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Prayer as Politics?
Since 1952, the first Thursday of every May has been set aside as “The National Day of Prayer.” It’s the one day that everyone from politicians to pastors bow their heads to seek God on behalf of our nation.
Some will gather with friends around flagpoles with their heads bowed and others will commit to a time of personal prayer and contemplation. Regardless, thousands will pause today to reflect on the importance of prayer—both in their own lives and in the great social arenas of our world today. Prayer is powerful and it has always characterized the "political" and social engagement of Christians. The Apostle Paul wrote the following words to his ministry protege in 1 Timothy 2:1-2:
"I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving made for all people—for kings and those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior."
To put his words in perspective, we reflect on the context in which he wrote them. During his day, the leader of the not-so-free-world was Caesar. Under the rule of this Roman dictator, God's people in Israel were essentially slaves. As I point out in my book,
A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars
The Romans determined their living conditions and extracted exorbitant taxes to build Roman-style cities that threatened the survival of Israel's culture. The Jewish people in the first century were terrorized by a government that was more oppressive than Saddam Hussein's, more uncooperative than Kim Jong Il's, and as imperialistic as Adolph Hitler's.
Just before Jesus' birth, Roman armies rolled through Galilee, burning down villages and killing innocents. Any who resisted their rule were tortured and often executed to deter mass rebellion. Sometime around or after Jesus' birth, the Roman general Varus gathered the rebels in and around Jesus' hometown and crucified about two thousand men. One might have argued that during the first century, Israel's greatest need was political revolution.
It is in this context that Paul writes, and yet he calls for prayer instead of political revolution. He actually calls the people of Christ to pray for the leader whose government crucified their Lord. This is a stunning statement for first century Christians, and perhaps he offers lesson for modern Americans as well.
It doesn't matter who you voted for last November. It doesn't matter who you will vote for three Novembers from now. What matters is who is in the White House now. So, whichever side of the aisle you're on, perhaps instead of rising up, it's time to kneel down. Maybe rather than protest, the right action today is to pray.
For many, this task will not be easy. But then again, following Jesus never is.
Editor's Note: This image was taken by
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