Where Prayer Cannot Be Removed (Without Your Consent)

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The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results. – James 5:26 (NLT)

There is a tension when it comes to public prayer in the United States.  Such prayers, especially those in conjunction with government sponsored events, have become watered down with oblique references to God.  Living in a pluralistic society, care is given not to offend adherents of various religions, including those who do not advocate religion at all.

I was reminded of this fact recently with Monday’s inauguration of President Barach Obama. Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medger Evans, delivered the prayer for the occasion.  Within several hours of her prayer, the Huffington Post reported that Ms. Evers-Williams had incorrectly identified President Obama as the nation’s 45th president.  (He’s in fact the nation’s 44th president.)  The report made no mention that Ms. Evers-Williams also incorrectly quoted from the Pledge of Allegiance, omitting the phrase “under God.”

Please note that Ms. Evers-Williams did end her prayer with the phrase, “In Jesus’ name and the name of all who are holy and right we pray. Amen.”  By inserting the phrase, “and the name of all who are holy and right,” Ms. Ever-Williams appeased non-Christians who might find it offensive to pray singularly in the name of Jesus. (Click here for a link for the full transcript of the prayer.)

My initial critique of the inaugural prayer quickly turned to a critique of my own thinking.  I realized I was falling victim to thinking that plagues too many Christ-followers. I was expecting the government to endorse my faith.

We decry what appears to be ongoing removal of references to God and Jesus Christ from the public square.  Yet, a careful study of the scripture reveals that God did not depend upon the government to be an agent of evangelism, especially in the New Testament.  In fact the early church faced persecution from the Roman government at various times.  This persecution did not weaken the church, but actually had the opposite effect.  It strengthened it.  Persecution is one of the fertilizers that God allows to grow his church.

This is not to say that government as various times has not come to aid of the church or been on the side of right.  But often these efforts have had their beginnings with individuals or small groups of courageous people who were willing to take a stand.  Consider William Wilberforce’s years’ long struggle to abolish slavery in the British Empire.  Some have questioned President Abraham Lincoln’s tactics and movements in leading efforts to abolish slavery in the US, but the fact remains he did sign the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War, the Executive Order declaring slaves free in the Confederacy.  Lincoln later pushed for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which formally outlawed slavery in the country.

In a republic like the United States we have many opportunities to influence the direction of our government. As citizens we can exercise our right to vote, lobby our elected officials or even run for political office.  However we often overlook our most potent influence – prayer.  God ordained the office of government.  Proverbs 21:1, reminds us, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases” (NIV).  Prayer stirs the heart of God who in turns stirs the heart of the king.

While public references to God in prayer may continue to decline, neither government nor any other entity can remove prayer from the most important place – my heart and yours.  Only we can do that.  We sometimes treat prayer as our last line of defense but we must remember it is the first arrow we should pull from our quiver.

A town without Christmas, but not without Christ

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The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us – Matthew 1:23 (NIV)

On Thursday of this week I was preparing a post for this weekend, but it wasn’t this one.  The events of Friday changed everything.   I’m writing the post I didn’t plan to write or wish I didn’t have to write, but felt compelled to write. Unless you’ve been on a complete media fast, you have no doubt by now heard about the horrific tragedy that occurred in Newtown Connecticut on Friday where a 20 year old gunman killed his own mother before traveling to a nearby elementary school to open fire on children and school administrators before taking his own life.  In the end, 26 people lay dead including 20 children.  President Barach Obama is his emotional address to the nation in the aftermath of the shooting aptly tapped into the nation’s sentiments when he said, “we’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years.”

As a parent, especially the parent of an elementary school student, it is very easy for me to place myself in the shoes of those shocked and grieving parents.  Those parents who had been making preparations for Christmas, but now find themselves making plans for funerals.  I find myself haunted by the thought of Christmas gifts already purchased that will go unopened.  The phrase, “one more week more week” keeps playing in my head.  These children would have been on holiday break in a week, likely safe from the reaches of a troubled and evil gunman.  A ghastly pale now lingers over the town of Newtown Connecticut.   Instead of the Grinch, it was Adam Lanza who stole Christmas.

I leave it for others to attempt to answer the “why” questions.   Why did the gunman take his actions? Why did God allow this happen?  Any attempts at answering these questions will bring little consolation and solace to the suffering.  Scripture tells us there is “a time to weep” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) and now is that time to weep with those impacted by this tragedy.  While Newtown may have been robbed of Christmas, they have not been robbed of Christ.  We can be assured that just as Christ was in the fiery furnace with the three Hebrew boys, He is the furnace of affliction with the Newtown residents.  Just as he wept at the graveside of his friend Lazarus, he is weeping now with the family members and friends of the shooting victims.   It is during the Advent season, but especially during times like these that we are reminded that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, “God with us.”

I ask that you would agree with me in pray for the following groups:

  • The parents, siblings, grandparents and extended family of those who were killed.
  • The children who were in the school at the time of the shooting who must deal with their own trauma as they grieve the loss of friends and classmates.
  • The first responders who had to witness the grizzly crime scene.  No amount of training would prepare someone to witness such carnage.
  • The schoolteachers and administrators who must carry and “be strong” for their students but whose hearts are breaking inside.
  • Ryan Lanza, the brother of the shooter and son of the first victim.  He is not likely garner public sympathy and will have to deal with the guilt that his brother caused so much heartache for so many people.

Having trouble finding the words to pray?  Might I suggest the words penned by one of my favorite bloggers Debbie Kay on her blog “Hope For The Broken-Hearted.”