Eight years ago I started seeing this bumper sticker around town, and my first response was one of complete agreement. I mean, I know what the Bible says about praying for those who are in authority over us, and I try to practice it.
“Praying the news” is a spiritual discipline that I appreciate. Whenever an elected leader is on television as a talking head, or there’s a report about some congressional hearing, legislative initiative, judicial ruling or political squabble in Congress or at the White House, as I’m listening, rather than just getting agitated I try to pray that our elected leaders will be given hearts of wisdom as they seek to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
Praying for President Obama eight years ago as the first line of that bumper sticker enjoined is just part of our Biblical obligation as Christians if you ask me, just as praying for President Bush before him was part of my spiritual obligation as well. It was only later, when I looked up what Psalm 109:8 actually says, that I was given pause.
May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.
Shocked? I certainly was. And frankly, I wondered, if you’re going to honestly pray that verse from Psalm 109, with stop there? Psalm 109 continues (verses 9 -12) –
May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow. May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit. May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil. May there be no one to do him a kindness, nor anyone to pity his orphaned children.
Beyond the problem of wrenching verses from their historical and literary context to make a contemporary political application that is questionable at best, there is the larger problem of using a random verse from the Bible to twist the meaning of a Biblical teaching into something that is no longer spiritually recognizable.
When it finally dawned on me what this bumper sticker was saying, and the ugly spirit with which it was saying it, I was deeply offended as a Christian. And as offended as I was with the way that eight years ago some Christians were using the Bible and their beliefs as a club to clobber newly elected President Obama, so now I find myself equally bothered by the way that some other Christians are using the Bible and their beliefs as a club to clobber newly elected President Trump. I know that those who were so agitated by the new Obama Administration eight years ago had some deep moral and spiritual convictions as the basis for their fierce opposition just as those who oppose the new Trump Administration today have some deep moral and spiritual convictions as the basis for their fierce opposition as well. I respect, even encourage that. Politics is a contest of ideas and values, so have at it. Tell me what you think, and why just as clearly and passionately as you possibly can. Convince me. Just don’t dehumanize and demonize those with opposing points of view in the process.
In an essay he wrote for the Christian Century (“Why Social Justice is Not Christian” – April 10, 2016), David Williams warned about the danger of our souls “calcifying” in the long struggle for truth, liberty and justice when our political opponents become the “other.”
The anxiety that arises from the immensity of human brokenness creates within those who resist it a shadow of that brokenness. The perpetrators of injustice become the Other. We cease to see the soul blight that curses them as fully as it curses those who suffer. They are commies and fascists, racists and mooching parasites. It hardens us to them, and to the possibility of their being called and convicted to be part of the change. We would rather fight and mock and attack. Without a vision of grace to guide us, we would take up the sword. We would wear that ring of power. And when we do, we might imagine we are fighting the good fight. But it is a fantasy. Because without grace as both our intent and our method, all we’re doing is fighting.
What guards against this for me as a Christian is the Biblical mandate to pray for those who are in authority over us. I have prayed for President Obama. I will pray for President Trump. Praying is not partisan.
I don’t know Pastor Joe McKeever personally, but I feel like I do because of his blog (http://joemckeever.com). I really like this guy and the way he thinks. Right after the election last November, he posted a provocative blog that he called “10 Reasons not to pray for Donald Trump – and one “huge” one for.” He began by saying said that there are lots of reasons why you may not feel like praying for our new President.
- You don’t like Mr. Trump.
- You didn’t vote for him.
- You dislike some of his staunchest supporters.
- To you, he represents the worst in human nature and will lead this country poorly.
- You feel he doesn’t have the wisdom, maturity, self-control, and judgment to lead the free world.
- As for praying, you don’t feel your prayers would make a difference. The man is who he is.
- You often feel your prayers are weak. What good would they do?
- Somehow, you feel that group prayer would be more effective than soloing. Something about praying with others makes our prayers seem bigger, greater.
- You’ve prayed for leaders in the past and can’t see what that accomplished.
- To pray for Trump now would feel like admitting you were wrong in your judgment about the man, like you are throwing in the towel.
“Any of that hit home?” Pastor McKeever asked.
And then he asked, “Can I admit something here?”
“I did not vote for Barack Obama either time. And yet, he was my President, all eight years. I honored him constantly (I Peter 1:17 instructs us to honor the king) and I prayed for him often (I Timothy 2:1-2 instructs us to pray for the king and others in authority over us). Christ-followers have our orders. Scripture is clear on this. Remember that when the Apostle Peter said to “honor the king,” Nero sat on the throne. Donald Trump ain’t no Nero, thank the Lord. So, you can do this. You will honor the President, and you will pray for him. I believe in you.”
And if I had been writing that blog, that’s where I would have ended it. God commands us to pray for those in authority over us. You know, as another bumper sticker puts it –
But not Pastor Joe McKeever. No, he had more to say, and what he had to say gets to the very heart of why our praying for those in authority over us cannot be, must not be partisan.
There is one massive, over-riding reason for praying for Mr. Trump, and it is not just that we are commanded to do so, although that should be enough.
So much is riding on him getting this right. The stakes are so high. Not just this land, but millions throughout the world look to America’s leaders to do the right thing, to hold their rogue nation accountable, to stand up to the oppressors, to help the helpless. The opportunity is limitless, the responsibility enormous.
And Donald Trump is weak. He does not have what it takes to do this right. No one does. Please don’t miss that. No. One. Does. The job is too big, the pressures too great, the needs too overwhelming. That’s why you and I are going to pray for him. Whether he asks for it or not, we will lift him in prayer. Whether he feels he needs it or not. Whether he ever knows it or appreciates it. We will pray for him.
Tim Savaloia, a church worker, stood on the bank of a river in Asia “watching the bustling activity on the other side,” and he says that what he felt was a heaviness in his spirit.
The percentage of people in this region who know about Jesus is frighteningly low. How can that be? Jesus’ words came to my mind:’” … I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it’” (Matt. 16: 18). I believe that with all my heart, and yet, as I gazed across the river, it seemed that hell was indeed prevailing, at least for a time. While we talk about pushing back the darkness, it seemed to me that the darkness was doing some pushing back. (http://www.cmalliance.org)
And then, remembering both Biblical teaching and his own personal spiritual experience, Tim says that he began to imagine what “the crushing weight of a praying church” pushing back against that darkness would look like. And he wrote –
Without trying to be too simplistic, it seems to me that the core problem relates to our understanding of prayer. If we truly understood our divine call to pray, we would pray much differently. If we truly believed prayer can unleash the power of God, we would pray with greater passion. And if we truly believed prayer can alter the course of history, we would pray with greater fervency.
This is the week that we get a new President. This makes some of us very sad, and this makes some of us very happy. But whether you are sad or glad, as Christians, our first spiritual obligation is to pray for him — no ifs, ands, or buts. As Pastor Joe says, “Come on, I know you can do this!” DBS +