First of all, let’s define imprecatory prayer. To imprecate means “to invoke  evil upon or curse” one’s enemies. King David, the psalmist most associated with  imprecatory verses such as Psalm 55:1569:28, and 109:8, often used phrases like, “may their path be dark  and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them” (Psalm 35:6) and “O God, break the teeth in their mouths;  tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!” (Psalm 58:6).

Psalms 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 109, and 139 were written by David to ask  God to bring judgment upon his enemies. (The other two imprecatory psalms, 79  and 137, were written by Asaph and an unknown psalmist.) These prayers were  written not so much to exact revenge upon one’s enemies, but rather to emphasize  God’s abhorrence of evil, His sovereignty over all mankind, and His divine  protection of His chosen people. Many of these prayers were prophetic and could  be seen taking place later in the New Testament in actual historical events.

When David prayed for God to shatter the teeth of his enemies, likening  them to young lions pursuing him to his death, he was making the point that God  is holy, righteous, and just, and He will ultimately judge the wicked for the  evil they do. Jesus quoted some of the imprecatory psalms during His earthly  ministry. In John 15:25,  Jesus quotes Psalm 35:19 and 69:4, and  Paul did so as well in Romans  11:9-10, which is a quote of Psalm  69:22-23. Since Jesus and Paul quoted verses from these imprecatory psalms,  it proves those psalms were inspired by God and removes all doubt that they were  sinful or simply selfish prayers of revenge.

Using imprecatory prayers  for our circumstances today is unjustifiable, as it would require taking these  prayers out of context. In the New Testament, Jesus exhorts us to pray for our  enemies (Matthew  5:44-48; Luke  6:27-38), but praying for their death or for bad things to happen to them  isn’t what He meant. Instead, we are to pray for their salvation first and  foremost, and then for God’s will to be done. There’s no greater blessing than a  personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and that’s what Jesus means by praying  for and blessing those who curse us.

Praying in that manner allows God  to work in our own lives to soften our hearts toward our enemies so that we’ll  have compassion on them for their eternal destiny, and to remove bitterness and  anger from our hearts. Praying for God’s will to be done means we agree with God  and are submitting ourselves to His divine sovereignty, despite not always  understanding perfectly what He’s doing in a particular situation. And it means  we have given up the idea that we know best and instead are now relying on and  trusting in God to work His will. If a personal wrong has truly been done to us,  we seek God in prayer about it, and then leave room for God’s judgment and trust  Him to do what is best. That is the way to be at peace with God and all men (Romans 12:17-21).