Prayer, The President, and Petty Bickering

I have been reading lots of comments on the changes that President Obama has made regarding this years National Day of Prayer. I have to tell you I am just a bit bewildered that people are getting flat out nasty over something that is intended to be an intimate, worshipful, and uplifting conversation with God. All I can conclude is that most people have no idea what prayer is really about, no idea what government is really about, no idea what being a Christian is really all about, and well, no idea about history either.

Let’s start with the history since a big part of the issue seems to be that the President is not hosting a public event as part of the National Day of Prayer. Instead he is simply signing a proclamation about the day and then praying with his family. That is essentially what ever other president did before him with the exception of President Bush the Younger. Harry Truman signed the first proclamation for the National Day of Prayer but held no special event for it. Even the outspokenly Born Again Jimmy Carter did it that way. For the eight years of the most recent past president there was a White House hosted event of some kind. So why are people vilifying this president for doing exactly what was done by every other president, with the single noted exception? Now don’t get the wrong idea, the guy I voted for is not in the White House. He is back in the Senate representing Arizona. I am not an apologist for President Obama. What I hope I am is someone who is looking at this thing with some wisdom and objectivity. Historically speaking only one president consistently held a prayer event on this day. That hardly sets a pattern that should never be challenged and to go back to the original method for honoring the day is hardly giving in to the Anti-Christ.

As to the question of the role of government followers of Jesus need to be extremely careful. For far too long we have relied on the power and influence of the government to be the salt and light for the faith that we as Christians to often fail to be. If we were doing our job of praying and fasting and exercising the various spiritual disciplines as we should, then there would be no need to rely on the government to model that behavior for us. Besides, to we also expect the government to model spiritual behavior that is important to non-Christian religions? Should not the government of, by, and for, all the people, also then recognize Ramadan the Muslim month of fasting or the Hindu Festival of Lights? Personally I would rather the government no be involved and see if Christians might not start to live the provocative lives we are called to instead of counting on the weight of government to make up for our lack of spiritual dedication.

That then gets to what it means to be a Christian and what prayer is all about. The kinds of angry comments I have read on the web that are directed at the President for not holding a prayer breakfast at the White House serve only to dishonor the name of Jesus and the practice of prayer. How in the world can we be calling on the President to hold a prayer breakfast and do it with the same tongue that vilifies him for not doing so. How can we ourselves go to God in prayer when there is such bitterness in our hearts? The answer is simply that we can’t. We might go through the motions of prayer but I suspect that God is not listening. Why? Because we can not say that we love God whom we have never seen and not love our neighbor who we have. Because we can not bring our offering to God, be it material or spiritual, if we have something against our brother. Jesus said that we should instead leave our offering at the altar and go get right with our brother, then come back and have time with God.

Frankly I think that instead of all the anger and dismay being expressed on the Internet, we would be more in line with what God wants from us if we prayed for the President. We should pray that in his time of prayer that He hears from God. We should pray that God gives him wisdom and strength. We should pray that God helps him to be a man who upholds justice for all people. For God is a God of justice. That is what Christ followers should be concerned about on the the National Day of Prayer.

The Unanswered Prayer of Jesus

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” John 17:20, 21

As a pastor I can not count the number of times that I have had people ask me why some prayers go unanswered. Falling back on my biblical and theological  training provided me with the standard responses, either the prayer was not in accord with the will of God or the timing was not right, the answer would come later, or the answer would come in a way that we do not expect but that in God’s wisdom will be far better than we could have hoped or asked for. I still am convinced that those answers are in line with what the Bible teaches. But those answers don’t suffice in all situations. The text from John 17 is the most glaring of examples.

Unless I am completely oblivious to something that is obvious to the rest of the world, this 2,000 year old prayer from Jesus the Son to God the Father is so far unanswered. For the life of me I struggle with why. Clearly Jesus knew the will of the Father when He prayed this prayer so and can’t be that unity among Christians is out of God’s will. It also seems that God would want that unity to be manifest sooner rather than later. Afterall that unity is supposed to be evidence of our relationship to God, a way for Him to be glorified, and a means for lost people to give their lives to Jesus. So God would seem to want to answer that prayer. If so then why do the followers of Jesus still stab one another in the back, mistrust one another, gossip about other beleivers in the name of prayer concerns, attack one anothers motives and integrity, and generally not love one another very well? The only answer that I have come up with so far is that we are not cooperating with the Lord. That’s a nice way of saying that in our sinfulness we are refusing to love one another as He has loved us. We are refusing to give one another the grace that he has given us. We are refusing to serve one another as He has served us. Bottom line, it’s us.

What really grips me is the realization that we must be breaking God’s heart. Jesus cries out to the Father for us to be unified. He does so in the shadow of the crucifixion ready to face it’s agony in submission to the Father. His prayer for unity comes from the core of His being and we ignore it and even actively strive against its fulfillment. “Love God”. “Love your neighbor”. “Do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith”. “Show forbearenace to one another out of love for Christ”. “As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men”. Those are only a few of the places in God’s Word that come to mind. How many more exortations do we need to realize that Jesus is serious about our unity in Him?

Unity does not mean uniformity. We are not called to all be exactly like one another. Having different ideas and practices is not only acceptable, it is essential. The ealry church often wrestled with the issue of uniformity. It especially came out when they debated the implications of Gentiles coming to Jesus and bringing a whole new culture. The bottom line repsonse in Acts 15 was that the leaders of the church acknowledged that God was doing something that lead some of them in different directions. But that no matter those God given differences, they needed to honor and love one another in Christ.

I think about the implications of this for house churches and mega churches working together, for followers of Jesus who support Obama and those who support McCain, for sprinkling baptizers and immersion baptizers, for Calvinists and Arminians, and on and on it could go. I am not saying that we all need to believe and do the same things all the time. What I am saying is that we need to respect the other parts of the Body of Christ. We need to be willing to learn from one another and disagree with one another, yet love and honor one another in Jesus.

Someday, when heaven and earth become one, I know that this prayer of Jesus will finally be answered. I just wish that when that day comes, we will have been so united in the love of Christ in this life, that we will have a hard time noticing the change in the life to come. Now that really would be an answer to a prayer, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven”.