Prayer has made the political news recently. Earlier in the year the Greens mounted a push to take the Lord’s Prayer out of open- ing of the Federal Parliament each day (“Time to scrap Lord’s Prayer in Par- liament: Greens” SMH Jan 14, 2014).
It didn’t come to much, but it sparked plenty of discussion. Christians weren’t all agreed that the prayer should stay.
Then recently groups of Christians were arrested holding prayer vigils in the offices of Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop for the release of children held in immigration detention centres (“Christian protestors arrested after sit-in at Julie Bishop’s Perth office” WA Today, Apr 14, 2014).
Can prayer be political? Doesn’t it get corrupted when it’s involved in the messy world of politics?
In fact, prayer is unavoidably political and it is key to Christian participation in so- ciety. One of the clearest instructions for the church is about prayer and society. In 1 Timothy 2 Paul says we should pray and give thanks for all people, including rulers and all in authority so “we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1Timothy 2:1–2).
Christian prayer is not just about our in-house concerns. We are meant to pray widely, indeed for everyone.
God is the God of the whole world, he cares for all his creation and governs and directs all nations.
His people should have the same breadth of concerns. I think lots of churches do pray about what’s going on around us. It can be tempting, though, to be a bit dismissive of those prayers.
Maybe it feels like we are just echoing the media headlines. In fact that would be a good idea.
Not that we should be driven by the headlines, but it would be worth identifying two or three issues in the news each week and praying, thoughtfully, about them at church and privately.
Notice that Paul not only says to pray for all people, but to give thanks for them. He obviously has a strong doctrine of com- mon grace. He knows that everything good comes from God. We recognise that easily in the case of good rain or a healthy baby.
God also gives safe roads, a working legal system, businesses that create employment, sport and functional families. How often do you thank God for these blessings?
Every person around you, made in God’s image, is a sign of God’s generosity.
They are, of course, sinners, but also God’s creatures. And we ought to thank God for what he gives to them and does through them.
Paul focusses especially on the authorities and rulers. Do you thank God for the government, or just complain about it? And do you pray for the local council and the State and Federal members and the govern- ments and parliaments? Government is in- stituted by God to bring justice and good order to society (Romans 13:1-6).
The appalling scenes in Syria over the last year are a reminder of what happens to a nation without an effective government.
Ruling authorities can be corrupt, abu- sive and evil; yet no government at all is almost always worse. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work and pray for a better government. It does mean that we should thank God for the governments we do have and to pray for them, because one of the ways God cares for us is to provide rulers.
Paul says we should ask God for a society in which we can live godly lives in peace, and the reason he gives is that God, who has saved us, wants peaceful societies and wants people to be saved.
That aligns with what God is doing in the world. Christ came to save, not to con- demn and God is waiting patiently to give people time to repent (2 Peter 3:9). His kingdom brings an end to war.
So it makes sense that we should pray, now, for peace in which Christians will be free to live and share the good news of Jesus. Anyone who has seen the mess war makes of lives, families and communities will plead with God for peace.
So the Bible calls us to get involved with politics in prayer.
We are meant to be concerned for our so- ciety (our polis). That could lead us to get involved in all sort of activities from cam- paigning to cultivating gardens, the first step will be to pray.
Everything Christians do should start in prayer, so our concern for society certainly should. God’s people have a role to share God’s blessings with the rest of the world.
Certainly we share the gospel, and we share the material blessings and skills God gives. Before we share those, we share the bless- ing of prayer. God invites us to ask him to act, and to call on him to act according to his character.
When we ask him to care for people around us, to uphold our rulers, to bring peace and to save people — then we are asking him to do just the kind of things he delights to do. We have a privilege given to
us in Christ to pray to the Father, according to his will knowing we are heard as his chil- dren. That blessing, of all blessings, is one to share with our whole community.
Christians are meant to be prophets, speaking God’s word to our world. We are also called to be priests, praying for our world. So at the very centre of our engage- ment with society is consistent, thoughtful, gospel shaped prayer.
It would be worth spending some time with your church thinking about what you can pray for your local community, as well as the wider society and globally. Maybe your bible study group could spend a few weeks doing some research on things to pray for, and then set aside time to pray. Ask local members of parliament and councillors, as well as other leaders what you can pray for.
There is another political dimension to prayer. It is a radical political action. When we pray we acknowledge that we are not in charge and we look to God as the ruler of the world. That claim challenges all other political authorities. Prayer acknowledges the true ruler of the world, and it should ask that his kingdom would come.
Rulers often don’t like the message that Christ is Lord. Many regimes have turned on Christians because they have a higher loyalty than to the regime. But the problem is not just in oppressive state.
In a democracy, the idea that God can and should rule over the will of the peo- ple sounds like political heresy. It is often called “theocracy” — the idea that God rules. Now Christians don’t hold that we should control the government (at least I certainly don’t think we should claim that).
Our prayers say something more radical: that God already rules over the nations. What is more, we pray for God’s kingdom and we ask for the day when the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah (Revelation 11:15).
The church should always be subversive.
We don’t give final allegiance to our community, our nation or any ruler. Our message challenges the status quo and critiques our society. Prayer is at the heart of the po- litical subversion.
Yet it is also the key to caring for our society.
While we pray for God’s kingdom, we don’t pray against our neighbours but for them. We thank God and pray for their good and their salvation. Prayer might seem unas- suming and insignificant, but it is a deeply political activity.
Typical of God’s ways he uses the seemingly weak prayers of his people to extend his rule.
by John McClean