A Prayer for the President

On this icy (in Kansas) day after Presidents Day in the United States, I meditate on the prayer recorded in Psalm 72. The psalm is a prayer for Israel’s king. In some verses (11, 17), the universal appeal suggests anticipation of a messianic ruler who will deliver all nations, not Israel alone. While the prayer originally concerned Israel’s king, and anticipated a universal king, it also defines a good ruler with its prayer and suggests what we should pray when we pray for presidents or for rulers of other nations.

The psalmist prays that God will grant the ruler the righteousness and justice with which God reigns. He prays that the king will judge his people justly. He emphasizes his desire for the king to “defend the cause of the poor of the people.” He later repeats that the just king “delivers the needy when he uh calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight” (Psalm 72:12-14).

He prays that the king will govern with compassion. He prays for economic success for the nation (verse 16). He prays for crushing of oppression, for the defeat of the nation’s enemies (verses 4, 8-11). He prays for security and peace among the nation. He hopes that the righteous will flourish. He prays that while this king rules, that knowledge of God will increase (verses 18-19).

Although more than two thousand years have passed since this prayer was written, and although we live under a different political system, several points of contact exist. Economic disparity exists in many nations throughout the world, even in the United States. Political actions regarding taxation, health insurance, housing regulations, and welfare make profound changes in the lives of the most vulnerable, the weakest, in our society. Some of these people may not have the time needed for prosperity to trickle down to them. The prayer envisions a king who respects what is holy, who acts on behalf of the poorest of his people, and who provides security against violence. We can pray for our president to be that kind of leader. We can pray for him to govern with integrity, to treat all with fairness, and make sure that the weakest have an opportunity to succeed. When we pray for our President, we must remember that we pray for ourselves as well, for his decisions and his attitudes influence our lives. May God give our President his justice and his righteousness. May he have pity on the weak and the needy.

O God of justice and righteousness, who loves steadfastly, we pray for the President of the United States and for rulers of other nations. Millions suffer from the effects of poverty, disease, and war. We pray that our leader will see their pain and react with compassion. We pray that he will envision and propose policy that will benefit all justly, but that will revive hope for those who suffer most. Recent shootings in schools and churches have challenged our expectations of security. Help all of us, but especially our President and other leaders, to hear the cries of fear, to acknowledge the trauma when there seems to be no safe place. We pray that he will lead in a way that will cause all to glorify you. We pray that his actions will not cause some to question your justice or associate violence with your people. We pray that all will pray for him continually, that he may grow as a just, wise, and compassionate person. We pray most fervently that all the earth will be filled with your glory and awareness of your love. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Prayer of a Modern Pilgrim

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:12-15 ESV).

I traveled to a Bible Lectureship at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee, last week. There I worshiped and heard speakers from around the world. Beautiful singing of hymns and praise songs were part of the blessing I received. Reunion with long-time friends brought joy, but also reminders of times of sorrow. As I sang Konstantin Zhigulin’s “My God and King,” my eyes filled with tears as I recalled that the last time I had sung that song had been at the same event three years ago, just two weeks after my older son died. I spent time talking with classmates and friends of my parents. A distant relative who spoke at the Lectureship and I spent some time reviewing how we are related. I joined hundreds of others at a dinner in honor of a retiring Vice-President of the university, Samuel Jones, a good friend and former classmate. And I brought home with me – the flu. Several things about the trip reminded me of the transient nature of our lives. The journey to attend, the aging of friends, and changes to the campus all brought to my attention that one of the constants of life is that things change.
We who follow Christ travel on our own spiritual Exodus, having been liberated by God from our own versions of slavery – addiction, pride, immorality, etc. As we travel, we are tempted to turn around, or to set down roots and stop our journey. Pray with me that we may keep our eyes fixed on the Messiah who leads us and follow him wherever he leads. Pray that we may remember that we are sojourners, and invite others to join us on our journey.

O God, you were the Fear of Isaac and the Delight of the Psalmist. I pray that we too may serve you faithfully with reverence and joy. We travel, as they did, on a pilgrimage of faith toward a city with enduring foundations that you have created. Here we have no real home; we are sojourners, immigrants whose families have migrated throughout the nations. Help us to remember that we are sojourners -this world is not our home. Supply us with wisdom and compassion that we may help other travelers. A wandering Aramean was our spiritual ancestor; may we be blessings to the people among whom we travel. We witness hatred, infidelity, and violence. Strengthen our resistance to being pulled into lives of fear and revenge. Soothe the pain of those who grieve; make us your agents of hope to those who have lost much. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Prayer When God Does Not Deliver

Moses prayed a prayer of lament, fear, and frustration to the Lord. God had called him unexpectedly to leave the desert mountain retreat where Moses, one-time adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, has found refuge for the previous four decades. Moses had fled in disgrace from a life spent among luxury and power after killing an Egyptian for what he thought was just cause. A voice from a burning bush, the God of his ancestors, had ordered him back to Egypt to rescue the enslaved people among whom he had been born. Moses, after objecting vigorously, had complied, and much had gone wrong. Life and work now were much harder for the slaves; Pharaoh had replied to Moses’ request that the people be released to worship in the desert by decrease their supplies while requiring the same production. The slaves, tantalized by talk of freedom, now worked harder, and blamed Moses for the punishment Pharaoh had enacted.

Moses saw no positive results from his earlier speech to the monarch of Egypt. The people’s lot was worse. Their enemies treated them more harshly because of his work. The people blamed Moses. Moses blamed God, and confessed the futility of his actions:

Moses returned to the LORD, and said, ‘Lord, why have you caused trouble for this people? Why did you ever send me? From the time I went to speak to Pharaoh in your name, he has caused trouble for this people, and you have certainly not rescued them!” (Exodus 5:22-23 NET Bible).

God answered the prayer of Moses firmly. He assured Moses that he would see how God would deliver his people. He reminded Moses that he spoke to his ancestors – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He made a covenant with them to give them a land, Canaan. He heard the groaning of Jacob’s enslaved descendants in Egypt. He told Moses to give the Israelites a message of assurance based on the identity and character of God, and his relationship with their people.

“Moses told this to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and hard labor” (Exodus 6:9).

Have you experienced times of futility in your work when you wanted to pray as Moses did. I have. When we believe that our cause is essential and just, when we sacrifice time and risk ourselves to present it, when we work hard to achieve a goal, and it fails, we too want to ask God why he has caused this problem. We doubt our fit for the situation. Surely someone else would have done it better.

God calls us, as he did Moses, to remember his character, his covenant with his people, and his promises. When we are discouraged, when our spirit is broken, we have trouble hearing that message. God told Moses and Israel, he tells us, to move forward and to act with faith in him. Even when others will not or cannot act, leaders must trust God and do the work God has given them. Opponents may scoff, discouraged subordinates may question, but we must remember the character of our God and commit ourselves to doing his will on behalf of the people he wants to save. We must pray. Prayer reminds of God’s character and power; it gives us freedom to express praise and worship, but also grief and doubt. Moses listened, he believed, he acted, and he led Israel from slavery in an Exodus that still inspires. Pray, my friends. Call for fire to the Lord. Express your fears and doubts; remember too his character and power. Trust and obey.

O God who keeps his promises: We encounter failures in our attempts to do your will, and we want to quit. We doubt your power. We may even doubt your existence. Remind us of your faithfulness. Drive us to your Word, the history of your promise-keeping and liberating relationship with humanity, the light that illumines the path to freedom. We wonder why you trust us, we question how you expect us to fulfill missions that seem impossible – seeking justice, bringing healing to the soul, forgiving the unforgivable. Like Moses, we want to know why you have not rescued. Remind us that you have rescued, and will rescue again. We pray in love through the name of Jesus, amen.

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A Prayer to Proclaim God’s Might to Another Generation

“O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come” (Psalm 71:17-18 ESV)

Among my earliest memories is a member of a church asking me if I was going to be a preacher when I grew up. I was, at most, four years old then.  Nevertheless, although I taught in a public high school for a short time and counseled at a Bureau of Prisons facility, I have preached the gospel of Christ for most of my adult life, either to local churches, or to military personnel as an Army chaplain.  Unlike some, I did not discover the message of Jesus by picking up a Bible and reading it alone.  Several generations of my family before me confessed the name of Jesus and were baptized into his body, the church. A great-grandfather and grandfather preached; my other grandfather was an elder who had helped start a church after moving to another state. Each of them was taught about Christ by their parents. Like Timothy (see 2 Timothy 1:5-6), I remember that faith dwelt first in my parents and grandparents. A great-grandmother inspired me as a teenager with her daily Bible reading after she moved into our home.  My father’s mother, through her example and her watchful eyes, taught me to pray with reverence and to listen quietly to others pray in the assembly of church.  My mother listened carefully and coached me as I practiced my first sermons. My father advised me about which books from his religious library would benefit me most, inspired me with his sermons, and reasoned with me about what God considers important for his people.  So, although my faith has been tempered, shaken, and strengthened by my experiences and my reading, I owe an incredible debt to my family members who, to paraphrase the verses above, proclaimed God’s might to another generation, mine. As a father and grandfather, this debt weighs heavily on me as I ponder my responsibility to my children and their peers. I pray for health, for mental acuity, and for loving relationships with my children. I also pray for courage to speak truth even when it challenges what they want to do, and for humility to recognize when I may be wrong.  I pray that my faith in Christ will lead others, especially my children and grandchildren, to fan into flame even more the faith to which Christ calls them also through his gospel. And I wonder if anyone will ask my grandson, “Are you going to be a preacher like your grandfather?”

O God who shows steadfast love to those who love you and keep your commands, I pray for my children and my grandchildren. They live in a culture that celebrates “alternative facts” and promotes morality that conflicts with your will.  That frightens me.  Circumstances in my own life have challenged my hope. I thank you for people whose patience and love revived my dreams.  Help me to listen, but also to teach from what I have learned in a way that will illuminate the path of another generation.  I am humbled by having the opportunity to preach and to teach your message.  Help me to advocate your cause accurately with compassion.  I pray as the psalmist prayed before me, “Do not forsake me until I proclaim your might to another generation.” In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Does Our Faith Inspire Others to Pray?

Does our faith inspire others to pray? That unusual question popped into my mind when I read recently about Abraham’s sending his servant Eliezer of Damascus to find a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac as part of my daily Bible reading. Eliezer prays, and the wording of the way he addressed God captured my attention:

“He prayed, ‘O LORD, God of my master Abraham. Here I am, standing by the spring, and the daughters of the people who live in the town are coming out to draw water. I will say to a young woman, ‘please lower your jar so I may drink. May the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac reply, ‘Drink, and I’ll give your camels water too.’ In this way I will know that you have been faithful to my master” (Genesis 24:12-14 NET Bible).

He does not pray, “O Lord, my God.” No, he names (the all caps LORD represents the name of God found in the Hebrew text) his master Abraham’s God and prays to him. He describes where he is and what he hopes will happen. He prays for a revelation that God is faithful, again not to himself alone, but to Abraham. The faith and obedience of Abraham inspired Eliezer to pray.

Does our faith inspire others to pray? After they listen to our confidence in God and observe our attempts to obey him, do our friends, family members, or employees pray in moments of need or hurting to God because our relationship with God has caught their notice? These questions cause me to pause for self-inventory of my trust in God and for frank appraisal of how well (or badly) I live what I say I believe when I am with others.

Peter’s instructions in 1 Peter 4:7-11 encourage this kind of focus on our faith and our service to God. He hopes that the speech and actions of Christians will result in God’s being glorified in everything.

“O God of Abraham, may we who believe that we have been adopted into Abraham’s family of faith act and speak in our respective settings so well as your people that those who encounter us will praise your name and pray to you. May our trust in you engender faith in their hearts. Open our eyes to see ourselves as you (and our neighbors) see us. May we have the humility to reform when we fall short of your goals for our lives. May we provoke praise and thankfulness for you among those we meet. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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A Prayer as 2017 Ends

As 2017 winds to a close, I pause to ponder the blessings God has given me in 2017. I retired from a military career that last several years longer than I dreamed when I began. While that career took twists and turns that brought me disappointment and pain (both physical and emotional) as well as fulfilling travel, challenging ministry, and rewarding friendships, having done it continues to make it possible for me to preach and teach the gospel while providing for my family. I worked alongside Christians whom I love more every day in a town that has captured my imagination since I first visited it in 2001. Leading a Call for Fire Seminar for the congregation this past August helped us all to grow in awareness and appreciation of God’s power and love. My wife encourages and challenges me with her own love for God and his Word, making sure that I approach my task with a confident humility. Her own formal study of the Bible equips her both to “keep me honest” and to challenge me to reconsider long-held traditions. We traveled to Wyoming and South Dakota this year, the first time either of us had visited those states. I drove down a nine percent decline on an icy mountain road with laser focus because she was in the passenger seat. My children and grandchildren brought me great joy; they inspire me to grow in maturity and faith so that I can help them navigate their pilgrimage of faith. For the first time in twenty-five years, I had the liberty to grow a beard (Little things can mean a lot!).

As this year draws to a close, why are you praising and thanking God? Who has inspired you? Who have you mentored? What challenges have almost broken you, but somehow have strengthened your character and resolve?

The concluding words of Psalm 118 begin my prayer as 2017 ends:

“You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 118:28-29).

O Lord, I sing because you give me voice. I live because you give me breath. I love because you first loved me. Thank you for the people you have brought into my life to inspire and challenge me this year. Thank you for helping me find open doors when walls seemed impenetrable. Thank you for this world you have given us to inhabit and cultivate to your honor. Thank you for my wife, and our family. Thank for a congregation and a community that help me discern your will and your vision. Thank you for helping me survive a past that equips me for the future works you have prepared for me to do. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Prayer of a Parent

The words of a mother in Proverbs 31 reflect what her prayers must have been for a son who would become a ruler.  Although he is identified as Lemuel, a name otherwise unknown in the Bible, some have suggested that he was Solomon, and that these words come from Bathsheba.  She (as also do the first chapters of Proverbs) warns her son about women who can distract, or even destroy him.  She warns him that drinking alcoholic beverages may distort his judgment and cause him to “pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (verse 5).  She instructs her some to be an advocate for the powerless and for those who cannot speak for themselves:

“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).

She prays that her son truly will lead and inspire his people.  She wants him to respect all his citizens, regardless of what they can do for him in return.  She wants her son to strengthen the weak and to give a voice to those whose protests of injury are ignored.

As we pray for our children, whether newborn or in their thirties, or in their sixties, let us pray too that they may live with love, listen with thoughtfulness, and act with caring, respectful concern for all whom they encounter.  Let us pray that when they have been injured by others who abused their power or their relationship, that they will heal. Let us pray too that we may be examples they will want to follow as they obey God.

God of justice and love, you inspire us with your wisdom and concern for the weak and poor to use power to build and to protect people.  You give many of us a special trust by placing children in our care. May we receive this trust with humility, and justify it by showing them a path that leads to light rather darkness, to joy rather than to despair. I pray that my children may always remember that other people are made in your image, and while that may sometimes be hard to detect, have that awareness lead them to treat other people with respect and honor. Lord, help us to be worthy of the trust you have given. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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