Bill Riedel is the founding and lead pastor of Redemption Hill Church in Washington, D.C. He was formally trained at Trinity International University (B.A.) and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.Div.) and has served in ministry since 1998. He serves in leadership in the Acts 29 Network, as well as the EFCA Board of Directors. You can follow him on Twitter.
How to Pray on Inauguration Day
We must abandon our pride for the humility of Christ
Inauguration Day is typically filled with ceremony, pomp and circumstance. The West Front of the United States Capitol forms a stage overlooking the National Mall in a celebration of the United States and the ideals that citizens of the United States are most proud of. This year is different. The events on January 6, 2021, changed everything. Our nation is still reeling from the insurrection at the Capitol building. So how can we pray on this Inauguration Day?
Pray with tears of lament
Lament is an anguished cry to a God who is there, who hears us and who is able to move with power. Let’s cry out to God to lament for the violence that killed people on January 6, and for the destruction and division left in the wake of that day. Let’s lament that our nation is fractured by disinformation, political idolatry and violence.
And let’s lament the Church’s tarnished witness to the truth and beauty of the gospel.
Whatever qualification we may want to give or defensiveness we may feel does not change the reality that our neighbors see Christianity as an influence in the violence of January 6, if not the foundation for it. Blame-shifting or looking too hard for ways to explain things away will not lead toward healing. That any would associate the name of Christ with political violence is worthy of our mourning and lament.
Pray to repent
It’s time for a reality check. What the world saw on January 6 was a group that was at least aided and abetted by Christians caught up in a cult of personality, convinced by conspiracy theories and fueled to violence with a disregard for law and life. The events surrounding and leading up to that moment included Christian prayers and themes. Indelible images show people flying “Jesus 2020” banners as the U.S. Capitol was stormed.
This is not about a love of country or patriotism. Leveraging Christianity as a means to political ends, equating any nation or party within it as the sole outworking of God’s Kingdom is idolatrous. We must not hesitate to say that this Christian Nationalism is not the Christianity of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the King of all kings and does not take partisan sides (Josh 5:13-15).
The pursuit of alignment with political power has diluted the Church’s witness to Christ’s Kingdom.
It should never surprise us when God exposes sin, especially within the church. After all, judgment begins in His household (1 Pet 4:17). For the sake of our nation, our children and our collective witness to the glory of Christ, it is past time to dig out the deep root of political idolatry and expose it for what it is. It must begin with repentance, and we can lead the way.
The good news is that, as Luther said, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” There is grace and mercy if we turn to Christ in repentance. There is no reason to hesitate in drawing near to the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace in times of need (Heb 4:14-16), and this is certainly a time of need.
Pray for clarity
“The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us. All these are dangerous but not the primary threat. The real problem is this: the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.” Francis Schaeffer
Yes, there are other problems and other threats to the church and our witness. Before we point to all kinds of problems around the church or get caught up in fear that other philosophies might unknowingly worm their way into our churches, we need to address the elephantine idols in our own narthex.
Let’s pray for clarity on the problems in our own hearts and in our churches. Let’s pray for God to reveal where we have worked to do the work of the Lord in our own strength rather than in the power of the Spirit. And let’s pray for a fresh vision of the glory and majesty of Jesus Christ, for what it looks like to be citizens of His Kingdom, and how that should shape our hearts and our lives as sojourners and exiles now.
The call to follow Jesus is to take up a cross daily and lay down our lives to find true life; to love people, pray for our persecutors, bless those who curse us, leave vengeance to the Lord and practice hospitality in welcoming strangers into community.
Pray for the strength and courage to work for peace
In the EFCA we are biblically and confessionally bound that, “God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed. With God’s Word, the Spirit’s power and fervent prayer in Christ’s name, we are to combat the spiritual forces of evil. In obedience to Christ’s commission, we are to make disciples among all people, always bearing witness to the gospel in word and deed.”
That kind of commitment is going to take strength and courage. And now is the time for fervent prayer in Christ’s name.
Our Savior consistently confronted those in positions of power for marginalizing others who are made in God’s image and likeness. He associated with the lowest, least, lost and leprous. Even up to the moment of His ascension, His disciples were looking for political conquest.
Jesus did not deliver on their expectations but ascended to a higher throne as the King over all kings.
As the Spirit was poured out on the early Church, it was accompanied by self-sacrificial lives that followed the example of our Lord Jesus—not just through the right proclamation of the gospel. As sojourners and exiles we are called to seek the good, the welfare of the place God has put us (Jer 29) and live so well that others see our lives and turn to glorify God alongside us (1 Pet 2:9-11).
Pray for our leaders
Our nation will not magically snap into a new era of unity, justice and peace just because of a change in administration in the executive branch of our government. That is true today and will be true again four years from now, irrespective of party. We know that. We have seen this before.
On this Inauguration Day, pray for our leaders and for our nation (1 Tim 2:1-6). Pray for wisdom in the pursuit of truth, justice and good leadership. Pray for repentance when there is error and that all might “be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Pray for our church
I live on Capitol Hill, the neighborhood east of the United States Capitol building. Our church, Redemption Hill Church, meets in a historic building just four blocks from the Capitol. Our church’s members, as well as our friends and neighbors, were directly impacted in the attack on January 6.
Since then, our lives and our city have been flooded with the anxiety and fear of curfews and lockdowns in the midst of threats from across the country. The building we meet in is within the security perimeter that has been established by law enforcement leading up to today’s Inauguration Ceremony. Lord willing, the immediate threats will lessen soon and we will begin to recover.
Please pray for us at Redemption Hill Church. We love our city and we are committed to work for its good. Pray that our church and others in our city who faithfully preach the gospel will be able to reflect the hope, peace and glory of Christ with brilliant clarity; that repentance might pave the way for revival; that we would cling to Jesus.
And finally, church, don’t lose hope. While the Church’s witness may be tarnished, make no mistake, the gospel itself is not at risk. It is still true and good and beautiful, and nothing can threaten the gospel of Jesus Christ. The reality that Jesus is on the Throne, sovereign over all things, gives us the hope and confidence to call out in desperation for help.
Before the day is consumed by pontification and punditry, let’s turn to Jesus together to lament, repent and pray.