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 only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity--the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. And I have been chosen as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles this message about faith and truth. I'm not exaggerating--just telling the truth. -- 1Timothy 2: 1-7 (NLT)
Today is the National Day of Prayer. Since 1988, the first Thursday in May has been set aside for this occasion. Many presidents throughout our history had decreed their own days of prayer; such as Lincoln, Adams, and Truman but until 1988, there had been no official day set. Now that there is, churches across this country use this day to encourage their congregants to come together to pray for our nation. The ripple effect of this mindset always has been that the church continues to maintain and outward focus when it comes to sin. It is always that other person that is grieving God so greatly. It is always this evil group here or that evil group there that is drawing the soon coming wrath of God upon this nation. It is a lazy Christianity that ascribes the ills of the world upon people who find the things of God as utter foolishness. It is a pass the buck mentality that started way back in the Garden of Eden:
"Who told you that you were naked?" the Lord God asked. "Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?" The man replied, "It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it." Then the Lord God asked the woman, "What have you done?" "The serpent deceived me," she replied. "That's why I ate it." -- Genesis 3: 11-13 (NLT)
God said they could only NOT do one thing, and they did it anyway. Man's sinful state, which is always in constant rebellion towards God, on display. God confronts Adam and he blames Eve. God confronts Eve and she blames the devil. Humanity has been passing the buck ever since. So it still goes today within the churchianity we see across this country. It is not that the idea of prayer is wrong it is that this day is rooted in a false belief that America needs to "return" to God. America was never "with God." America was never under covenant with God. If you look at history through unfiltered God lenses, you would not so casually skip over the Native American Indian, slavery, child labor, sweatshops, Imperialism, internment camps, and weapons of mass destruction. It sets up a false narrative which the church runs with. That narrative allows the church to look upon the unsaved masses to lay blame on for all of the ills in society. Whether intended or not the end result is a prayer that focuses more on the sin than the Savior. That if only these wicked sinners would repent and turn back to a God they do not understand, then... what? Then the nation would be blessed more? Then the wrath of God would be stayed? No beloved, people do not magically turn from their sin, especially when they do not see it as sin. We need to be praying for individual salvations. For God to prepare the hearts of men for the Gospel. But then -- we have to look inward to see where the church is failing too. Let's examine this today in light of the key verses. As we head into this day of prayer, let us see what God says about prayer:
First of all, we are to pray for all people. We are to ask God to help them. We are to intercede for them and thank God for them in doing so. There is a lot to unpack here. The first thing is that we are to pray for all people and actually intercede for them. I think sometimes we lapse into the role of the Pharisee who was praying about how great he was while standing next to the tax collector:
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: "Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: "I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don't cheat, I don't sin, and I don't commit adultery. I'm certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.' -- Luke 18: 9-12 (NLT)
It seems sometimes as if the modern church can get a little full in its own sense of righteousness and scorn the world. The tax collector in this parable is like the world. When we turn a judgmental eye towards the world we do so in an effort to not concentrate on our own sin and to feel as if we are better. The reality however is we are all sinners saved by grace so that none may boast. The church gets it so backwards sometimes. I hear people all the time defending the apostate preachers claiming that we should not judge and in the same breath condemn the homosexual, or the Muslim, or anyone else we secretly hate. According to Scripture this is completely backwards:
It isn't my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, "You must remove the evil person from among you." -- 1Corinthians 5: 12-13 (NLT)
We are not supposed to be judging those on the outside of salvation beloved. We are supposed to be praying for them. We are supposed to be interceding for them. How are we supposed to pray for them? Certainly not like the Pharisee in this parable! We are supposed to pray that God help them. According to the opening of the key verses here, we are supposed to thank God for them! I do not see a lot of thanking God from the church regarding the unsaved. I see a lot of complaining about them. I see a lot of derision directed towards them. I see a lot of blame and hatred towards them. We sometimes have a very strange way of evangelizing!
The next portion from the key verses says we are then to pray for all those in authority. I know this grates against a lot of political Christians but we are supposed to pray for President Obama. Sometimes Christians act as if God can't handle President Obama. Instead of intercessory prayer I see a lot of intercessory opinionating. According to the Bible, it is God who sets up all leaders. God did not wake up the day after Election Day surprised. Obama is not the antichrist. The key verses continue by showing us how to pray for our leaders. You see, we do not need to pray for the agenda of any man -- only the agenda of God! We pray for our leaders so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. I know that grates against the host of pro-war Christians who seem to constantly think that only America has been blessed and Jesus wore army fatigues. I remember the Christians supporting the recent wars that annihilated over a million people in the Middle East. The people we are secretly conditioned to hate are the very people we are supposed to be the light of the world to.
The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. -- 2Peter 3: 9 (NLT)
In fact the very next section of the key verses reinforces this truth. God wants all people to be saved and understand the truth. There is a glimpse there about what we really need to be interceding for. Beloved, they are separated from God. We need to be praying that God soften their heart. We need to be praying that God speak to their hearts. We need to be praying that God uses us to minister to them and that He prepare us to do so. We have a role. The church is the chosen vehicle to bring the Gospel to the lost. People do not need the judgment of Christianity -- they need to see the love of Christ. Is this what they see from us? Or do they see the church using things like the National Day of Prayer to complain about how sinful they are. Forget what your popular talking head pundit says. Forget what your political party says. What does God say? Let's take a quick look at a story from the Book of Acts:
As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, "Go southb]"> down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza." So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The Holy Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and walk along beside the carriage." Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" The man replied, "How can I, unless someone instructs me?" And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him. -- Acts 8: 26-31 (NLT)
Phillip witnesses to this man, instructs him, he accepts Christ, and Phillip baptizes him immediately! The church is not in the instructing business too often anymore. We tend to be more in the condemning business. The other major point from this story however is that God sent Phillip specifically to bear the witness of Christ to this one man. The modern church is hung up on numbers way too much. To gauge success we use carnal measurements. The Bible says that heaven rejoices when ONE person is saved. This one Ethiopian mattered to God. That one person in your office matters to God. That one person next to you on the bus or in the pew, matters to God. Even the ones we marginalize so easily. That Muslim matters to God. That homosexual matters to God. Continuing in the key verses however we are reminded that while we all matter to Him -- there is only one "Him." There is only one God. There is only one mediator -- Christ Jesus. He alone can reconcile men to God. There is no wiggle room. There is no nonsense about multiple paths to God. I say this because the two stated reasons for why there was a movement for a National Day of Prayer was that it would be a day when "adherents of all great religions could unite in prayer and that it may one day bring renewed respect for God to all the peoples of the world." But what God? Whose God? We should not be uniting with someone who is not praying to the one true God. This is what happens when the church is overly involved in the things of this world. Our responsibility is spiritual -- not carnal. We do not need a national day of prayer as much as we need a church that understands the dire importance of every day prayer. Every day intercession. It starts with us:
Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. -- 2Chronicles 7: 14 (NLT)