EDITOR'S NOTE: Recently I have written, preached and tweeted with a bit more political seasoning than usual. This is not due to political partisanship, but rather to convictions born of God’s Word. I strive to communicate an “understanding of the times” at the critical juncture where our allegiance to Christ and His kingdom intersects our civil and social responsibility as citizens of this nation.
Like so many others, I am trying to digest last night’s historic political victory that will make Donald Trump the 45th president of the United States of America. It will also result in a Republican majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, which has not been the case since 1928. So I guess you can put this in the “historical” column just behind the Chicago Cubs World Series victory – a feat last achieved in 1908. Only a 20-year difference between these two, which is one of many reasons that the word historic is being used in relation to the 2016 Presidential outcome (little humor, folks – lighten up).
Someone sent me a text message today: “I believe God had genuine, inexplicable mercy on this nation yesterday.” I couldn’t agree more. While there is no question that the spirit and the forces of liberty fought and won a major battle, this is not the same as winning the war. To sit back, dust off our hands, and say, “Well, I’m glad that’s over; now we can go back to business-as-usual,” would be a huge mistake. The political campaign is over, but our political posture must be maintained. To those who desire to have “ears to hear what the Spirit says to the church,” much wisdom can be gleaned from this election.
Simply and powerfully stated, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. This quote is frequently attributed to Thomas Jefferson, and the Bible wholeheartedly concurs. It places emphasis, not just on the rights or benefits of freedom, but on freedom’s responsibilities. In 1 Peter 2:16 it states, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” The forces of evil, tyranny, and bondage never take a holiday; neither can we as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. This testament to freedom is sandwiched between two important verses. One tells us to “make the Master proud of you by being good citizens,” and the other admonishes us to “respect the government.”
I think the important question of the hour is not whether you may or may not like our new president, but as a Christian, what will be your response? What a contrast to many of the liberal Hollywood-class venting anger, vitriol, disgust, and distrust on social media (wait a minute, I thought they were the inclusive ones). Statements like “I want to quit life”; threats to move out of the USA; basic refusal to accept the newly-elected President (#he’s not my president) expose many of them for the frauds they are. That’s the very elitist spirit that much of the populist movement was responding to in the voting booth yesterday. Pride coupled with entrenched, unreasoning ideology blinds people (any of us) to the truth. During several elections in my lifetime, the candidate I voted for did not win. That outcome, while seasoned by disappointment, never made me want to stop living, depart my homeland, march in the streets, or give myself over to embarrassing histrionics.
THE PERTINENT QUESTION
How should Christians respond? This question is vital because it reveals the factors that got us to this point in the first place, as well as the factors that contributed to yesterday’s stunning political results. After the 2008 elections Charles Colson, who had served in political office during the Nixon administration, wrote these profound words:
“I can only think of what Alexandr Solzhenitsyn said about the catastrophic consequences of the Russian revolution: ‘I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.’”
Solzhenitsyn was right. Indeed, I can’t find any better explanation for why we Americans find ourselves in the state we’re in. We have forgotten God.
We’ve also forgotten that American democracy – indeed Western civilization itself – is the product of the Judeo-Christian understanding of God and humanity. Without that revelation that man is created in the image of God, our founders never would have recognized the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Indeed, as I and others like Rodney Stark have argued, modern science and education, liberal democracy, and capitalism all flourished in Western civilization precisely because of the Judeo-Christian worldview.
“The attacks on Christianity these days are only going to intensify in the months ahead. But we must press on all the more to make a winsome witness. Those who would banish Christianity from American life are risking the very survival of American society.” 1
That statement might not appear on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, or even FOX News, but it is a spot-on analysis. Consider the judgment forecast in Romans 1: when men and nations chose to forget God, “He gave them over.” Those are some of the most chilling and sobering words in the New Testament. When you constantly, willfully, and deliberately choose to reject and not acknowledge God and His ways, there comes a time when He essentially says, “Fine, then have it your way,” leaving us to the consequences and fruits of our corrupt ways. The corollary is evidenced in the findings of the exit polling data, from which analysts have determined that it was the exceptionally high turnout among the Evangelical vote that got Mr. Trump over the finish line. That seems to resonate, but whether it is accurate or not, the lesson this brings home to me is that now, our responsibility couldn't be any higher.
Phil Cooke captured this today when he wrote: “Few times in American history has there been so much turmoil, rancor, and potential corruption in a presidential election. Confidence in both candidates has been at an all-time low… But now the election is over. You may or may not like our new president, but the question becomes: As Christian, what will be your response? This is a pivotal moment in our culture to either astonish nonbelievers or drive them further away. Whoever you voted for, and no matter how much passion you had for your party, what we do now will have an enormous impact on how people in your community view Christians for many years to come. No matter how happy or upset you may be with the results, think twice about how you share that news. Whether it’s at the office, with your family, and especially on social media, an angry response won’t help – neither will an attitude of (snarky) superiority.” He then poses this rhetorical question: “After all, when was the last time condescension, rage, humiliation, or snarkiness won someone to Christ?” 2
You see, I believe the spirit of 2 Chronicles 7:14 needs to continue. This is not a verse that we bring out, dust off, and use to encourage political engagement. Rather, it is a call to a direct and critical lifestyle. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” In other words, a brief spiritual response to what we perceive as a threat to our Republic, followed by a return to a carnal, self-centered, spiritually dull, and uncommitted lifestyle is unacceptable. Especially in these unique times. That kind of response is an invitation for judgment upon the house of God.
I am by no means the first, but join many on this day after in pointing us to the premier passage on responsibility and power where prayer intersects civil government, 1 Timothy 2:1-5: “I urge you first of all to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For, there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.”
I wrote about this back in March, 2016. One of the greatest agents of change at the church’s disposal is always prayer. Peter’s brief time in prison changed because of a praying church, it tells us in Acts 12:5: “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” There was Paul’s testimony to the Corinthians: “You also helping together by praying for us.” This is the brilliance of Paul’s instruction to Timothy about how the church was to function. When it comes to the church’s role in civil government, the emphasis is not on political party but on the pattern and principles of prayer for societal flourishing.
In order to fully set the table here, it is important to recognize two things. The first is that what we are given here is essentially a command, not a suggestion: “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people … The first thing I want you to do is PRAY.” Then again, “pray every way you know how, for everyone you know.” There’s no way around the fact that we are dealing here with the issue of priorities. The second thing to recognize is what I call our tool box of prayer opportunities and options to fit any given climate or challenge. Prayer is not to be one-dimensional but multi-dimensional, just as the chef in his kitchen uses a wide array of tools that fit the specific task before him. A builder’s tool box is as diverse as it is valuable. Just listen to a tradesman’s lament when he says “someone stole my tools.” It's not just the horrible violation and cost of thievery, it’s that without his tools, there’s no way he can effectively do his job or complete his task.
Here in our passage it mentions “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks.” Supplications is asking God to help others. Prayers refers to the wide dimension of our communion with God. Intercessions carries a note of spiritual warfare, wrestling with God on the behalf of others. Giving of thanks is our spirit of gratitude expressed for the labors of other people that benefit and touch our lives. Don’t be shy about using the tools that God has placed at your disposal.
This same thought is echoed in the instruction in Ephesians 6 that urges us to put on every piece of God’s armor. The Message paraphrase puts it this way: “Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life.” In this context prayer, once again, is absolutely essential. Verse 18 tells us, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” It's so clear that God has given us an exquisite tool box when it comes to prayer. It is up to us to use, implement, and apply these tools in the realm of prayer for others.
WE NEED A CLOSE-UP SHOT, PLEASE
It is as we narrow the aperture of the lens of this verse that we discover prayer’s direct connection to government and civil authorities. “Pray in this way for kings and all others who are in authority over us, or are in places of high responsibility.” This is what has made this passage stand out for centuries. It has been the churches “go to” verse, and the one that is being referenced more than any other at this time… and for good reason.
Having concluded one of the most contentious presidential campaigns in our history, these words take on a significance like never before. I wonder if we were to put the thousands and millions of words spoken during this political season on a scale, would the weight of our prayers have a balancing effect?
So what’s the problem then? Are you saying that there’s something wrong with referring to 1 Timothy 2:1,2 to pray for our leaders and land? No, not at all. In fact, just the opposite. My suggestion is that generally we don’t go far enough in our comprehension and application of this particular passage. We are commanded: “Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority...” That’s fine and wonderful, if it is a leader we’re happy with; one whose policies align with ours. But, it can be like a bone stuck in our throats if it is someone who opposes all that we love and hold dear. Imagine the first century church, living under the iron fist of Rome, being told to pray for their leaders as a matter of priority!? This is a radical idea and action. So, as a result, we often end up ignoring this verse, or our prayers become bland, insipid, powerless and routine. Hey, I've been guilty, too. We often end up ignoring it, or it vitiates into a weak, if not insincere “God, bless our President.” Certainly not something inspiring or containing culture-shaping impact.
Surely, there is a better way. I agree: yes, there really is, and it is found in both the context and content of what praying here calls for, and the results that are targeted. Maybe you’ve heard the statement, “context is king.” Well, that certainly applies to the command to pray for our government and our representatives. “Pray THIS WAY.” In other words, there is a template given, guidelines to both inspire, instruct, and infuse our prayers in this realm. This enables us to dissect the privilege and the purpose of prayer for our leaders.
“SO THAT WE CAN LIVE PEACEFUL AND QUIET LIVES.” This talks about the importance of social rest and harmony. Think about it. For the past year, politically interested Christians have blogged, tweeted, and preached as if the sky was about to fall. The Left has dreaded the possibility of the Republican candidate becoming President as an impermissible option. Similarly, the Right has dreaded the opposite possibility. The resultant stress and anxiety has been well documented. Sadly, those on the “losing” side feel determined to demonstrate and proclaim their unwillingness to support the duly elected President before he’s even had a chance to take office. Sour grapes, as I said. A President’s role is not to be universally liked, but to stand up for the factors that create and keep social harmony, or “a more perfect union.” Whether it’s the sowing of class envy, the disruption caused by the likes of #blacklivesmatter, the dwindling of the rule of law, or the fears of some that they will be marginalized; we’ve witnessed more of a splintering than a strengthening. I guess it should also be noted that there are those who seek to benefit from this kind of climate, whether for political, capital, or economic gain. So, pray that we can live peaceful and quiet lives. The Hebrew word and greeting shalom does not simply denote an emotional sense of peace. The word means complete peace, a feeling of contentment, wholeness, and well-being, with harmony.
Lord, many nations like our own have been experiencing division and strife due to warring factions. We ask that You bring healing. Tear down any idols or systems that have been put in place that are not of You. Help us to build up godly order and unity, first and foremost among ourselves, your body, and then throughout the nations (Ecclesiastes 3:3). 3
“MARKED BY GODLINESS AND DIGNITY.” This is a society where integrity and good character is celebrated; a New Testament parallel to “Godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Sadly, for many election cycles now, since the time of Bill Clinton, we’ve heard the mantra that “character does not count,” and what a man does in his private life is of no consequence to his professional function. We’ve paid a steep price as a society for that false political narrative. Our prayers should aim to counteract that, and to elevate the quality of integrity. The Living Bible translates this verse “in godly living and thinking much about the Lord.” Then, it contains a footnote: literally, “in gravity.” Our prayers for our leaders and country is that they would exemplify and take a strong posture to reward doing good and punish doing bad. How refreshing that would be in an age marked by Isaiah 5:20-23: “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever. What sorrow for those who are heroes at drinking wine and boast about all the alcohol they can hold. They take bribes to let the wicked go free, and they punish the innocent.” What can we say but “God, help restore the moral compass of our day, beginning in our own hearts.”
Lord, cause us – as well as our leaders – to see You as Most High, to honor and glorify You, and to recognize that You have ultimate dominion and authority. Help us to truly believe that the government belongs on Your shoulders. You set leaders in place and remove them from office, and You are able to direct our ruling authority’s hearts and minds according to Your will. (Proverbs 21:1)
“THIS IS GOOD AND PLEASES GOD OUR SAVIOR, WHO WANTS EVERYONE TO BE SAVED AND TO UNDERSTAND THE TRUTH.” We can gather from this statement that the ultimate reason for prayer for our government is to create a climate for evangelism to flourish. Why? Because “God wants everyone to be saved.” This is truly divine design because “there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity – the man Christ Jesus.” As we have witnessed on numerous and well-publicized occasions, in the minds of many, religious liberty is a fine thing, so long as it is restricted to “pews, homes, and hearts” – far from public consequence. Our prayers for those in authority will always have that evangelistic edge to them: to create an arena, both public and private, for the Gospel, the Good News, to touch all people’s lives. God wants the church to always have a focus on the harvest. Jesus said in (John 4:34,35) “Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” In Biblical parlance, the harvest refers to people and precious souls coming to Christ. Yes, there is a place for civic engagement, but never forget our primary purpose: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Lord, draw the leaders of the world near to You. Reveal Yourself to them, each one. May they become believers and trust in You with all their hearts, not leaning on their own understanding. As Your sheep help them listen for and heed Your voice for guidance in every situation. Help them to surround themselves with capable people who are righteous and who love the truth. Help them lead the nations, regions, and people You have placed them over with the integrity of heart and the skill required for their role.
There is an intriguing side note to this. Back in 2011, a retired firefighter named Mark Taylor said that God showed him a vision in which Donald Trump would become president of the United States. Now, I do not base my life on someone’s prophecy. But you should at least ask the question, does God still speak to people today? I, for one, believe that He does. I also believe the biblical imagery of false prophets needing to be showered with a bucket of stones. So, I am not off on some wild tangent. I put these things on the shelf, and if they prove true, praise God. If they do not, then, praise God. What drew my interest, though, was the focus of this prophecy. It had nothing to do with manipulation, personal enrichment, or some base motive. It said, “For I will use this man to reap the harvest that the United States has sown for and plunder from the enemy what he has stolen.” In other words, what he is referring to is the thing nearest the heart of God, which is the souls of men. That should always be our concern as well.
When our prayers for our leaders and governments are seasoned with a proper understanding of 1 Timothy 2:1-5 and its context, they become not only palatable, but powerful! It reminds me of the well-used story of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. He was purportedly asked if God was on his side. “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side,” said the President, “my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”
This prayer responsibility carries with it a note of urgency in our day and hour, and that would be true regardless of which candidate prevailed at the polls. President-elect Trump will inherit enormous challenges. John Stonestreet writes: “Mimety-four million Americans are not in the workforce – more than ever before. To say racial tensions are high is an understatement. Domestic terrorism and cyber-attacks threaten us daily. And there’s a real effort to push religious and moral conviction out of the Public Square and enshrine in law a dehumanizing vision of sexuality and identity. Overseas, ISIS fights on. The threats to international stability are constantly being fostered. Iran continues to violate the ill-conceived nuclear deal and openly provokes and threatens military forces in the Persian Gulf. Waves of Muslim refugees continue to swamp Europe.” You get the point. These are problems that government alone cannot solve.
YES, THE NEW PRESIDENT AND OUR COUNTRY NEED OUR PRAYERS. I am impressed, from visual platform, that the weight of this office is no joke. Just look at the pictures of President Barack Obama on his inauguration day, and compare them with pictures taken eight years later. Regardless of what you think about his policies, you can observe the greying effect, the wear and tear of this most influential office and responsibility (even with an unusual dedication to his golf game). You can’t simply measure this in chronological years. There are clearly other elements at work.
Finally, my thoughts this day after the election coalesce into the fact that this is a time for the church to get serious about its calling and mission of discipleship – the command to make fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. People who love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and who love their neighbor as themselves. Phil Cooke summed this up: “Right now, people are looking for hope, and real answers that transcend politics. If we ever had the opportunity to proclaim a God who is bigger than what happens in Washington, DC, THEN THIS IS OUR MOMENT… Jesus is our Savior, not our president. And for that, I am exceedingly joyful.”
1. Breakpoint, John Stonestreet, The Day After Election Day, page 3
2. Phil Cooke, The Election’s Over: How Sould Christians Respond
3. Linda Wright, Prayers For Our Country
4. Ibid, Page 1,2
5. Ibid, Page 2
6. Ibid, Stonestreet, Page 2
7. Ibid, Cooke, Page 2