Saturday, 21 January 2017

Praying that spans the globe

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness... 1 Timothy 2:1-2

So... it’s happened. Donald Trump is the President of the USA.

I don’t know what your reaction is to that, and in a sense it’s not what I’m concerned about. All I’m thinking about is that as Christians we are called to pray for him, whether we love him or, er, don’t (I hesitate to use the word “loathe” in Christian company). Paul tells his protégé Timothy to ensure that, in the church he led, prayer should be offered “for everyone - for kings and those in authority...”

I remember many years ago offering a prayer for the British prime minister and cabinet in the course of a Sunday morning service. I was taken to task at the end by a member of the congregation: “I was surprised to hear you pray for that man...” Odd! This person seemed to have the idea that we should only pray for people that we like or approve of - that by praying for the prime minister I was in effect expressing support for him.

But no! On the contrary, surely, if we feel that a political leader is not someone we could have voted for, isn’t that all the more reason to pray for him or her?

Let me come clean. When I heard that Mr Trump had been elected I could hardly believe it. I am, thankfully, not prone to depression, but if I were I think I would have gone into a real tail-spin. It baffled me - and still does - that any Christian (not to mention any woman) could vote for someone so (in my judgment) grotesquely out of step with Christian principles. 

But there, as they say, you go. It has happened, and there’s no going back. But if ever prayer was needed, surely it’s right now!

(Forgive me, please, if you see things differently. I know that there are many American Christians, including many evangelicals, who were in favour of Mr Trump. Well, so be it: ultimately, God alone can judge.)

This isn’t really just about the present situation: there is a much bigger and wider principle at stake here. The Christian church is called to intercede for all sorts of people and topics outside and beyond its own little world.

There are churches which, in their main Sunday services, have no prayers that could be called “prayers of intercession”. Or if they do, those prayers are only what you might call “in-house” prayers: people in the church who are sick, perhaps, or some particular aspect of the church’s life. The big wide world outside gets not the slightest mention.

Can this be good? True, there may well be smaller groups during the week where such things are mentioned; fair enough. But given that our main Sunday services are also, so to speak, the church’s “shop window” - the occasion when visitors and outsiders are likely to come - isn’t it important that the outside world should be reflected in them?

At the heart of the Christian faith is the great truth that individual men and women can find forgiveness and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Amen to that. But the Christian faith spreads and reaches out far beyond that. Our world is God’s world - created and loved by him. And this means that literally everything - the worlds of politics, finance, science, culture, sport, you name it - is of concern to him. Everything should be bathed in the prayers of God’s holy people.

Two things in particular are worth noticing from Paul’s advice to Timothy. 

First, that word “everyone”. Just as “brexit means brexit” (to latch onto another present-day bone of contention) so too “everyone” means “everyone”. Is it time we expanded the scope of our praying?

Second, what Paul describes as the aim of our praying: “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Reflect, please, on that...

God wants peace on this earth. This is why Jesus taught us to pray that God’s kingdom would come and God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven”. In a world torn apart by conflict and war, this is a message we need to be reminded of.

And God is concerned about “godliness and holiness”. In a world so disfigured by the exact opposites - by vulgarity and grossness, by materialism and self-centredness, by immorality and vice - isn’t the need for prayer all the more urgent?

Pray for, and about, Mr Trump! Pray for America! Pray for the world! Who knows what God might do?

Lord Jesus, you call your church to pray for the life of this world. Help me to be obedient to that call, whatever my personal opinions may be. Amen.

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