Discipleship and Politics #1: Living in a political world with a radical trust and authority.

Christians should approach politics with a radical strategy. This strategy is so obvious that it’s like the boy in his kindergarten Sunday School class. When the teacher held up a picture of a squirrel and asked the child what it was, the boy replied, “I think it’s a squirrel but I’m going to say ‘Jesus!’” Sometimes our “spiritual” statements are at odds with reality. You might place the strategy I’m proposing in this category.

This radical strategy could be written off as simply a pious platitude, a religious sentiment disconnected from real life. What is radical stragtegy? It is prayer! To put this strategy in perspective let me paint a background of realism. The early church grew up under an occupied force. Rome controlled Israel and Jerusalem. Signs of Roman power were everywhere. The early church took root under the leadership of the Emperor Nero, the immoral ruler who institutionalized the persecution of the early church. How did the Apostle Paul encourage the church to engage in this political arena? He exhorted them to pray (1 Timothy 2:1-2):

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers . . . be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions.

The phrase “first of all” speaks to that which is of greatest importance. The church’s priority list should have prayer for government leaders as one of its top priorities (this would include the immoral Nero). I must confess, I seldom obey this command. At this moment, I do not have a page in my prayer journal for government leaders. If I did, I would probably only list those I like or I agree with. The Apostle won’t let me squirm out of this. I’m to pray for those I don’t like or agree with, even for those who persecute me (Matthew 5:5)!

Why is prayer such a radical strategy? Prayer is an exercise of trust and authority. Do I trust in the political process or in the God who stands behind the process? Prayer speaks to authority. When I pray, I recognize the authority of our Lord and not the transient authority of political rulers. Rome is no longer a dominant force and Nero’s name lives in infamy. However, Christ’s church continues to grow!

Ok, I’m to pray for my leaders. What should occupy my prayer requests?

. . . that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

The words for “peaceful” and “quiet” speak to two different kinds of peace. The first is personal peace, God’s peace ruling in our hearts (Philippians 4:6,7). The second peace or “quiet” speaks to public peace, the peace that comes from an absence of war, threats, famine, etc.

In Paul’s instructions, note the word “lead.” To “lead” a particular kind of life implies having the freedom to make choices. If I can’t choose then I can’t “lead” a certain kind of life. We pray for the freedom to live godly lives. “Being godly” speaks to our ability to fulfill our duty to God. In other words, we should be free to live in such a way that we can fulfill our duty to God. This duty is “dignified” or “beautiful.” Prayer is the radical strategy to secure the freedom to live out our faith. When we’re free to live out our duty to God the surrounding community will be blessed and changed.

Let’s skip down a few verses in 1 Timothy 2 and consider how we should pray:

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling . . . (1 Timothy 2:8).

How should they pray? First, we pray lifting “holy hands.” This is a sign of surrender and worship to the Lord. Second, we pray without anger or quarreling. It’s amazing how prayer dissipates anger. When I pray for the people I disagree with or who are my adversaries, my anger, bitterness, and quarreling dissolves as I gain God’s perspective.

What can we teach disciples in current political climate? We do not disciple men and women to embrace our political positions or preferences. Instead, we teach them the radical strategy of prayer, exercising a re-thinking of trust and authority. We model praying for our political leaders, not only for those we like but for those we may disagree with. We pray for personal and public peace. We ask God to give us the freedom to exercise our faith, living out our duty to God so that the community around us is blessed. We pray out of submission to the Father and we pray for peace and not arguments. Prayer is more than a nice sentiment but is a radical strategy for change. Disciples are people who pray.

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