Mark D. Roberts

The National Day of Prayer Controversy:

Missing Something Crucial
What Would Jesus Think?

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2010 by Mark D. Roberts

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The National Day of Prayer Controversy: Missing Something Crucial

Once again, the National Day of Prayer is upon us, and once again, it
comes in a whirlwind of controversy. This year, however, the typhoon
has been augmented by a judge’s decision that the National Day of
Prayer is unconstitutional. Her ruling is being appealed, and folks
from all sides are weighing in on the legal issues. Since I am not a
constitutional scholar, I’m not going to offer an opinion on the legal
battles that lie ahead. We certainly don’t need more amateurs mucking
up the conversation.

If you’re interested in some history on the
National Day of Prayer, I have found two helpful (and diverse) sources.
First, there is a Research Report on the National Day of Prayer published by The Pluralism Project at Harvard University. Then, there’s the “History of the National Day of Prayer” web
page from the National Day of Prayer Task Force website. This Task
Force is a private group of conservative Christians who use the
official day (approved by the federal government) to encourage prayer
for the nation. This web page includes several “Fun Facts,” such as:
“1) The President of the United States has called for a National Day of
Prayer every year since 1975.” Then there’s my personal favorite: “6)
33 of the 44 U.S. Presidents have signed
proclamations for National Prayer. Four of the Presidents who did not
sign a proclamation died while serving in office.”  Yikes! Maybe that’s
why President Obama favors the National Day of Prayer. He doesn’t want
to join the group of presidential naysayers who died in office!

I’m not going to weigh in on the legal issues associated with the
National Day of Prayer, I do have a significant concern, however,
related to this Day and the controversy its has engendered. My
concern is that there are some features of the National Day of Prayer
that are absolutely legal and absolutely crucial and quite likely to be
. I not thinking of the Day itself (Thursday, May 6,
2010), but rather of what the National Day of Prayer Task Force
encourages churches to do on the Sunday prior to the Day itself
(Sunday, May 2). Here’s the statement from their website:

What is the National Day of Prayer Sunday?

On Sunday, May 2, 2010, in churches, when 40 million Christians come
together to worship, the Task Force is encouraging groups to take seven
minutes to pray for the Seven Centers of Power (pray one minute each
for these 7 centers of influence: government, military, media,
business, education, church and family). Pray for renewal in our hearts
and repentance to come to America.

Now that,
to me, seems like a fine idea. Surely there’s no legal problem with
churches praying for the Seven Centers of Power. Moreover, I expect
that most churches do not regularly prayer for these Centers, or at
least for all of them.

Worship Service Irvine Presbyterian ChurchWhen
I was senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, in our worship
services we prayed weekly for the government (president,
administration, congress, courts, state officials, county and local
officials). We prayed regularly for people serving in the military (but
not for military leadership). We often prayed for teachers, police
officers, and fire fighters. We always prayed for the church: our
church, churches in our community, and the Church of Jesus Christ. And
we often prayed for families. (Photo: A worship service at Irvine
Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California.)

But we rarely
prayed for the media or business. In retrospect, this seems to me like
a grave oversight, especially since Irvine Pres had many members who
were leaders in media and business. Yet, for some odd reason, they were
usually forgotten in our corporate prayers. Why this was the case is
worth much more conversation, and I expect I’ll get into it sometime
soon. Nevertheless, I wish I had done a better job leading our church
to pray for those who were called to serve the Lord in the media and
business. I actually believed (and still do) that God calls people into
these fields. Yet my prayers did not follow my convictions.

hope is that, with the encouragement of National Day of Prayer Task
Force, many churches will begin to pray in broader ways, realizing that
the kingdom of God has everything to do with government, military,
education, church, and family . . . and also with media and business.
And one might include the arts as well. 

What Would Jesus Think? Part 1

What would Jesus think about the National Day of Prayer? Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, thinks he knows. But is he right? WWJT?

Last Friday I began to comment on the upcoming National Day of Prayer.
It’s slated for this Thursday, May 6, 2010. The controversy surrounding
this event has been revved up this year owing to a judge’s decision
that the National Day of Prayer, which was approved by the U.S. House
and Senate and signed into law in 1952, is unconstitutional. In the
last three weeks, there has been no shortage of debate about the legal
status of the National Day of Prayer, and no doubt this will continue
for a long time to come. The “sides” of the debate are predictable,
with some arguing that the National Day of Prayer is a
Constitutionally-protected exercise of religious freedom, while others
agree with the judge in concluding that the Constitution prohibits the
federal government from endorsing an exercise of prayer.

Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham, uses the controversy swirling around the National Day of Prayer to weigh in on the relationship between church and state.
He argues for the separation of these two entites, but not on legal
grounds. Rather, Meacham offers a “religious case” for keeping church
and state separate.

a witness for his position, Meacham summons Roger Williams, the
seventeenth-century preacher and founder of Rhode Island. Meacham
quotes Williams, who called for a “hedge or wall of separation between
the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.” He believed
that the church was better off if it was not dependent upon or endorsed
by the government, but rather free from government sanction and
control. (Photo: Statue of Roger Williams in the National Statuary Hall

Meacham’s second witness is none other than Jesus of Nazareth. Here’s what Meacham writes concerning Jesus:

idea of separation began, in fact, with Jesus. Once, when the crowds
were with him and wanted to make him a king, he withdrew and hid.
Before Pilate, Jesus was explicit: “My kingdom is not of this world,”
he said.

Then, after adding evidence from the Christian tradition and the Founders of the United States, Meacham concludes:

are many precedents for the National Day of Prayer, but serious
believers, given the choice between a government-sanctioned religious
moment and the perpetuation of a culture in which religion can take its
own stand, free from the corruptions of the world, should always choose
the garden of the church over the wilderness of the world. It is, after
all, what Jesus did.

So, when it comes to the question
of what Jesus would think about a government-sponsored National Day of
Prayer, Meacham answers with a definitive thumbs-down.

Meacham right? Did Jesus choose “the garden of the church over the
wilderness of the world”? And if so, would he do the same when it comes
to the National Day of Prayer?

Meacham’s argument depends on
two passages from the New Testament Gospels. In one, Jesus hid from the
crowds when they wanted to make him king. In the other, Jesus explained
that his kingdom “is not of this world.” But do these texts support the
point Meacham is trying to make? Or has he become a ventriloquist who
is putting words in Jesus’ mouth?

In my next post in this
series on the National Day of Prayer, I’ll examine the passages upon
which Meacham bases his case. In the meanwhile, what do you think? When
you consider the National Day of Prayer, WWJT?

What Would Jesus Think? Part 2

In yesterday’s post, I summarized a “religious case for church-state separation” found in Jon Meacham’s recent Newsweek article.
In support of his religious case, Meacham draws from none other than
Jesus of Nazareth, whom Meacham credits with originating the idea of
church-state separation. In support of this claim, he refers to two
passages in the New Testament Gospels, one in which Jesus refused to be
crowned as king, and the other in which Jesus said that his kingdom “is
not of this world.”

I asked: “Do these texts support the point Meacham is trying to make?
Or has he become a ventriloquist who is putting words in Jesus’ mouth?”
Before I begin to answer these questions so that we might get a clearer
idea of what Jesus would think about the National Day of Prayer, I’d
like to offer a word of warning. (Photo: A warning sign at Hanakapiai
Beach on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Now that’s what I call a

A Word of Warning

Whenever anyone, including me, invokes Jesus in support of some contemporary cause, beware!
Just about everybody wants Jesus on their side (except, perhaps,
Christopher Hitchens). And just about everybody finds a way to make
Jesus say what they want him to say (including Christopher Hitchens,
actually. See my review of his book, god is not Great.).
You name the issue and Jesus is brought forth to endorse it . . . or to
denounce it . . . or both at the same time. So Jesus is pro-life and
pro-choice, a Democrat and a Republican, a free market capitalist and a
big government socialist, a supporter of traditional marriage and an
advocate for same-sex marriage (or even a gay man). Though I haven’t
bothered to look for it, I’m quite sure a few minutes of Internet
browsing would lead to a website that uses Jesus to say about church
and state the opposite of what Jon Meacham believes Jesus would say.

confronted with the data I’ve just presented, some folks become stuck
in cynicism and skepticism: “There’s no way to figure out what Jesus
would think about current issues, so why even bother?” Many today are
prepared to ignore Jesus as an inconsequential figure of ancient
history. But Christians really don’t have that option. If we believe
what Christians do about Jesus, and if we are seeking to model our life
upon his, then we should at least try to figure out what Jesus might
think when it comes to the issues of our day.

We will do
this with some measure of plausibility only if we try to understand
Jesus within his historical, cultural, and linguistic context.
we want to know why Jesus refused to be crowned king, for example, we
need to have some sense of what was going on in first-century Jewish
history that would have motivated people to try and make Jesus their
king. Moreover, we must seek to interpret Jesus’ actions in light of
his culture and also his teaching.

Far too often, Christians
and others with a vested interest in Jesus have skipped too many steps
in their effort to get Jesus to speak to current events. Not
surprisingly, they stumble in this endeavor and fall short of an
adequate understanding of Jesus, not to mention his relevance to
contemporary affairs.

If you’ve studied biblical
interpretation, you know that I have vastly over-simplified the process
of trying to understand ancient texts and the characters within them.
But just about all credible scholars, no matter their personal
theological convictions, would agree that a faithful appraisal of a
person from the past requires seeing that person in the context of his
or her history, culture, and language.

I’m not suggesting, by
the way, that devotional use of Scripture requires such a procedure.
There is a time, I believe, when it’s quite right to reflect
meditatively upon a text and let the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts.
But this approach to Scripture does not provide an adequate foundation
for a public claim concerning what Jesus might think about a given

So, then, when I seek to answer the WWJT question, I
will wrestle with the historical, cultural, and linguistic contexts in
which he acted and taught. My interpretation of Jesus will be based on
the text of the Gospels in light of these contexts. Yes, of course my
own personal commitments will tend to shape my conclusions. So be
forewarned! But, since I am at least trying to base my conclusions on
the data of text and context, I am open to changing my mind when the
evidence demands it.

Now that I’ve issued a warning about
bringing in Jesus as a star witness in a case, I’ll examine the claims
made by Jon Meacham concerning Jesus’ views of church and state. Stay
tuned . . . .

What Would Jesus Think? Part 3

In Monday’s post I summarized a “religious case for church-state separation” found in Jon Meacham’s recent Newsweek article.
Meacham believes that Jesus originated the idea of church-state
separation. In support of this claim, he refers to two passages in the
New Testament Gospels, one in which Jesus refused to be crowned as
king, and one in which Jesus said that his kingdom “is not of this

Is Meacham correct in his answer to the WWJT question: What would Jesus think about the National Day of Prayer? Yesterday, I issued a warning
about any time people claim Jesus for their side of an issue. The
tendency to make Jesus say exactly what we want him to say runs
rampant. So, now that you’ve been duly warned, I’ll do my best to
evaluate Meacham’s claims on the basis of a careful, contextual reading
of the relevant New Testament texts.  

Jesus Refused to Be Crowned as King

In the Gospel of John of the New Testament we read the following:

Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to
make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (6:15)

Sea of GalileeThe
context tells us something about the “they” who intended to crown
Jesus. A large crowd of people had gathered around him near the Sea of
Galilee because they were drawn to his miraculous healings (6:1-2).
Jesus became concerned about the people because they lacked food (6:5).
But all that was available was a boy’s sack lunch (five barley loaves
and two fish; 6:8). So Jesus instructed the people to sit while he
broke the loaves and fish and had them distributed to 5,000 people.
After they finished eating, there was much to spare (6:13). The people
were impressed, saying to each other, “This is indeed the prophet who
is to come into the world.” But Jesus sensed that something else was
afoot, that the people were going to try and make him their king. So
“he withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (6:15). (Photo: The Sea
of Galilee. “Image courtesy of” If you’re looking for excellent photos of biblical sites, check out this great website.)

Why Did the People Want to Crown Jesus as King?

the time of Jesus, it was not unusual for a charismatic figure to
gather around himself a cadre of followers who acknowledged him as a
leader, perhaps even as their ruler. These messianic figures would
sometimes lead some minor revolt against Rome, only to be crushed under
the thumb of Roman might. Galilee, the seedbed of Jesus’ ministry,
seemed to be particularly fertile ground for this sort of behavior.

example, according to the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, several
years before Jesus emerged on the scene, a Galilean named Judas “got no
small multitude together, and broke open the place where the royal
armor was laid up, and armed those about him, and attacked those that
were so earnest to gain the dominion” (War 2.4.1, see also 2.8.1 and
Acts 5:36-37). In John 6, it seems that the people who had been fed
miraculously by Jesus associated him with rebels such as Judas. But why
would they connect a miracle of food-creation with rebellion against
Rome? Why might they consider a supernaturally-endowed prophet to be a
royal figure, one who could confront and even defeat the power of Rome?

we tend to see the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 as a religious
event or a demonstration of Jesus’ compassion, those who were fed
sensed a politically pregnant moment. They seem to have identified
Jesus with the long-awaited “prophet like Moses” promised in
Deuteronomy (18:15-18; 34:10-12). Moses, of course, was not just a
religious lawgiver, but also a deliverer who set Israel free from
political bondage. One of the major signs of his divine authority was
the provision of food (manna) in the wilderness.

Moreover, those
who ate their fill of Jesus’ bread might have remembered prophecies in
which God connected his future salvation with his provision of food for
his flock. In Micah 5, for example, the ruler of Israel (who will be
born in Bethlehem) “shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of
the Lord” (5:2-5). Similarly, Ezekiel 34 promises that when “David”
comes to shepherd God’s flock, “he shall feed them” (34:13-23). So when
Jesus fed people by divine power, they quite naturally supposed that he
might be Israel’s king, the anointed one, the Messiah.

story in John 6 illustrates something we easily overlook: the
inseparable connection in the minds of first-century Jews between
religion and politics. When Jesus fed the multitudes, not only did they
enjoy a free lunch as beneficiaries of God’s power, but also they
assumed that this power should take political forms. Because Jesus
worked wonders, he was not just the long-awaited prophet, but also the
one through whom God’s actual kingdom would be reestablished in Israel.
Given so many prophetic passages that spoke of God’s coming reign in
plainly political terms, not to mention Jewish prayers that sought
divine government in Jerusalem, Jews in the day of Jesus simply assumed
that the kingdom of God would be a political one. It would involve
kicking the Romans out of the land and reconstituting the government of
Israel under the rule of God and, perhaps, his anointed king.

powerful works of Jesus seemed to guarantee his success as a political
ruler. Furthermore, these works illustrated and undergirded Jesus’
central message: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has
come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). If he
proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God, and if he did works of
power that revealed him to be a “prophet like Moses” and a shepherd in
the line of David, then surely Jesus was the king of the Jews who would
set them free from the Romans and establish God’s kingdom in Israel.

The Response of Jesus and Meacham’s “Case”

exactly, according to Jesus. At least not according to the account of
John 6. Here we are told simply that Jesus “withdrew again to the
mountain by himself” rather than allowing the people to force him to
become their king. Meacham’s claim that Jesus “withdrew and hid
goes beyond the evidence of the text, but is well within the bounds of
poetic license. For reasons not explained in John 6, Jesus did not
claim political power when it was offered to him. Rather, he chose a
different course.

This text alone provides flimsy evidence for
Jesus as the originator of the separation between church and state. But
it offers even less support for those who would use the power of the
state to advance the agenda of the church. So, Meacham may be onto
something. But if his “religious case” for the separation of church and
state is to be at all persuasive, it will need more support from the
other Gospel passage cited by Meacham, where Jesus explains that his
kingdom is “not of this world.” I’ll examine that text tomorrow.

What Would Jesus Think? Part 4

If you’ve been following my blog for the last few days, you know I’ve
been posting a variety of thoughts related to the National Day of
Prayer, which is today, Thursday, May 6, 2010. Included among these
thoughts has been an evaluation of a “religious case” for the
separation of church and state, one that would oppose a government
sponsored Day of Prayer. This case was proposed in an article by Newsweek editor, Jon Meacham.

this article, Meacham credits Jesus with originating the separation of
church and state. To support this claim, Meacham points to Jesus’
refusal to be crowned as king, as well as his statement that his
“kingdom is not of this world.” Yesterday,
I examined in some depth the story in the Gospel of John of Jesus’
saying “No” to those who wanted to make him king. Today I will consider
his statement about the non-worldly nature of the kingdom and the
relevance of this statement for us, including the National Day of

“My Kingdom is Not of This World”

claim, “My kingdom is not of this world,” came in the context of the
“trial” that led to his crucifixion. In John 18, the Jewish officials
who sought to have Jesus killed took him to Pontius Pilate, the Roman
Prefect (that is, governor) of Judea. (Photo: This engraved stone was
found in 1961. It refers to [Pont]ius Pilatus as [Praef]ectus Iudaeae
or “Prefect of Judea.” Image courtesy of

began to question Jesus by asking him “Are you the king of the Jews?”
(18:33, NIV). Jesus answered, “Is that your own idea, or did others
talk to you about me?” (18:34) Pilate replied, “Am I a Jew? . . . It
was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What
is it you have done?” (18:35). Jesus said,

“My kingdom
is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my
arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (18:36)

statement of Jesus translated here as “My kingdom is not of this world”
is one of the most frequently misunderstood sentences of Scripture. For
centuries, Christians and others have interpreted Jesus to mean: “My
kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. My kingdom is heavenly, it has
nothing to do with this life, only life after death.” This verse has
been used to focus attention upon the afterlife and minimize the value
of flourishing in this life. What Jesus was all about, we have been
told, has to do with getting people to heaven, and that’s about it.

this theology, besides ignoring the vast biblical narrative, misses the
sense of Jesus’ simple statement. This can be explained, in part, on
the basis of a mistranslation from the Greek of John into English (or a
misunderstanding of the English translation, at any rate). The phrase
“My kingdom is not of this world” renders the Greek he basileia he eme ouk estin ek tou kosmou toutou (18:36). There are two crucial translation issues here.

First, the Greek word basileia,
translated as “kingdom,” usually does not refer to the place where a
king reigns. Rather, it points to the king’s power or authority or
reign or rule. When Jesus speaks to Pilate of his basileia, he isn’t talking about the place where he is king (i.e., heaven). Rather, he is speaking of his royal authority.

Second, the English phrase “is not of this world” is based on the Greek ouk estin ek tou kosmou toutou, which would be translated literally as “is not from
this world.” Jesus was not speaking of his kingdom as existing
someplace other than this world. Rather, he was saying that his kingly
authority is not from this world. He was talking about the source of
his sovereignty, not the location of its exercise.

So, when
Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God as being close at hand (Mark 1:15),
or when he taught his disciples to pray for the kingdom to come and
God’s will to be done “on earth as it in heaven” (Matt 6:10), Jesus was
clearly implying that the location of his kingdom is on earth in
addition to heaven. But the source of his royal authority was
not earthly. He was not the king because of ancestry or military might
or public acclaim. Rather, his royal authority came from God.

Implications for the National Day of Prayer

Meacham refers to Jesus’ saying about his kingdom being “not of this
earth” without explaining how he understands “of this earth.” My guess
is that Meacham rightly interprets Jesus’ meaning, since he is
well-versed in the New Testament and its historical/cultural context.

In fact, Meacham’s “religious case” for the separation of church and state would find support in the “not from
this world” sense that Jesus intended. The National Day of Prayer, in
its current form, does indeed base its authority on this world, at
least to an extent. It was instituted by the U.S. Congress and signed
into law by the U.S. President. So, if one understands Jesus’ statement
about his kingdom as implying that the church should not derive
authorization or support from the government, as Meacham appears to do
without actually arguing the point, then followers of Jesus should be
careful about basing their exercise of faith on the encouragement or
authorization of the government.

Here’s where things get
pretty messy, however. Technically, the National Day of Prayer as
endorsed by the government is not a Christian event. It is religious in
the sense that it commends prayer to God, but without specifying the
manner of prayer or the nature of the God to whom we are supposed to
pray. The National Day of Prayer is not establishing any particular
religion, but commending prayer in the broadest sense. Yet, the impetus
for the National Day of Prayer did come from Christian quarters, and
the National Day of Prayer Task Force, which organizes many of the
events of the day, is an explicitly Christian body. Moreover, it is
certainly true that some Christians see the government-authorized
National Day of Prayer as an occasion to advance a Christian
understanding of God and practice of prayer. Those who make this
connection should, it seems to me, wrestle with whether this approach
to prayer is consistent with Jesus’ understanding of the kingdom of
God, or not.

Having said this, I do think that the leap from
Jesus statement “My kingdom is not from this world” to a theology of
church-state separation is quite a long one. Meacham seems to believe
that the move from Jesus’ understanding of the kingdom to our
understanding of church-state relations in our time is an intuitive or
obvious one. But I’m not so sure. He may well be right, but his
position needs a lot more development.

For me, the fact that
people are gathering today to pray is fantastic. There is no doubt in
my mind that our nation needs prayer. Our political leaders do. Our
business leaders do. Our teachers and educational institutions do. Our
armed forces do. Our families do. Our marriages do. Our churches do.
Our national allies do. Our national enemies do. I do. You do. So I’m
glad we are recognizing the National Day of Prayer today. And I would
be glad for this whether or not it received the endorsement of the
federal government.

Surely we who believe that God answers
prayer can and should gather to pray whether or not the Feds encourage
us to do so. My hope, and, indeed, my prayer, is that our efforts not
only will be heard by Almighty God, but also might encourage us to live
today in the love, truth, and grace of God. Perhaps we who call out to
God for peace might be encouraged to be peacemakers in our part of the
world today. Peacemaking, after all, is also something commended by
Jesus (Matt 5:9).

Tomorrow, though the National Day of Prayer
will be officially over, I want to consider other ways that the words
and example of Jesus might impact our thinking about the National Day
of Prayer.

What Would Jesus Think? Part 5

Today I want to finish my series on the National Day of Prayer. In
yesterday’s post, I completed an evaluation of Jon Meacham’s use of
Jesus to bolster his case for the separation of church and state. In
today’s post I want to suggest two other passages from the New
Testament Gospels that could shed some light on what Jesus might think
about the National Day of Prayer. This is in no way an exhaustive
treatment of relevant texts, but it should give you something to think

Praying in Secret (Matthew 6:5-6)

In the Sermon on the Mount we find this quotation of Jesus:

of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for
then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. . . . And whenever
you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and
pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be
seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But
whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your
Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward
you.” (Matt 6:1, 5-6)

Most literally, this passage
instructs the followers of Jesus to pray, not in public, but in
private. This would seem to rule out the kinds of public prayer
occasions that are part and parcel of the National Day of Prayer. But
the deeper issues seems to be a question of intention. The hypocrites
are praying in public “so that they may be seen by others” (hopos phanosin tois anthropois;
6:5). Thus they are not really praying so much as making a show. By
implication, if we are going to be involved in any sort of public
prayer gathering, we should be sure that our prayers are truly directed
at God.

During my years as a pastor, I participated in a few
civic prayer meetings. My impression of these was not altogether
positive because, it seemed to me, many of the people offering prayer
were doing precisely what Jesus counsels against. Their “prayers” were
more like thinly veiled speeches for the people who were present. God
was addressed, in theory, but did not seem to be the real audience.
Those of us who seek to follow Jesus should scrutinize our motivations
if and when we pray in public gatherings (including church services).

Pray for Those Who Persecute You (Matt 5:43-45)

Also in the Sermon on the Mount we read the following:

have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate
your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who
persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven;
for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain
on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matt 5:43-45)

passage doesn’t speak to the issue of whether or not we should have a
National Day of Prayer, but it does suggest what some of the content of
such a prayer meeting should be. It should include prayer for our
enemies. This prayer is an expression of love, not a request for God’s
damnation to fall on our opponents.

Sanctuary of Irvine Presbyterian ChurchThis
sounds good on paper, but is rather awkward and uncomfortable in
practice. For example, a couple of days after the horrific tragedy of
September 11, 2001, I led a prayer meeting at Irvine Presbyterian
Church. In this meeting I took Jesus’ counsel seriously, praying for
those who sponsored the terrorist attacks. It felt strange to pray for
such people when what I wanted most of all was for God to smite them.
Nevertheless, I prayed that they would come to see the truth, that they
would be healed of their hatred, that the Lord would draw them to
himself. I asked that they might experience the love of Christ. (Photo:
The sanctuary of Irvine Presbyterian Church.)

If Christians are
going to participate in the National Day of Prayer and similar events,
the content of our prayers should be shaped by the teaching and spirit
of Jesus, even if this goes against the tide of patriotic passion.
Though we are citizens of the United States, we are, first and
foremost, citizens of God’s kingdom.