
Their throat is an open tomb;
They flatter with their tongue.
Pronounce them guilty, O God!
Let them fall by their own counsels;
Cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions,
For they have rebelled against You.
(Psalm 5:9-10 NKJV)
That seems to fit your emotions perfectly! You are tempted to get down on your knees and pray this prayer to God, asking for your neighbour to be pronounced guilty and receive punishment for his cruel behaviour.
But there is something holding you back. It doesn’t feel quite right to pray in that way, because you know Jesus said something important about loving your enemies. So you reach for your Bible once more and turn to the book of Matthew:
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbour’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:44)
All of a sudden you’re conflicted. You need to pray over this situation with the guy next door, but do you pray for him to be arrested and face the justice of the legal system, or do you pray for God to change the guy’s heart and forgive him – for mercy rather than justice?
My instinct tells me that Jesus is the ultimate authority, and so if we find ourselves in such a situation we should pray for a transformation of our neighbour’s heart, and for God’s grace and mercy in his life, rather than for him to be found guilty in the way that King David desired for his enemies and as expressed in the Psalms. After all, we have all done wicked things, and wouldn’t we want God’s mercy for our own transgressions?
Have you ever faced such a conflict in your prayer life? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.