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.

What’s Next?

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. . . .but the righteous will live by his faith – Habakkuk 2:4b – NIV

After two years in the media spotlight and two billion dollars spent by the candidates, the US presidential election is finally over. (Gee, I wonder what everyone will post on my Facebook timeline now?) Current President Barach Obama has been reelected. The President’s staunch supporters are jubilant, his ardent critics are depressed and many in the middle are just glad the whole thing is over. One Arizona woman was so distraught by the President’s re-election that she ran down her husband with the family car for failing to vote. The irony is that her preferred candidate, Mitt Romney won the vote in the state of Arizona with or without her husband’s uncast vote.

One of my neighbors made a comment that I think reflects the sentiment of many, “I wasn’t thrilled with either candidate. I was afraid that Obama is going to plunge the country into financial ruin and I’m afraid that Romney is going to plunge us into war.” We have the same President, the same Speaker of the House, the same parties in control of the houses of Congress and an impending fiscal cliff. If past results are any indication of future performance, the directions on a shampoo bottle might well describe the political landscape over the next four years, lather, rinse, repeat.”

Whatever reactions to the election might be, I think they reveal a bias in many Christians of over reliance on the civil government to cure our societal ills. Some on the left would argue that more government programs are needed to provide for social needs while those on the right would argue that more laws governing moral conduct are needed. Mankind’s greatest needed are not economic, militaristic or social. Man’s greatest need is spiritual and no government or political ideology is going to fill that need.

While it might appear that I am being overly critical of our political process, by comparison, it’s wonderful. I heard a radio show host make a remark that in the history of mankind and all of the countless billions of people who have ever lived on the face of the earth, how many ever had the opportunity to elect their leaders? The pages of history are marked with pharaohs, kings, emperors and dictators none of which were elected by the people they governed. Even today, nearly 20% of world’s population is from the country of China were free elections are not held and the church is persecuted. Democracies like Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom do not directly elect their Prime Ministers, the closest equivalent to the office of President in those countries. Rather, citizens vote on their parliamentary representatives who in turn select the Prime Minister. Every four years in the United States there is a peaceful transition of power. While the transition might be marked by mudslinging and name calling, it is devoid of violence and bloodshed.

Back to the question I posed earlier, “what’s next?” or to borrow the title of a book by Francis Schaeffer, “how should we then live?” The prophet Habakkuk complained to God about the injustice he was seeing in his day. God answers Habakkuk and lets him know that he is sending the Babylonians, a people more wicked that than the Israelites to administer justice against them. Habakkuk complains to God again asking how he could allow the more wicked to punish the less wicked. God again answers Habakkuk letting him know that the Babylonians will not ultimately escape justice, but they too will be punished. While God is revealing this Habakkuk, he reminds him, “but the righteous will live by his faith” (2-4b). Habakkuk is a relatively short book, comprising only three chapters. Over the course of the three chapters we see a transformation in Habakkuk. In the first chapter he is complaining to God, but by the last chapter, he is praising God. Habakkuk realizes that God’s justice will ultimately prevail and that God’s goodness and love toward him cannot be appropriately assessed through the lens of current circumstances. Habakkuk is so overwhelmed by this realization that he composes lyrics and puts them to song, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” (3:17-18).

God is the ultimate sovereign ruler. He cannot be voted out of office, impeached or overthrown by military coup. Any earthly leader only leads by God’s will. Proverbs 21:1 reminds us that, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”

How do we as Christians make the greatest impact in our communities? It’s not primarily by espousing our political ideologies on Facebook, Twitter or other social media outlets. These efforts at best only serve to educate like-minded people, and do little to “convert” anyone to our way of thinking. We make the greatest impact for the cause of Christ when those around us see us passionately and authentically living our faith. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 – KJV).