Court Affirms Legislative Prayer: So Let us Pray
Three Ways to Engage Government Leaders through Prayer
A federal court reaffirmed the constitutionality of prayer in the legislature last week (Oct. 11) upholding the historic practice of opening the U. S. House of Representatives in prayer. Writing for the Baptist Press, Tom Strode reported the court dismissed an atheist’s challenge of the House of Representative’s right to bar him from delivering the invocation. “Federal Judge Rosemary Collyer of the District of Columbia said U.S. Supreme Court precedent undergirds the long tradition of prayer to open congressional sessions and the House’s rules in carrying out the practice.”
The Baptist Press reported Speaker of the House Paul Ryan expressed gratitude over the decision. Ryan said he is grateful the House “can continue to begin its work each day as we have for centuries: taking a moment to pray to God.”
Word of this court decision caught my eye immediately. As a pastor with Capitol Commission in Oklahoma I have been honored on multiple occasions to offer the opening prayer of the legislative session in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. I’ve taken that all-important moment in question to pray to God for each of our state legislators and the people’s business they would discuss, debate, and decide that day. It is a true honor to offer the opening prayer from the House Chamber Floor. I’ve witnessed God work powerfully through that moment of prayer and am grateful the court affirmed this long-held practice.
Unfortunately, these religious liberty decisions far too often have the tendency to draw our attention to the more ceremonial expressions of faith in public life, important though they are, at the expense of the everyday opportunities God is giving believers to be salt and light in our communities, schools, workplaces, and state houses.
The court affirmed prayer in our legislature, so let us pray! Here are three suggested ways Christians can engage their elected leaders through prayer this fall.
1. Pray Humbly and Give Thanks for Leaders
Praying for political leaders can be incredibly difficult, especially when we do not agree with them. Our desire is for our leaders to make decisions and choices that honor God and benefit others. Our desire is for the gospel to redeem our country and our culture and we believe the decisions made by our leaders can promote or hinder this gospel advance.
Consider wisdom found in Proverbs 21:2, “Every way of a man seems right to him; but the LORD weighs the heart.” Our natural inclination is to want to pray for a specific decision, outcome, or direction, especially when it comes to leaders and those in authority. We pray for them to do what we want them to do, or not do. But I must humbly admit that I do not know what direction or path is ultimately best because I do not weigh the hearts of people, God does. Paul knew this tendency existed in our hearts and that is why he instructed Timothy to lead the church to pray in a certain way.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” 1 Tim. 2:1-2
The Bible teaches us that before we pray for the Gospel to redeem our nation, state, city, or neighborhood we should pray for the Gospel to redeem the hearts of our leaders. After ministering in the halls of political power in Oklahoma, I’m convinced the best way to do that is by praying for God to place a sincere affection in your heart for the people serving in our state capitol. Get to know their names and faces, and pray regularly for their families and their work both in and out of the Capitol building. You can visit www.Pray1Tim2.org and sign up to receive daily or weekly emails that will introduce you to all your elected leaders as well as give helpful resources and passages of scripture to help you pray for them. As you do, pray faithfully as this text instructs, with a heart of thanksgiving and intercession.
2. Pray Boldly for All Leaders
The Bible leads me to believe that our leaders are in fact chosen servants. In our day the people of Oklahoma democratically choose them, but they are certainly also chosen of God’s sovereign will. It is God who sets the course of world events and much of scripture declares God’s sovereign reign over the affairs of humanity absolutely regardless of the civil authority in power at the time.
Paul gives Timothy a powerful weapon to fill out his arsenal for fighting the good fight (1 Tim. 1:18) and waging spiritual warfare when he says to pray for “all people.” He isn’t granting the church license to pray broadly, but to pray boldly. There is no one you cannot pray for, so pray with bold precision for anyone in leadership. From your child’s teacher and principal to law enforcement and first responders. Pray for our state legislators in both political parties and for our nation’s president as well as foreign head’s of state. In prayer, Christians have every spiritual resource necessary to engage global events both strategically and with precision at any moment of the day and from anywhere on earth. We need Christians boldly praying for our leaders from the floor of the legislature, but more than that we need them praying for our leaders while they are in their churches and small groups, at their homes and throughout our state.
3. Pray Faithfully for Gospel Transformation
Prayer is a powerful resource when ministering to legislators, their staff, and everyone working in the field of public policy and policy-making. Policy-making is an arduous process filled with uncertainty and unexpected twists and turns. The path we are to take, the plan we should follow, or in the case of our political leaders, the policy that finally will be implemented is rarely completely clear to us. But, the people in the position of leadership to get us there are known to us by name. Every member of our state legislature brings unique experiences, skills, and perspectives and we must trust that God is working in the life of each of our legislators. Whether they recognize His hand in their life or not, we believe they are the specific individuals God appointed to serve at this time.
I am committed to the great promise of the Gospel that through the Holy Spirit, God is transforming Christians through the renewing of their minds until they are perfectly conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. This transformation happens for our legislators when they are about the people’s work at the Capitol just as much as it does when they are at home and in their churches.
So pray for the Gospel to advance first in the hearts of our leaders and then in their heads. Pray for the Gospel to affect they way they speak to one another and work together so that the decisions they make and the policies they implement create the best possible opportunity for the Gospel to advance in our neighborhoods, churches, and schools; in our city, state, nation, and the world.
Finally, expect more from prayer and the gospel than you do from politics and the government.
The church is Jesus’ appointed method extending the redeeming power of the resurrection into the world. Writing from prison in Rome, Paul told the church in Philippi that even though it was possible he very well may die that day he was convinced that through the prayers of the Philippian Christians, and through the help of the Spirit of Jesus, everything would work out for his deliverance. Paul believed that the church at prayer affected his situation.
Our prayers move God. This is a bit mysterious. I don’t know why God made it to work this way – and I don’t completely understand how it works – But in God’s divine design, he has made it such that the praying of His people changes things.
It is said that prayer is the currency of the kingdom. As D. Edmond Hiebert writes, “The ministry of prayer is the most important service that the Church of Christ can engage in. It [prayer] is the most dynamic work which God has entrusted to His saints, but it is also the most neglected ministry open to the believer.”
Even if the court ruled differently and should the day come that state legislatures across the nation discontinue the practice of an opening invocation, Jesus will be no less seated upon the throne and prayer will be no less powerful in the hands and hearts of God’s people making a gospel impact. For today, let us rejoice in the ongoing practice of prayer in our legislature, and now let us pray!
Joel W. Harder | Oklahoma State Director for Capitol Commission & doctoral candidate at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Capitol Commission exists to provide a pastoral presence, a ministry of prayer, and to reach the State Capitol with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The ministry is founded on the biblical command that Christians are to pray for leaders and those in authority found in 1 Timothy 2:1-2.