Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Authority Figures

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.

                        1 Timothy 2.1-2

Once in a Lifetime

Every generation is given a defining moment—a once-in-a-lifetime event that irrevocably changes the course of history and redefines a people’s understanding of what’s possible for generations following. My generation’s moment came on Sunday, July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11’s lunar module touched down on the moon’s surface and the gates of the universe opened to human discovery. My parents’ generation was defined on Monday, August 6, 1945, when the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima unleashed fears of destruction and reckless reprisal that haunt us to this day. With solemn gratitude and indescribable joy, I’m convinced the current generation will be defined today, Tuesday, January 20, 2009. Like all other previous, defining moments, it will take years to fully absorb what today means. Still, there can be no doubt that nothing will ever feel or look the same after Barack Obama—the biracial son of a “broken home”—assumes leadership of the free world. Yes, racial, family, and political strife will persist. Yet today deals them, and every other mutation of injustice, a thunderous blow that proves in no uncertain terms they can, and will, be overcome one day. We join the Psalmist, singing, “The LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118.23-24)

At the Altar

The song goes on, and we sing along: “O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.” (v26-27) This processional leads us exactly where Paul advises us to stay: at the altar, praying, interceding, and thanking God for our authority figures. As we’ve learned all too well these last eight years, their failure is our failure and their success will be our success. The media continue to reduce global events and politics into a sideshow and their skill—coupled with the outgoing Administration’s misanthropic schemes—has done a superb job of persuading us those in power are impervious to influence. Not so, Paul says. We wield enormous power when we stand united in prayer and thanksgiving at the altar.

First of All

Paul urges us to lift our leaders to God first of all. But He’s very clear in his reasoning for this. We don’t pray “for kings and those in authority” first because they’re more important than the rest of us. Indeed, making prayer for them a priority is done on behalf of everyone, “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Prayer and thanksgiving for our leaders bless them with wisdom and compassion. If they’re receptive to the guidance of God’s Spirit, they in turn guide us in peaceful, godly ways. They govern according to what’s best for us, rather than exploiting their authority to satisfy personal ambitions and special interests. They nurture optimism and confidence for the common good instead of leveraging pessimism and fear to pursue hidden agendas. Proverbs 16.15 says, “When a king’s face brightens, it means life; his favor is like a rain cloud in spring.” Upholding our leaders in prayer brings renewed growth.

Paul expands his teaching in verses 3 and 4, asserting, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” Any community—global, national, local, ethnic, ideological, religious, sexual, etc.—embroiled in conflict soon falls out of touch with overriding, eternally imperative issues. Turmoil and cataclysm can turn a people to God, but Paul reminds us a peaceful, moral society remains open to God. Corrupt leadership compels us to question lies; righteous leaders inspire us to seek truth. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” Jesus says in John 8.32. Political and social cultures that value truth create climates of integrity promoting spiritual sensitivity and progress. Truth sets people free.

Lift Up Holy Hands

The finishing touch on Paul’s admonition to pray for authority figures comes in verse 8: “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” After the sun sets on this, the most extraordinary day of our lives, it will rise tomorrow on a future fraught with tremendous challenges. If not tomorrow, a day will dawn when we awaken to see Barack Obama is more than an icon. He’s a human, as vulnerable to error and, alas, failure as anyone else. The problems he’s inherited appear absurdly insurmountable, more than one man can possibly resolve to the satisfaction of all. And while I adamantly believe the world’s sweeping faith and hope in President Obama are neither unmerited nor misplaced, we can’t burden him with impatience and unrealistic expectations. He will falter. He will disappoint. He will confuse. He will enrage. But, despite these things, if we continually keep him in our prayers, he will succeed.

God’s Word implores true followers of Jesus everywhere—in the US and around the world—to lift up holy hands in prayer. We surrender compulsions to fuel controversy and vent anger in order to intercede and give thanks for our leaders. Today changes the past, undoing centuries of malignant efforts to undermine ideals and dreams of freedom and equality. But, in the words of our President, change that matters lives in the future. By now, I hope we’re convinced that arguments and outrage can change nothing. Prayer, however, can—and will—change everything.

As people of faith, we lift up holy hands in prayer for our leaders, without anger or disputing.

(Tomorrow: Jubilee)

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