Pray, People, Pray
(Remarks for the National Day of Prayer Service at The Hill Baptist Church of Augusta, GA)
An advertisement for some books on prayer had this heading: “Be Aware, Be in Prayer.” That pretty well summarizes what this day is about. We need to be aware about the concerns facing our nation and, being aware, we need to pray about those concerns. I would offer the following reminders about our prayers as we enter into them today. All of these reminders are based on the fact that we are offering our prayers as Christians who are also Americans. Our primary allegiance is to Christ Jesus. We offer our prayers for America as Christians; therefore, our prayers are grounded in our Christian life and are guided by Christian motives. How do we pray, then, as Christians?
First, we pray as people who have experienced God’s grace and who believe that others can experience God’s grace. All of us gathered here today are sinners. None of us is perfect. We are on our way but we have not arrived. What we are—saved—we are by the grace of God. Where we are headed—heaven—we are headed by the grace of God. Who we are becoming—maturing disciples of Jesus Christ—we are becoming by the grace of God.
It amazes us that we have experienced and are experiencing the grace of God. We know that we don’t deserve it and yet God has lavished it upon us through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. We are humbly grateful for that grace; we are not prideful, living in the false belief that we are somehow better or more deserving than others. We therefore pray for others with the knowledge that if we, being sinners, can receive God’s grace, so can they—whoever and wherever they are.
Second, we pray as people who are especially concerned for those who are numbered among the lost, the poor and the oppressed. The Bible makes clear that God goes to great pains to find and reclaim those who are lost. It also makes clear that he is very interested in the plight of the poor. We are all concerned about our national economy. We don’t know where things are headed. For most if not all of us, though, the economic downturn is a matter of inconvenience that might be causing us to curtail spending. For others, though, it is a matter of a much more serious nature. Many people are losing their jobs. Many people are choosing between food and fuel or food and medicine. Some 47 million of the 300 million people in the United States have no health insurance. Some 36 million of Americans live in poverty. The Bible leads us to understand that God has a special concern for people in such situations. We should pray especially for them.
Third, we pray as people who love our country but who are able to see beyond our borders. Being Americans, we naturally pray that God will bless America. We pray that we will live up to our highest ideals and that we will be a beacon of liberty and justice in this world. We are blessed to live in a free country and we pray that our freedoms will be preserved. We recognize that we live in a dangerous time and thus we pray for protection for our nation and for those who defend it.
We recognize, though, that all people are God’s creation and that he loves all people in all places. As Christians, we embrace the call to love all people, too, and to pray for all people. We do not want to fall victim to hate ourselves, so we pray for our enemies, knowing that you can’t hate people when you are interceding for them. We are not selfish with our prayers, restricting them to “me and mine”; we are rather gracious with our prayers, offering them for all people everywhere, knowing that Jesus loves all the children of the world.
Fourth, we pray as people who believe in applying other-worldly love in this world. Those of you who listen to me regularly know that I am intent on helping the church to understand that we really are the Body of Christ in the world and that we really do have the Holy Spirit in our midst and that we really are endowed with the supernatural love of God and that we really can live Christ-like lives in the midst of a hurting, lost, and sin-besotted world. We know that we need God’s help to live out such love and so we humbly beg for his help. We pray knowing that the world’s direction is wrong but also knowing that we all too often go along with the flow. It’s not easy to go against the currents of hate, prejudice, and fear, but we know that if we are Christian, we must. So we pray.
Fifth, we pray as people who seek and trust in the will of God. Therefore we do not despair. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” we pray. We walk something of a line here. We are human beings and as human beings we are responsible for our actions; we are responsible to try to right the wrongs that we see and to try to heal the hurts that we encounter. We are given the ability to perceive, to analyze, to understand, and to act, and so we are responsible to do what we can to make things better.
And yet—finally everything is in God’s hands. We live in faith, knowing that God is working his purposes out. We live in hope, knowing that God’s kingdom is present and is coming and that he will keep his promises. We live as realists, not putting our heads in the ground and refusing to face to very real problems of our community, our nation, and our world, but we also live in trust that God is ultimately in control.
And so, let us pray. Let us pray for those concerns that are listed and for all other concerns that we have. Let us pray for our nation and for our world. Let us pray for our friends and for our enemies. Let us pray for guidance and for trust. Let us pray in love and grace and faith and hope and peace. But by all means—let us pray!