One of the reasons that praying about politics turns down the political heat is that it reminds us that God is in charge. When we remember this, we end up clinging a little bit less desperately to the people and policies that we believe in. And when that happens we are a little less likely to demonize ‘the opposition’, a little more likely to be civil, a little more open to discussion and compromise—all of which are necessary if our form of government is going to work.
But how, more specifically, do we pray? Paul gives us some guidance in 1 Timothy 2:1-6, part of which I quoted in my last blog.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all.
Notice first—we are to pray for all who are in high positions.
In the midst of giving a commencement address, a speaker asked everyone to rise. He then said, “Those of you who do not know the name of your state governor, please sit and remain seated.” Some sat down. Then he said, “Those of you who do not know the name of at least one of your state’s senators in Washington, please sit.” A larger number took their seats. He continued, “Those of you who do not know the names of both your state’s senators, please sit.” Lots of people sat down. He next asked, “Those of you who do not know the names of your district representatives in your state government, please sit.” By that time, all but a handful were off their feet. Then the speaker observed, “Friends, if we do not know the names of these people, how can we be praying for them?”
We could all broaden the sweep of our political praying.
Notice what Paul then says about the content of our political praying: …that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
The most important thing, it seems, is not that a certain law will pass or a certain person will come into power, or that a certain kind of America will take shape. It is rather that, whoever governs, he or she will govern in such a way as to allow the church and its people to thrive. The heart of our political praying is, strangely, that the church will be robust in its love, freedom, and holiness. This means, I might say in passing, that we should be wary of any who use religion politically to divide the church.
Why Paul’s odd priority? Why is the health of the church at the top of Paul’s ‘political prayer list’? He tells us in what follows. It is because the church is the one place on earth where people get to find the deepest source of social binding—the one God through his one mediator.
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all.
I don’t think that Paul’s advice on prayer in 1 Timothy 6 is exhaustive. I am not suggesting, in other words, that all we need do is pray for a robust church—since, if we have a strong church, we will have lots of converts, and, presto, a Christian America. I don’t think it is that simple (Nor do I think that God has promised us a Christian America).
What I am suggesting is this. Whatever else we pray for as we pray for America, we must pray for the churches of America. The church is God’s chief political strategy—the place where love and truth come together by the power of the Spirit, where the true Ruler and his cross are known in the breaking down of the ‘dividing walls of hostility’ that are the hallmark of man made political solutions. When we do not pray for the church, we lose sight of her and stop loving her, and we fall into the folly of thinking that there is another, better, more lasting place to find the harmony we long for. There isn’t.
The church shall never perish! Her dear Lord, to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish, is with her to the end;
Though there be those that hate her, and false sons in her pale,
Against or foe or traitor she ever shall prevail.