It’s been said that a great many people think they are thinking when they are really rearranging their prejudices. I can’t help wondering if the same thing isn’t true, sometimes, of our prayers.
If ever there was a season for prayer, this is it. We are weeks away from an election whose implications are difficult to overstate. The future of the Supreme Court, alone, makes for a sobering proposition. You can add to that a slew of other federal courts whose judges will be chosen by the next administration – and affirmed or rejected by those filling the many Congressional seats to be decided. The state and local officials to be chosen will have quite an impact, too, on many fronts.
The programs our taxes pay for are initiated by these elected officials and their advisors. And when the out-of-nowhere, stunning crises come – and they always come – these will be the ones who react for us: ordering out the army or the National Guard, sending the money and speaking the soundbites, presenting our face and our character to the world, and to each other.
We all know these things, as we know that whoever is elected will take political point and dominate the microphone when it comes to the issues we care most about – for some, the economy; for others, foreign affairs; for myself and many of us at Alliance Defending Freedom, the issues that strongly impact life, marriage, family, religious freedom, and rights of conscience.
So we don’t lack for things to pray about. But I can’t help wondering how – and how much – we are praying.
Granted, knowing exactly how to pray is perhaps more challenging this year than some. For many, the choices are forcing us into unusually tight spots between philosophical rocks and political hard places. The sore temptation, amid our fears and frustrations, our anger and doubt, is to tell God what to do – whom to elect and whom to bring down. I wonder if we don’t sometimes feel like we’ve prayed just because we’ve thought about a candidate or an issue, about what the Lord will have in store if things go one way, or the other.
We are on edge, many of us, spiritually … because we understand, instinctively, that even beyond the normal political considerations, there’s something more to it this year … something we sense in the deep-down places, but find hard to articulate, and harder to deny.
Something profoundly, fundamentally American hangs in the balance now. Something that goes to the soul of what our nation means … believes … has been … will be. Our very DNA seems to be under the microscope, as unprecedented pressures are building against even our simplest, clearest, and most long-cherished freedoms: speech (especially pronouns), assembly, religious expression.
In the headlong pursuit of a very self-centered autonomy of “happiness,” life and liberty are being trampled … not bruised, not cut up a bit, but trampled even to death by those who prize them less than self-indulgence and the avenging of a sadly misshapen self-image that denies its creation at the hands of God. Out of a growing contempt for human life and obsession with sexual experience and experimentation, we are destroying families, rewriting history, ignoring the Constitution, and embracing self-destruction.
No one elected official – no new government administration or Congress – no conservative Supreme Court can change all of that … or even most of that. No surge of wisdom at the polls can redeem us, overnight, from decades of moral and cultural freefall.
That’s no reason to shrug our shoulders and refrain from voting. Nor is it reason to just say, “It’s all in God’s hands,” and sit back and wait for the fallout. Both are as wrong as fondly hoping the Lord will simply hit some divine “do over” button that will instantly revert us to the cultural equivalent of 1957 and let us get back to our comfortable lives and preoccupations.
Elections are our worthy attempt at igniting “top-down” change. But history teaches that the deeper, more lasting changes usually build from below … one life at a time. In our zeal to fix the country, which none of us can do alone, we neglect to examine ourselves, which is our first responsibility.
We want our president to be eloquent and courageous – while many of us avoid bringing up politics or religion with our family, neighbors, friends. We want our members of Congress to boldly challenge the administration’s policies – while we avoid challenging bad laws or speaking out against unconstitutional government actions. We want to elect leaders who take God and the things of God seriously – but we penalize our pastors if they mention, from the pulpit, the issues that are radically changing the world around us.
We can’t have it both ways: each of us asking our Lord to change the country, but to “leave me alone.”
If we believe that this is truly “one nation, under God,” then we must each commit anew to the hard, day-by-day work of encouraging those around us – with our words, with our example – to turn their hearts to Him. We must spend less energy telling Him What We Want Changed and focus more thoughtfully on seeking out His heart and His word to this nation. And then begin bringing our lives and hopes and actions into alignment with the wisdom His light reveals.
“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart,” the Lord told Jeremiah – a man with plenty of reasonable concerns for his own failing country. “I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity.”
That’s wonderful news, for people of faith more and more unnerved by a culture increasingly “held in sin’s dread sway.” But the deliverance begins with the seeking, the searching, the praying. And the praying must begin with my church, with my family – and, especially, with me.