Imprecatory Prayer: A Different Way to Pray

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Picture of a woman next to a hedge after imprecatory prayer was prayed for her.

In today’s Bible reading* we see some prayer requests that don’t tend to set well in our Twenty-First Century, Western Culture ears. Several of the Psalms — including some of today’s — are called imprecatory prayers. I’ve heard the definition before, but I checked again to ensure that I understood it correctly. An imprecatory prayer is a prayer that requests that God would bring calamity or hardship to someone.

Jesus told His disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. (Matthew 5:44) Praying for an enemy and those who persecute you may take several forms. Normally, we think of praying good things for them. But praying that they encounter calamity or hardship sounds a little harsh, doesn’t it?

An imprecatory prayer isn’t just for praying for an enemy or a persecutor. A common passage that often comes to mind is when Hosea says, “Therefore, this is what I will do: I will block her way with thorns; I will enclose her with a wall, so that she cannot find her paths. She will pursue her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them. Then she will think, “I will go back to my former husband, for then it was better for me than now.” Hosea 2:6–7 (CSB)

Some people use these verses as the basis for praying a “hedge of thorns” around a loved one who has gone astray. The basic idea is praying that they will be caught and have nowhere to go and have nothing to do but look up to God. Is this not praying an imprecatory prayer for a loved one?

David prays, “Let those who intend to take my life be disgraced and confounded. Let those who wish me harm be turned back and humiliated.” Psalm 40:14 (CSB) He asks God cause his enemies to be disgraced and confounded, and to be opposed. Paul tells the Corinthian church to exercise church discipline and hand a person over to Satan for punishment. (1 Corinthians 5:4–5)

Sometimes the most loving thing we can do
is to pray an imprecatory prayer.

Application

Note a very important point David makes in his imprecatory prayers: you can’t pray an imprecatory prayer if your life is out of sorts. You can’t pray those prayers if your walk with God isn’t solid. You can’t pray imprecatory prayers out of a spirit of revenge. After all, God claims the sole right to mete out vengeance. (Deuteronomy 32:35)

Peter says, “All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5b (CSB) Any imprecatory prayer we pray must be prayed in a spirit of humility, seeking the restoration of the person we’re praying for. We must remember Jesus’ warning to remove the log from our eye before attempting to deal with the speck in a brother’s eye. (Luke 6:41–42)

* Chapters covered in today’s reading:
Psalms 26
Psalms 40
Psalms 41
Psalms 58
Psalms 61
Psalms 62
Psalms 64