Engaging culture

Watch and Pray, and Obey

Thoughts on navigating a divisive political season, from one Christian to another

During an election cycle, I am often asked, “How are you praying?” My first—and best—answer is for God’s will to be done! However, when that answer seems less than satisfactory, I turn to 1 Timothy 2:1-2:

"Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."

God’s will is going to be done, and it will be done His way. God’s people have the privilege of being used to bring about His will if they pray and obey the teachings of Jesus, being discerning in all things through the Spirit. We cannot pray and obey effectively without being centered in Christ and aligning with where He is at work. Here are some thoughts to consider as we pray and obey in this election season.

Pray well

Really, truly pray for our civil leaders. How many of us have prayed for the civil leaders running in this election? It is easy to pray for the politicians and leaders with whom we agree politically. It is not as easy to pray for people with whom we do not align.

And praying for their damnation (in Greek, ὄλεθρος) does not count.

Jesus talks about this specifically in Luke 6:32-35:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”

This applies to our prayer, too.

My major grief in this election is not who will win the election, but that the mission of Christ has become secondary to swathes of believers.

When Paul asks for prayer in the New Testament, he is speaking to people who would have known suffering under Nero, the Roman Emperor, one of the most vicious and cruel leaders of Rome. Nero ordered the destruction of Jerusalem and then blamed the Jews. And yet, the early Christians were instructed to pray for these leaders. How much more should we be encouraged to pray for ours?

What if we prayed as much as we read about politics? Christian, there are spiritual forces at work—so get in the game by praying.

Pray for the candidates, for congress and for media outlets. Pray for strength and endurance to be honest and make good decisions. Pray for good leadership, whether you agree with the policies or not. Pray for honesty in the presentation of facts for the public to consume.

Pray for discernment as you engage with politics. Pray that you would not conflate your religion with the candidates and policies for which you vote.

Vote humbly

God is not a Democrat or a Republican, and God is not on the ballot in this election (or any election).

While Joshua was overlooking the battlefield, he saw the Angel of the Lord and asked, “Whose side are you on?” (Josh 5:13). He said neither: “I lead the hosts of the Lord’s army” (Josh 5:14).

God cared about the decision of the battle, but He was on His own side. And He still is today. He will accomplish His will in His own way. People on all sides of this election should be careful about playing the God card: God did not even let Joshua claim that God was on his side. God is not a lucky rabbit foot, but the One who is sovereign over all.

Maintain caution

There are two significant ways that believers must be cautious during major election seasons.

1. Look not to “salvation by government.”

My major grief in this election is not who will win the election, but that the mission of Christ has become secondary to swathes of believers. The church is fractured, not even by the evil one, but by God’s own people! Votes and political affiliations have caused believers to question the salvation of others. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “Shame on us!” The enemies of the cross are relishing the church division.

[W]e all must beware of what we consider a “win.” Jesus himself taught us that the first must be last.

Paul also writes, “I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?” (1 Cor 6:5).

The church has lost a cultural war they should never have entered, and now they are working on plan B: the illusion of majority rule. But it will not work. The real solution to the cultural war is repentance and revival, as in Isaiah 58:9-14:

“‘Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’ For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

2. Quit the zero-sum game.

Zero-sum implies that for me to win, you must lose.

But there is no win-win or lose-lose. There can be a third option. (I want to encourage you all to read Miles McPherson’s book The Third Option). We need to exercise political humility. Could we not be seeing everything, with our narrow view of the world?

If we are prayerful and obedient, our votes will count double because they will count on earth and in heaven.

Additionally, we all must beware of what we consider a “win.” Jesus himself taught us that the first must be last. What does that mean for us today? Even more, the death of Jesus on the cross was certainly a loss—but this loss led to a significant and eternal win as the Risen Savior made way for our salvation. The result of this election should be viewed in light of the greatest victory—Christ’s triumphant defeat of sin and death.

Trust in the Lord

We would all be wise to spend some time in Psalm 2 and camp on the last few words: “Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.”

Every day, faithful and unsensational obedience beats tantalizing election politicking. Elections may seem more significant because of the rarity of their occurrence, but they pale in importance to every person being the hands, feet and heart of God every day.

Neither candidate can offer the justice we desire when that justice is not being lived out by God’s people. We are to be the light of the world. We must not simply fold our hands and say, “God’s will be done.” While this is the right prayer, the solution requires more. Let’s give ourselves up for the hurting: Let’s stand for the oppressed from cradle to grave, not walk to the other side of the road when we see the broken and outcast laying in our path.

If we are prayerful and obedient, our votes will count double because they will count on earth and in heaven. We must trust in God always, because He will give us the civil leaders we need.

Alejandro Mandes

Dr. Alejandro Mandes is executive director of the EFCA All People Ministry. He and his wife, Julie, attend Northwest Community Church (EFCA) in San Antonio, Texas. 

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