My local church has a Saturday morning men’s prayer meeting. They’ve met faithfully every week since 1992. That’s about fifteen years longer than I’ve been a member. There’s a core group of men who come nearly every week, and others join in as their work and family schedules permit, or as needs arise in their individual lives. Rain, snow, or holiday season, nothing interferes with the gathering, unless Christmas or Easter actually fall on a Saturday. These men obviously understand and believe in Jesus’ bold promise that “… if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Agreement is such an important concept in accomplishing anything significant in life, whether natural or supernatural. Businesses, academic institutions, even government agencies, they all know that it’s not enough to come up with a brilliant idea – even with financial backing, it will go nowhere without leadership and peer support and encouragement. And nearly every week at our men’s meeting I witness and hear testimonies of the spiritual law of agreement in action: marriages and families put back together, individuals set free from addictions, and physical, mental and emotional healings.
Yet this past Saturday, after a period of sharing needs and what God has been doing in our lives, as we stood to begin to pray we faced an unusual conflict to agreement. One man shared that he had been praying for God to remove our President from office, for his breach of the U.S. Constitution and, more importantly, the law of God. While many nodded in agreement, another vigorously protested. The latter explained how he had grown up in an African dictatorship, and had learned to pray daily for his leaders, who wouldn’t have thought twice about breaking into his home and arresting the head of the family or cutting off someone’s head. He explained how several years of persecution passed, but the people continued to pray. Then God moved in that country, and the dictator’s successor recently accepted Christ as his Lord, and now serves God. He too acknowledged the need for a change in our leadership, but viewed the next election as the most legitimate means to that end. As his declaration wound down, a third man spoke up with similar passion, equating the President’s actions to the dictator his friend was able to eventually escape only by resettling in America. He insisted that our supreme leader too was allowing and supporting the decapitation and surgical destruction of millions of in-womb citizens every year.
Almost as quickly as the debate had ensued, our group of men seemed to recognize that we were treading into the realm of disagreement, and we backed off and refocused on the specific needs of the men present: a son who was going through difficult times, an aging mother who had financial needs, a man in the grip of depression. Yet, as we prayed for these, I sensed a cloud of unease still hung over the group.
As I had listened to the debate, I realized my own prayers ran somewhere in between the two extreme positions of our group. For a long time I had been praying that God would either change the President’s heart (and the hearts of most of our political leaders) or remove them from office, whether that be by election, impeachment, or any other way God chose to use. Yet we had already gone through two national elections, and God seemed to be turning a deaf ear to my and many other Christian’s prayers. What was hindering our prayers?
I once heard a preacher say that God answers every pray – it’s just that we don’t always like His answer, so we ignore it – especially when it’s a resounding NO! It sounds clever, but I’m not sure the man was right. I think there are some prayers that God just doesn’t pay any attention to, for one reason or another. For example, when I and a million other Michigan Christians prayed for the Tigers to win the World Series last year, He clearly thought that was a silly request; though the fans from the San Francisco Bay area who were praying that their Giants would kick the Tigers’ butts probably would dispute that their prayers didn’t help.
The Bible is clear, that we are to pray for those in authority over us. Still I couldn’t cite a single scripture where God has promised to change the heart of a rebellious leader. In fact, the one scripture relating to government leaders that I’ve heard most often quoted, 1 Timothy 2:1-2, mentions “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” as the rationale and expected outcome of our prayers for “the king.”
I wondered: can God change the political and social environment in America – or has it gone too far down the path of destruction to reverse course? Does God change hearts – or does He just give men opportunities to know Him and to ask for a new heart? I still have a lot to learn about God and about prayer. So I looked to God’s written Word for an answer.
God, through Moses gave Pharaoh ten opportunities to repent and let His people go free, before He destroyed the first-born of every living thing in Egypt, then later destroyed the pursuing army. Pharaoh had refused the new heart God offered to give him, and the consequences were inevitable. Jesus gave the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and lawyers opportunity after opportunity to repent and acknowledge that He was the Messiah, but most of them turned down His offer of a new heart and hardened their hearts of stone even more – and the nation suffered the consequences of both spiritual and natural destruction, the latter at the hands of the Romans. The Apostle Paul was sent to minister to King Agrippa, in an episode described in chapter 26 of the Book of Acts. Paul reminded Agrippa of the doctrines of his Jewish faith and prophesies about the coming Messiah that he’d learned as a boy. Yet, in one of the saddest conclusions of all time to an opportunity presented, Agrippa responded: “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” He eventually became a traitor to his own nation, was expelled by the Jews from Jerusalem and fought on the side of the Romans against his people.
America’s one hope is the Church. The Body of Christ must step it up several notches. While our leaders disappoint us, we must be willing to stand in the gap for them, take responsibility for their shortcomings, repent on their behalf and continually pray that God will not abandon them, but keep offering them opportunities to change their hearts before it’s too late.
The Apostle James says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” So often we hear about “the power of prayer,” yet there is much to learn about answered and unanswered prayer. God wants to bless His people; but foremost He wants a holy and righteous people. Everything else is secondary.
Fortunately, we have history and God’s abundant mercy and patience on our side. Of course, we have the ultimate example in Jesus, the Son of God, who laid down His divinity to take up a shattered people’s cause and gave us all the opportunity to be set free for eternity. But we only need to flip through the pages of the Bible to find additional examples.
Abraham was allowed to negotiate with the Creator of the universe for the salvation of the evil city of Sodom. Moses, Caleb, and Joshua each took turns repenting on behalf of the nation of Israel, that God would not destroy the people whenever they rebelled against Him. And many other OT leaders stood in the gap for their nation, and we have access to their success stories, such as described in Isaiah 36. As God promised: “I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes. For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness.
I know this last promise is specific to the people of Israel – a promise whose fulfillment began in 1948 and will not be completed until Jesus returns. However, it should also give hope to us in this nation. America was founded on Christian principles and historically has done so much good both for God and for mankind. America has sent out more missionaries throughout the world than any other country, and America has generously restored untold numbers of people’s lives who have suffered tragedy across the globe. So let’s stand together and never cease from praying for our political leaders in all branches of government – let’s accept their failings as our own and repent on their behalf – and perhaps they will be given a few more opportunities to listen to and obey their Master and Creator and bend their knees to His Son.