Tomorrow, Reneé and I will attend the National Prayer Breakfast, an event that blends politics and prayer in a uniquely American way. Held just blocks away from the White House, it’s attended every year by a who’s who of government officials, including the president.
You may be interested to know that it started out as something quite different. Its precursor was a weekly prayer group in the 1930s in the “other Washington” (where I live) for Seattle leaders and businessmen, and its intent was to address poverty and other social ills by focusing on Jesus. The founder, a Norwegian immigrant and minister named Abraham Vereide, subsequently moved to our nation’s capital where he organized similar prayer groups for members of Congress. Once President Eisenhower joined in 1953, it took off as a high-profile annual event.
It’s in the spirit of the original prayer breakfast that I recommend praying for our country — its leaders, churches, and people — to powerfully reflect God’s love for everyone, especially the poor and forgotten.
Pray for our leaders
Many of our elected officials profess faith in God, so we can pray that their decisions reflect God’s character. We know from hundreds of Bible passages that God has a special concern for the widows, orphans, strangers, and the poor — and that he is a God of justice and truth. In Micah 6:8, God’s expectations are clear: “The Lord God has told us what is right and what he demands: ‘See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God’” (CEV).
With great burdens on our leaders’ shoulders and many human interests competing for their favor, I pray that they are ultimately guided by God’s concern for justice, mercy, humility, and obedience.
Pray for Americans
The same attributes we desire to see in our leaders should be those we embody ourselves. And the kind of country we want America to be flows out of the kind of people we are. If we believe in the values engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty — compassion, altruism, and hospitality to strangers — our lives will reflect this, and “we the people” will elect fair and just leaders to carry those values into our statehouses and Capitol Hill.
I pray for clarity for God’s people in America, because it’s all too easy to get caught up in politics and culture wars. But Jesus commanded us simply to love God with our hearts, souls, and minds and love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). If all of our actions flow from loving God and loving our neighbors, we will be people who change our communities, our country, and our world.
Pray for our churches
The Church’s special mission to influence the world for Christ is needed now more than ever in America. The message of Jesus’ love and forgiveness for all people is a compelling answer to violence, injustice, and all forms of human hopelessness.
But many church leaders are burdened by the pressures of being both a shepherd of the flock and a director of an organization with budgets, staff, and programs. Pastors often struggle to lead with a Matthew 25 narrative of love and compassion toward our neighbors in need. Our prayers can bolster them to be boldly engaged in the greatest biblical justice issues of our day, speaking up for those who are suffering, here at home or around the world.
Imagine the impact if all 350,000 churches in America unite as radical ambassadors for Jesus’ love! Let us pray the words of Philippians 1:27-28, that church leaders would “stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.”
Pray for our children
Our nation’s future depends on God raising up leaders among today’s children. We can pray for the critical ways God’s love shapes boys and girls into people of faith, justice, and compassion.
In Matthew 19:14, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” This verse alone is a good basis for our prayers: that our children draw ever closer to God, unhindered by societal pressures and the divisions they see among adults, and that they treasure their citizenship in the kingdom of heaven while they participate in the building of God’s kingdom here on earth.
Prayer is a powerful force, and we must pray more diligently than simply asking God to bless America. But in the words of an African proverb I love, “When you pray, move to your feet” — let’s also act. What can each of us do to live out our faith so that American Christians astound the watching world and make Jesus’ love irresistible to all?
World Vision U.S. President Rich Stearns is the author of The Hole In Our Gospel and Unfinished. Follow him at twitter.com/richstearns.