Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
This has been an interesting year, to say the least. At the beginning of 2020, our reminder, call and prayer was to pray that in this year God would give us 2020 vision to see Him in His Word, His work and ways in our lives and the world with clarity. How many would have thought or could have predicted the events that have transpired since that prayer last January – COVID-19, more deaths and murders, racial unrest, injustices, devastating weather, a presidential election cycle and much more? And how many have thought when comparing what we prayed and what has unfolded whether or not God heard our prayer at all? Thankfully, in God’s kind providence, we can trust an always-faithful, never-changing God, who as our Father hears our prayers and grants what a loving father would – what we need and not what we want.
Tomorrow is the presidential election. Many have already voted. Many more will vote tomorrow. This election season has been marked by divides and polarization in ways I have not experienced previously (that is not to say other presidential elections have not been contentious). Much of it has been fueled through social media. And we can with certainty predict that on Wednesday morning, or whenever the president-elect is determined through the votes cast and announced, the divide will not only remain, it will likely be magnified. One other thing is also likely. Many will be completely shocked by the results, whoever the president-elect is. Why? Because of confirmation bias and echo chambers, fostered through the algorithms of social media, it is difficult to believe anyone would have political views other than I do, or than my group does. And not only has that notion become unthinkable, for those who actually do think differently, not only do they have a contrary view, they are considered ignoramuses for doing so.
Brothers and sisters, the church of Jesus Christ ought to be different. All of us have prayed, and all of us need to continue to pray. Even after the election, prayer is essential for believers. One has rightly said, and many others repeated, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” As the people of God in the EFCA, on this day, the day before the election, we are committing to pray. To guide our praying, we will use the Lord’s model prayer (Matt 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4), which was the prayer Jesus’ taught his disciples to pray, and a prayer that has been prayed by the people of God throughout the history of the church. We join this cloud of witnesses, reminding us that we, at this moment in time, join with others through time.
Before we pray, there are two important introductory truths to remember in and from this prayer. First, it is structured with a focus on God in the first three petitions, the vertical relationship (Matt 6:9-10) and then on others in the last three petitions, the horizontal relationship (Matt 6:11-13). Looking back in the Bible, this is similar to what we read in the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:1-17; cf. Deut 5:6-21), which focuses on our relationship with God (commandments 1-4, vv. 1-11) and then on our relationship with others (commandments 5-10, vv. 12-17). Looking ahead in Matthew’s Gospel, this is also reflected in Jesus’ response to the question about which is the great/greatest commandment in the Law: love God and love your neighbor (Matt 22:37-39). This is a right order of prayer – we begin with God, which gives us a God-centered, Christ-focused, gospel-shaped mind and heart, and from that posture we bring our intercessory prayers and requests to Him.
Notice second, in the first three petitions (vv. 9-10), the Father is addressed, evidenced in the address as “your.” In the last three petitions (vv. 11-13) the focus is on Christians corporately, which is reflected in the references to “we,” “us” and “our.” This is a model prayer for Christians to pray with one another, the corporate “we” spoken in unison, and for one another. With this in mind, and with the historical moment in mind, let us join together to pray.
Thank you, Father, that we can come to you through your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thank you that when we come as Your humble, dependent children, You find delight in hearing and responding to our heartfelt cries. You are a good Father who desires to give good gifts to His children. It is with this posture we come to You, and it is in the historical context of our presidential election and the wake of the results we come to you. Thank You for hearing. And the fact that You are “in heaven” reminds us that though You are near and You care about the details of our lives, You are not limited by them. You are sovereign and have a providential plan, which means we can trust You as our good Father during this election.
Lord, You are infinitely perfect. There is nothing lacking in You. When we pray for Your name to be hallowed, we are not praying that something would be added to Your being that You do not already have. To reflect this we sing with the angels, “Holy, holy, holy.” Rather, we pray Your name would be treated and lived out as hallowed, holy. We pray that Your name would be holy in the way we think of You, speak of You, and live for You. We pray Your name would be holy in the way we conduct ourselves during and after the election, both individually and corporately as the church.
Thank You, dear God, that Your kingdom is not ultimately dependent on us. It advances through the ministry of the Holy Spirit applying the work of Christ in the lives of people. In Your kindness, as believers we are not only members in the kingdom, we also have the privilege of proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and displaying the kingdom. We acknowledge there is both a now of the kingdom and a not-yet of the kingdom. The now does not lead us to passivity, nor does the not-yet lead us to forcing the kingdom. Practically this means we do not remove ourselves from the public/political arena, and neither do we usher in the kingdom through political activity or ensuring the right candidate gets elected. The mark of the kingdom is reflected perfectly in Jesus Christ, specifically gentleness and humility, since we are members of the kingdom, that is the character we reflect as well.
Ultimately, Father, we ask that Your will would be done here on earth as it is in heaven. As we confess You as holy and our lives reflect that holiness, we pray Your glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. We are thankful we can trust You to accomplish Your good, wise and sovereign plan. On this day, we do not only pray this generally and broadly, we pray it specifically on the day before the election. We profess our trust in You afresh for this election, and we give you thanks that You will accomplish Your will. Like our Lord Jesus, may we delight to do Your will, with a view toward loving our neighbor, especially those who differ from us. Living out Your will destroys partisan politics.
Now that we have grounded our prayer in God, the vertical, before focusing on our neighbors, it is important to consider specific issues about which we are pondering and praying in this election. Consider the following: the presidential candidates, Trump and Biden, and their vice-presidents; those serving in polling locations; those tallying the votes; economic policies; foreign affairs/relationships; healthcare; immigration and refugees; COVID-19; racial unrest; injustices, human dignity and the sanctity of all human life from conception to death; religious liberty; global religious persecution; energy and the stewardship of the earth; unraveling social fabric; election results and their acceptance and then processing; etc.
Father, as Your children, thank You that we can come to You with our needs. There are many. We are truly desperate. Forgive us when we think otherwise. Forgive us as well when we are only concerned about self, that we do not consider the well-being of our neighbor. We pray “give us our daily bread,” not give me my daily bread. It is not wrong to make this request for daily bread personally and individually. But in this prayer, we lift our eyes both up to God and out to others. One of the means you provide some else’s daily bread is through the generosity of Your people. Living in this country, another way is through governmental means. We are grateful for these means. We also remember the latter does not absolve us of our love for neighbors as we are exhorted to do good to all, especially fellow believers. Thankfully You are good and You do good, and we desire to reflect that way of life as well. As we approach the election, we consider all those things listed above through this prayer: give us, not just me, what is good (not the best since that awaits the new heavens and new earth) for the whole.
Often, Lord, we live presumptuously and think we can sin with impunity, that we can sin that grace may abound. Forgive us. We also often expect others to be generous and gracious to us with our flaws, faults and sins, while being stingy with others. We impugn someone else’s motives, while expecting from others the best of intentions. We are slow to ask for forgiveness and quick to self-justify. In this political season, we have treated those who differ from us as enemies, even family members and those in the family of God. We have not been slow to speak or eager to hear. We have been angst-ridden or angry, the opposite of what produces or reflects the righteousness of God. We have demonized those of another view or another political party and made them an existential threat to our own personal well-being, which has then justified our harsh or sinful response. Forgive us for not caring for the poor, the widow and the orphan, and that we can turn a blind eye to injustice, as long as we are not adversely affected. These are ways the “now” of the kingdom, through the Spirit, is to be manifested by Christians. Forgive us when we are not only in the world but also of the world.
Dear God, rather than leading us into temptation, thank You for leading us out of and away from temptation. You give the Holy Spirit who enables us to say yes to Your will, and no to sin, those things that displease You and harm the witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We confess our temptation to make this election a make-or-break moment for all of history. This presidential election, as other elections, is important, but it is not ultimate. We are tempted to elevate politics and the political process to the kingdom. Although we do not profess this, we functionally act as if the president will save us, thus displacing the Lord Jesus. Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords, not anyone else, and He reigns, present tense. When our well-being is threatened, we are tempted to give in to earthly idols and idolatry, which is often associated with power or authority. Please deliver us from this. After the election, depending on whether or not the results are delayed or disputed, and depending on who wins the election, we will be prone either to arrogance and boasting or despair and anger, and we will be tempted to direct either of those responses to others. As you strengthen us through the temptation and deliver us from evil and the evil one,who seeks to steal, kill and destroy, might this be the time when we as the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ manifest to the world what a community looks and lives like where allegiance to Jesus Christ transcends any and all political differences.
Finally, our Father and our God, thank You for hearing our prayer through Your Son and our merciful and faithful High Priest, our heavenly intercessor, Jesus Christ. We conclude as those believers in the early church, “for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.”