I could choose any number of examples from the Psalms of David to bring context to this observation, but I’ll offer the latest of my readings:
O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and deliver me, lest like a lion they tear my soul apart, rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.
David’s writings reveal a man that spent a significant portion of his life dealing with enemies. These enemies were, we can gather from the accounts of his story in 1st and 2nd Samuel and the Psalms, external and internal. He fought soldiers and kings and armies and nations as well as pride and lust and arrogance and violence.
I understand that many of the Psalms are dealing with enemies without. David cries out to God in dire circumstances and leans into the King of glory searching for rescue and peace. But, without taking anything out of context, I believe that David, at times, refers to “enemies” in an internal, invisible war type of way. Too many times does David directly link his “enemies” with the condition of his soul for me to believe that it was always about the sword and spears that were potentially aimed at his head. Add to this mix that David never seemed to be afraid of any physical battle, he was always up for a fight, and I believe I am safe in my interpretation.
That being said, it struck me suddenly that David has a way of talking about, and to, his enemies. In the writings of the Psalms I never get the feeling that David is speaking of the nebulous, generalized idea of “enemy”. It seems that each time he is referring to an enemy, he is picturing a particular pursuing soldier, a specific rival king, a distinct devil that is prodding and tempting his soul. David, he rarely gives the reader a name, is being very deliberate, it seems to me, as he talks to God.
If there is a bit of advice that sharpens our prayers, brings effectiveness to our times of soul-purging, and does God the credit of assuming His role as Father AND King it is this: PRAY THROUGH PROBLEMS SPECIFICALLY. And as a personal addition I would also advise praying those things out loud.
There is a much different dynamic that takes place when we move from something like, “God help me today”, to, “God, yesterday was tough, I need Your help in my work ethic today, I wasted far too much time and I know that doesn’t please You…please help me to attack my tasks today with joy and energy and with Your grace”. Suddenly we have moved from a generalized, “I can’t do everything”, to a specific, “I can’t do this”. When we do this we own up to the places of our greatest need. We hear what it sounds like to confess our weakness and His strength. We begin to escape the myth of self-sufficiency, and embrace the reality of God-reliance, which is where our victory truly resides.
A good coach would never look at his team in practice, having watched the films of the next opponent to understand the unique problems they bring to the contest, and say things like, “guys, just play hard”, or “just do your best and we’ll see what happens”. That’s not good for much. A good coach will tell his players that the opposing team’s point guard is lighting fast and will require double-teaming out top, and their power forward is a beast in the paint so play him physical and try to wear him out. There is a need to be very specific in order to address the issues at hand.
This kind of prayer, this kind of focus, prepares us for the battles we will inevitably face. Holiness, as far as it is applied to living a pure life, isn’t about transcending all temptation and avoiding all problems, it’s much more about being prepared for them when they come. Awareness, not aloofness, breeds holiness.
May we pray to God in ways that boldly acknowledges our weaknesses. May we bring our enemies up in our prayers in specific ways and ask God with the same ferocious specificity to vanquish those enemies by His strength. May we not act as if God doesn’t see us when we fail, nor should we act as if He stops loving us in those failures. He, our General, is with us for the entire battle. The only way we disassociate with our Commander is if we defect. Other than that we can be cut to shreds, bleeding profusely, and seemingly good for nothing and still remain confidant that we are His and He never loses.
May the struggle of our souls be met with the strength of His loving fury.