Following Jesus

The Politics of Prayer

October 20, 2020 by

If anything is holy, it is prayer. The opposite? Politics. Prayer is our lifeline to God. Politics, at least today’s politics, seems more like a sewer line to you-know-where. Yet as holy as prayer is and as nasty as politics has become, Biblical prayer – oddly enough – is profoundly political. It is the means by which God’s good and just order is established on earth.

A dear friend of mine recently blew up in front of me: “I can’t stand it anymore! I’m sick of the news, sick of politics, sick of how everything and everyone is getting dragged into the dirt. Even my own family won’t talk to each other. I’m done with politics!” Then, not soon after, a family member told me, in quiet despondency, “I haven’t watched the news in months. I couldn’t take it anymore. Every time it was on I felt like my insides were getting chewed up. I couldn’t take the anger, the lies, the accusations anymore.”

I’ve had similar feelings. After travelling this summer in the Pacific Northwest, and now back in Colorado where I currently live, the more I talk with people the more fear, frustration, mistrust, and hopelessness I encounter. This is not only sad, but alarming. It’s not just about political fatigue. No, there is something very vital at stake in this upcoming election cycle, but it’s not about getting out to vote or about who wins.

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The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the city Ephesus, a political and economic stronghold in the Roman empire, that the real battle on earth lies not against human beings or human institutions, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). It’s not the “Left” or the “Right,” Fox or CNN, big business or big government that we are up against, but the deceptive forces that tear people apart inwardly and socially; forces that create mistrust, fear, and violence.

This is why prayer is so vital. Prayer is the weapon God gives us to overcome our propensity to fight against and blame those with whom we disagree. For when we pray, as Jesus taught us, we turn our attention, first and foremost, to God and to his will: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Prayer propels us to look beyond ourselves, which, paradoxically, helps us to see how far removed we are from God’s good order. If sincere, prayer allows God to shed light on the ways in which his will and way have been jettisoned out of our lives. We are forced to recognize not only our own shortcomings – including the political, social, economic messes we have made for ourselves – but the idols we have become slaves to: conspicuous consumption, personal pleasure, freedom to do whatever we want even if it adversely affects others.

Prayer is powerfully political, not because it gets the right candidate into office, but because it steers us toward the values that actually bring us together. For deep down, our need is not to be in the right or to be in control. What we long for most is to live in a world where we and others can pursue what is good and just and true. Or, in the words of Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, to live in a society “where it is easier for people to be good.” 

In his letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul gives us some further advice about prayer and politics. “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1–4).

Shouldn’t Paul’s emphasis be ours as well, to live lives worthy of our calling: living peaceful, godly, holy lives that point others to a saving knowledge of the truth? In the fray and frenzy of our current “medialomania,” consisting of shouting matches and finger pointing, we too easily get sidetracked from this. If we are honest with ourselves, we put far too much trust in this world’s pundits and politics and fail to align ourselves with God’s priorities, being salt and light in the world which draws people’s attention to God and his glory (Matt. 5:16).

Some demons, Jesus taught, can only be cast out with prayer and fasting (Matt. 17:21). Whether we vote or not, whether we support this or the other candidate or platform, we need to learn again the importance of fasting. Whether it is from the news, or from griping to whomever; whether it is from this or that twitter feed, or from heated exchanges with others; we must replace our steady diet of vitriol, alarmist rhetoric, resentment, violence and accusation with what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy, as the apostle Paul writes (Phil. 4:8–9). These are the things our minds should be set on. These are what lead to God’s peace and it is these virtues that will help us to carry on together as fellow human beings well after election day.

Jesus was born in a politically turbulent time not unlike our own. Riots, protests, murderous schemes, fear, resentment toward and divisiveness within the ruling elite, vast disparities between rich and poor, and religious tensions divided the land. Yet God’s Messiah, the King of God’s kingdom, entered this world, and with his arrival the good news of “peace on earth, and good will to all” was proclaimed. This news is supra-political, one that stands in judgment on all our duplicitous efforts in exercising power. God’s reign, as Mary herself joyfully exclaims, scatters the proud in their thoughts, brings down rulers from their thrones, and sends the rich away empty. The humble are lifted up, the hungry are filled, and, as Zechariah sings, we are all able “to serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:51–53, 74–75).

This is not some make-believe story to feed our fantasies of escape. All this was an answer to Simeon and Anna’s prayers, along with countless others. It came into being in the life of the very first Christians and in the life of many others throughout history. It was, and still is, God’s answer to humanity’s deepest need and the cry of every human heart.

God’s peace changed history two thousand years ago. It can change it again if we would but turn our hearts’ attention toward it. All the more, we need to pray and keep on praying. Whether we wield the weapon of prayer privately, in our families, in small gatherings from house to house, let us come together and spend more of our energies believing in what God, not man, can do.

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About the author

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore and his wife Leslie live in Denver, CO, where they form a small house community with friends and visitors...

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