As I stare at the elections which will be upon us in less than 24 hours, I have a few things on my heart. Mainly, right now, I’m thinking about how we are posturing our hearts towards this.
Christians, when we’re praying for the church, we aren’t praying for them; we’re praying for us.
American Christians, when we’re praying for this nation, we aren’t praying for them; we’re praying for us.
Today I heard a phrase from a wonderful, solid believer who was repenting before God “on behalf of those in the church who value their finances over justice.” I completely understand what this person meant by this; if your pocketbook is doing the voting for you, that’s a serious problem. However, as I heard these words, I was immediately struck with the thought: this is all of us.
How many times have I heard about a grevious injustice and not cared? Or how many times have I cared a little, only to turn around and then spend my resources on something frivolous that is purely for my comfort? How many times have I made excuses not to rend my heart over an issue because it’s too big, or too far away from my personal experience, or not my fault, or “Well, we live in the world, what did you expect?” How much of my money has gone into lattes when it could have been going towards the furtherance of the Gospel?
I thought of Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, who were accusing a clearly sinful woman: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). Jesus didn’t ask for who in the crowd had less sin, or milder sin. He asked who was without it. The Pharisees saw the group as “us and her”, but Jesus’ evaluation was that all present were pretty much in the same boat. The Pharisees might have had a whole lot more outward self-restraint than this lady had, but Matthew 5 indicts them of adultery if they had ever had an impure thought towards a woman. So with me. Sure, dropping too much money on luxuries which dull my heart is not as severe as going neutral about the lives of unborn children. But can people who are up to their necks in bad motives really point fingers at someone who is up to their ears in it? Can I freak out at other believers for participating in the spirit of this age, when I have not fully disentangled myself from it?
Now, what I heard today was not “stone-throwing” at all. But we are so prone to that stone-throwing mindset — a manner of thinking that assumes moral superiority over people we recognize to be in sin. We may not say or think of it in those terms. But when our language turns to “us”, the righteous, the upstanding, dutifully praying for “them”, the deceived and sinful, chances are that we’ve distanced ourselves from the people we’re praying for. We’re more righteous than them, so obviously the problem is theirs and we come away clean.
Yet that is not the heart of an intercessor.
The prophet Daniel was one of the most righteous people who ever lived. Yet when he was crying out to the Lord for his nation, he didn’t pray in repentance on behalf of all those wicked folks in Israel. This is what he said (abbreviated and emphasized — it’s kind of long but well worth reading):
And I prayed to the LORD my God, and made confession, and said, “…we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings and our princes, to our fathers and all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face, as it is this day–to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those near and those far off in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of the unfaithfulness which they have committed against You. O Lord, to us belongs shame of face, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him. We have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His laws, which He set before us by His servants the prophets. …As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us; yet we have not made our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities and understand Your truth…
…[W]e have sinned, we have done wickedly! O Lord, according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people are a reproach to all those around us… (Dan 9:1-19, NKJV)
Daniel only used “they” and “those” in one place. This is the same guy who faced the lions’ den rather than deny his God. This is one of only four Jewish youth who we can be sure spiritually survived the Babylonian indoctrination at their captivity. He stood out among his countrymen in a lot of ways. Yet he didn’t talk about “them”. He spoke about “us”. Daniel saw himself among the ranks of the sinful Hebrew exiles. He saw himself as a man just as in need of mercy as they. If it was true for Daniel, how much more so is it true for me?
This is not to say that we need to chill out about compromise. This is not to say we need to soften our language regarding what is right and wrong or refuse to take a stand on biblical truth. This is to say that we can’t point at “all those bad people out there” who have problems. We really are all in the same boat. We sink or swim together as a people. What touches our nation touches us. What touches the church of God touches us. As we continue to pursue righteousness and grow in holiness, as we continue to resist the spirit of this age and remember that our citizenship is in heaven, we cannot distance ourselves from the ones we are crying out for. We are not in a position to ask God to show “them” mercy. We are in on this too. We need mercy.