Some Thoughts on How to Pray for America

Any glance at the Internet or social media these days reminds us that there are few, if any, things that we can all agree on. But one thing all Christians can (or certainly ought) to agree on is that America is in dire need of prayer. (Among other things.)

Problem is, it can be tough right now to even know what to pray.

In the midst of the whirlwind of events happening in my country right now, I have found myself feeling bewildered and disoriented. It’s been a challenge to get my thoughts and emotions to settle down, even when I’ve turned off the computer or put away my phone. I’m sure many can relate. And I find this emotional tumult following me even into my times of prayer.

So I thought it might be good to put a few thoughts to (digital) paper on how we might best pray for America as a nation, reflecting especially on places in Scripture that touch on the topic of praying for society.

#1) Pray for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done in America.

It should go without saying that this is top priority. It’s what Jesus taught his earliest followers to pray (Matthew 6:9-13), and it reminds us that what we absolutely need most is for the values and priorities of God’s kingdom to be our values and priorities here on earth.

Values and priorities like: true and deep justice in all areas of society; equal dignity and fair treatment for people of all races, cultures, and backgrounds; moral virtue and godly righteousness to be upheld by all people; and for God to be honored above all.

Every time we pray, we must remember what Jesus says our focus should be: “But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV). That means we’re to seek his honor, not our pride. His mission, not our comfort. His will, not our agenda.

Jesus’ words remind us that our hope is not in who’s in the White House. It’s not in Congress, or governors, or non-profits. Our hope is in God and in his sovereignty — he remains on the throne, no matter what happens in our land, and his kingdom is the only one that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28). Our prayer should be first and foremost that his rule be extended in our land.

America may be shaken; indeed, it is shaking, and may even change entirely from what we know now. But God’s kingdom will continue to advance. So we must pray with the right priorities.

#2) Pray with humility, not presuming that America will go back to what we’re used to.

Whenever Christians talk about praying for America, it’s only a matter of time before someone brings up 2 Chronicles 7:14 — “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

This verse often gets treated as a guarantee that if we just pray hard enough, then God will fix America and restore it back to the glory days (according to various definitions of what those glory days were). But the surrounding context of the verse makes clear that this promise is only made specifically to the ancient covenant community of Israel, in the land of Canaan, under their specific covenant with God and with a Davidic King on the throne.[1] It is not a promise made to any Gentile nation (like America). 

That said, we can certainly still glean from this verse the principle that God’s people should pray humbly and penitently. We cannot presume that our prayers will guarantee that God will make America look the way we want, but we can pray with the hopes that God may bring some measure of healing and revival as his people recommit themselves to him.

At the very least, Christians should be leading the front in modeling a humble, repentant posture before a world that is grieving injustices that have been prevalent even within much of the church. And we should pray like those Israelite heroes of old who acknowledged their own sin and the sins of their communities as they sought God’s favor (see Daniel 9:1-20; Nehemiah 1:4-11).

#3) Pray for America’s leaders.

This is a clear command in Scripture. As 1 Timothy 2:1-4 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Notice the motivation given for praying for secular leaders in this passage. It’s so that we believers may live in conditions that are conducive to leading peaceful and godly lives. At first glance, we might think this is self-serving; that it’s all about Christians being comfortable.

But when you take into account the context of the whole letter of 1 Timothy, it becomes clear that the deeper motivation is evangelism. We need to pray for leaders to help bring stability to society so that the Christian community can better focus on its mission of spreading the gospel. It’s not about comfort; it’s about evangelism and discipleship. This is signaled in verse 4 with its mention of how God’s desire is for all people to have the opportunity to come to salvation.

We should pray that our nation’s leaders would be peacemakers. That God would give them wisdom and integrity in order to make just decisions and contribute to a more stable society. And we should pray this not just so we can live easy, comfortable lives, but so that we can live in such a way that people aren’t hindered from seeking what’s most important — salvation, the gospel, God’s kingdom.

Something I definitely see in this time is the need for strong moral leadership, and for civic leaders who will unite people rather than divide them. We also need to pray for God to continue raising up leaders like this in the church. But the changes we need are not all dependent on the leadership, of course. We must also pray for the people.

#4) We must pray for God to open people’s eyes to truth.

We desperately need better policies in America, no question about that. At the same time, what is needed even more is spiritual awakening — a turning back from the radical splintering of postmodern thought, and from either the radically-subjective feelings-worship or the despairing nihilism that are so rampant in its wake. These are all simply the fruits of a spiritual problem that’s been the same since the days of Jesus — people are blinded by sin and spiritual darkness (see Ephesians 2:1-3; 2 Corinthians 4:4).

As the apostle Paul points out, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We must double down in praying that God would open more people’s eyes to the truth of the gospel and deliver them from the lies of “this present, evil age” (Galatians 1:4) — including especially the heinous lies of prejudice, racism, and hate in all its various forms, along with the lies of lawlessness, self-seeking, nationalism, and all the other delusions running rampant on all sides of the political spectrum.

And we must also pray that God would open our eyes as believers to what is most important, because there is also much division and disunity among our ranks (as nearly any Facebook discussion will make clear, if it goes on long enough).

May God rally us back around what is most central and most important, and give us greater and greater patience and charity with those who differ from us. May we be one in our mission of advancing the gospel, even as we discuss all the nitty-gritty particulars of how to apply the gospel to issues of justice and citizenship in our nation.

Lord, keep this nation under your care;
And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
Let your way be known upon earth;
Your saving health among all nations.
Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
Create in us clean hearts, O God;
And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.[2]

See you down the path.

[1] “In short, this verse is not a promissory statement being made to the United States or any country apart from the ancient covenant community of Israel. This statement is situated within covenantal particulars related to the Deuteronomic covenant…. this promise cannot be connected with any sense of direct divine promise that God will “heal” the United States or any other nation, although the notion of corporate (or national) humility and Godwardness is a wonderful image that God might sovereignly choose to bless.” Frederick J. Mabie, “1 and 2 Chronicles,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 Chronicles–Job (Revised Edition), ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 192.

[2]“Morning Prayer II, Suffrage A,” in The Book Of Common Prayer, And Administration Of The Sacraments, And Other Rites And Ceremonies Of The Church (New York: Seabury Press, 1979), 98.

Categories: Contemporary Issues/Ethics, Practical/Devotional

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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