Post-Election Perspective from Proverbs

wf_logoThere is no doubt that our elections have become more contentious in recent years. We have seen and heard extreme reactions to both victories and losses. I just finished listening to Hillary Clinton’s recent book, What Happened, which gives her perspective on the current state of American politics and why she lost her presidential bid in 2016. She highlights a number of trends that we can all agree upon regarding politics: the parties are less likely to work together, many candidates appear to be more extreme in their positions, and the electorate is reacting more strongly to those candidates.

At the same time, we have to remember that the current state of politics is really nothing new. We may have enjoyed a relatively calm period of political engagement and goodwill in the years following World War II, but the current state of affairs is very similar to the partisan politics immediately after George Washington’s presidency.

How should Christians respond in these politically divisive days? I think we can gain some perspective from the book of Proverbs to help us walk through these times.

  1. Remember that God is sovereign over our elected officials. Sometimes we are tempted to lose perspective when an election doesn’t go our way. If you vote in enough elections, your chosen candidate is going to lose. I had some friends and acquaintances who won their elections last night and some who lost. I sent a congratulatory text to a friend who won his election, and his response demonstrated a godly perspective. He said, “These nights always challenge whether my belief in a sovereign God is absolute. But no doubt He is, and I am grateful He has allowed us to serve….” We often focus on the human side of the election, but we need to remember that God is sovereign. In Proverbs 21:1 we read, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” We may vote for our preferred candidates, but God still controls the hearts of our leaders. They are like streams in his hand. Whenever he wants to redirect them, he simply moves his hand.
  2. Do not gloat over the loss of your opponents. As I drove through my neighborhood this morning, I passed by a property that has dozens of signs in the yard. I don’t always agree with the approach of this property owner, but I often vote for some of the candidates that are promoted by his signs. This morning there was a new sign with a picture of Beto O’Rourke, who lost a close election to Senator Ted Cruz. Printed on the sign was a message mocking O’Rourke and those who voted for him. This sign is an example of gloating over the defeat of a political opponent. I don’t believe Senator Cruz authorized such a sign, but the attitude of the property owner appeared to be on full display. This sign communicates the intent to revel in someone else’s loss. That is not a biblical perspective. Proverbs 24:17 tells us, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” Whether the enemy is a political opponent or a military threat, we are not to rejoice in his defeat. From a political perspective, we still need to work together with those on the other side of the aisle to accomplish good for our communities, states, and nation.
  3. Pray for wisdom for our government officials. Whether our candidates won or lost, we need to pray that our governing officials have godly wisdom to rule righteously. We never know how God might choose to use a particular elected official, but we know he is honored when that official governs with wisdom. Proverbs 8:12-16 state, “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate. Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine. By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly.” These verses describe several characteristics we desire in our government officials—prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, and justice. And they all flow from wisdom. Let us pray for those who were elected yesterday to have godly wisdom so that they can judge rightly.

No matter where you fall along the political spectrum, I hope you can see that these proverbs give us some perspective for thinking through the results of the election.

A Prayer for Our Nation

May 3 is the National Day of Prayer. This is a moment for us to stop and ask for God’s guidance for those who lead our nation. This is not a time to hash out political disagreements; rather, it is an opportunity to unite around the biblical admonition to pray for those in leadership over us. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, we read, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”

The theme of this year’s National Day of Prayer is “Unity.” There is no doubt that we live in a nation that is divided. We are divided over politics, race, economics, etc. We often look to our leaders to solve these problems, but they persist. As an encouragement, here are a few ways we can pray for our leaders as they face the challenges of governing this diverse nation.

  1. Pray for their hearts. Most of us probably do not know the spiritual status of our government officials. There are certainly outspoken Christians in office, but there are also those who do not know God. It will do us good to move our focus away from political disagreements and unite in praying for the hearts of our leaders. In Psalm 2:10-11 we read, “Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling.” We see this warning from the psalmist that kings and judges should worship the Lord. We need to pray that God would draw the hearts of our government officials to himself, and that their lives would be an expression of worship.
  2. Give thanks to God for our government officials. It is often hard to give thanks for people with whom we disagree. As noted above, Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Specifically, he tells us to give thanksgiving for those who rule over us. They have been placed in offices of authority, and God has ordained government authority (Romans 13:1). As we give thanks to God for our leaders, we should also live as good citizens. The result of this combination is that we would be able to lead peaceful lives.
  3. Pray for peace and welfare. There is no doubt that their days in exile were the lowest point for the people of Judah. In the midst of that exile, Jeremiah sent the exiles a letter with an interesting statement from the Lord. He wrote, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). The Lord instructed the exiles to seek the welfare of the land of their exile because it would result in their own welfare. We should also pray for the welfare of our nation under the leadership of our government officials because it will result in our own welfare.

These points of prayer are not a magic formula to bring about unity to a divided nation, but they will refocus our own hearts to recognize the part we can play in bringing unity to the nation in which we live. True unity can only be found in Christ; therefore, it is also imperative for us to proclaim the truth of the gospel to a lost and dying world.

Would you join me in praying for our nation, particularly our government officials, on this National Day of Prayer?

Dear Father, I come to you today, on the National Day of Prayer in my country, to pray for our leaders as you have instructed us. First, I pray for a submissive spirit on my own part to those you have placed in authority. May I be a good citizen of my country who submits to the ordinances of government in keeping with the ordinances of God. May I honor those to whom honor is due. Second, I pray for the hearts of our government officials. I do not know their spiritual condition, but I ask you to draw them to yourself. For those who do not know you personally, I pray for their salvation and that they would worship you in spirit and in truth. Third, I give you thanks for the leaders of our country, states, and cities. You have granted authority to our government, and these are the leaders you have ordained for this time. Finally, may their leadership result in the peace and welfare of our nation so that we may also find welfare and live tranquilly in godliness and dignity. Lord, thank you for hearing my prayer, and help me to bring these leaders before you in prayer regularly. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Taming the Tongue: Parents and Youth Sports

L SoccerHer soccer coach calls her “Big Foot.” She’s probably the smallest player on the team, but don’t tell her. Our youngest daughter has made it her goal in life to ignore her own size and play like the big kids (a.k.a. her older siblings). As a result, she has a “go big or go home” attitude on the field. On a few occasions that has resulted in scoring as many as six goals in a single game. It has also led to at least a couple confrontations on the field from opposing coaches for her unorthodox tactics (hey, the ref never blew a whistle). But most of all, it displays a zeal for the game and pure joy in doing what she loves.

With kids’ sports, especially when they are young, problems don’t generally come from the kids. Sure there might be a foul here or a trip there, but the little ones are in it for the fun. The problems are usually generated by parents, and I have been part of the problem.

In a move to curb some of the problems created by parents at soccer games, the South Carolina Youth Soccer Association is calling for a “Silent September” this fall. CNN reports:

Heckling referees is practically a tradition in any sport, but South Carolina youth soccer officials feel it’s gone too far. Come September, they’re instituting a new rule: “No cheering, no jeering.” Overeager parents will get two warnings. If they don’t pipe down the third time, they’ll be kicked out. The state’s Youth Soccer Association is calling this code of conduct “Silent September.” And it’s cracking down after problems with parents who are verbally, and even physically, aggressive toward referees—some of whom are still kids themselves.[1]

As we signed up a couple of our children for fall soccer over the weekend, I was hit with a twinge of conviction. How do I conduct myself at the games? I am admittedly a very competitive person whose days of playing sports at any level are basically over. I love watching my children play, but I have raised my voice in criticism of officials far too many times. I have thrown my hands up in the air as if the integrity of the game was at risk due to one inconsequential call. I have even tried to shout instructions to my kids from the stands when I am not the coach.

With this next season of sports coming quickly, I want to redouble my efforts to be a supportive, positive parent at the games. Thankfully the Bible has much to say about the use of our tongues—if only we will take it to heart. These admonitions clearly apply to the way we should conduct ourselves at children’s sporting events.

So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3: 5-10)

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)

I want to be a parent who encourages, edifies, and inspires with my words. I don’t want to be “that parent” at the game who yells at the officials and demands perfection from everyone at a child’s game. These children are not professionals, nor are the officials. May we as parents not ruin the sport by our words.

Before the start of every game, I hope to join King David in his prayer:

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3)

[1] Nancy Coleman, “‘No cheering, no jeering’: South Carolina tells overzealous parents at soccer games to zip it,” CNN.com, 7 July 2017.

An Inauguration Day Prayer

361px-donald_trump_president-elect_portraitToday is Inauguration Day. It is the day that the most powerful country in the world transfers power from one leader to the next. In many respects, this is unique to the American experiment. The outgoing President and the incoming President, who hold starkly different views on policy and governance, stood side-by-side at the front door of the White House this morning in a symbolic gesture of the transfer of power.

While Donald Trump is just the sixth President in my lifetime, he is already the most controversial of them all, and he hasn’t even taken office yet. That being said, we still have a biblical obligation to pray for President Trump. It does not matter if you think he is Solomon or Nebuchadnezzar, Lincoln or Nero. Scripture gives us a mandate to pray for our leaders. Here are a few points to consider:

  1. Submit ourselves to the governing authorities. By most historical accounts, Paul penned his epistle to the church in Rome during the reign of Nero. Nero was no friend of Christians. In fact, he persecuted Christians after falsely accusing them of setting fire to Rome. Yet, Paul still told the believers in Rome “to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1). In light of these instruction, we should start our prayers for the President with an acknowledgement of our own submission to those whom God has placed in authority over us.
  2. Pray for his heart. There have been many conflicting reports regarding Mr. Trump’s spiritual status. At the end of the day, only God knows his heart; therefore, we should pray for his heart that he would be saved (if he is not) and worship God. In Psalm 2:10-11 we read, “Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling.” We see this warning from the psalmist that kings and judges should worship the Lord. We need to pray that God would have the President’s heart, and that his life would be an expression of worship.
  3. Give thanks to God for our President. It is often hard to give thanks for people with whom we disagree. Considering the drastic contrast between Presidents Obama and Trump, it is likely that you either disagree strongly with the outgoing President or the incoming President, or perhaps both. No matter the case, we are instructed to give thanks to God for our leaders. Paul admonished Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We should give thanks to God for Mr. Trump because he is our duly-elected President. He is the leader of our nation, just as the king was in Paul’s day. As we give thanks to God for our leaders, we should also live as good citizens. The result of this combination is that we would be able to lead peaceful lives.
  4. Pray for peace and welfare. There is no doubt that their days in exile were the lowest point for the people of Judah. In the midst of that exile, Jeremiah sent the exiles a letter with an interesting statement from the Lord. He wrote, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). For both President Obama and now President Trump, there have been some who have called for us to pray for their failure. On one hand, there are certainly policies that we hope do not succeed, but overall, we should pray for peace and welfare under their leadership. By most accounts, peace and welfare would be a success. The Lord instructed the exiles to seek the welfare of the land of their exile because it would result in their own welfare. We should also pray for the welfare of our nation under the leadership of our next President.

These points of prayer for our new President can also be applied to any leader. We should also pray for our Congressional representatives, governors, statehouse officials, mayors, city council members, and others. Inauguration Day reminds us of the presidency, but all leaders deserve our prayers. Would you join me in lifting up our President in prayer similar to what is below?

Dear Father, I come to you today, on Inauguration Day in my country, to pray for our leaders as you have instructed us. First, I pray for a submissive spirit on my own part to those you have placed in authority, specifically President Trump. May I be a good citizen of my country who submits to the ordinances of government in keeping with the ordinances of God. May I honor those to whom honor is due. Second, I pray for the heart of Donald Trump. I do not know his spiritual condition, but I ask you to draw him to yourself. If he does not know you personally, then I pray for his salvation and that he would worship you in spirit and in truth. Third, I give you thanks for President Trump and the other leaders of our country, states, and cities. You have granted authority to our government, and these are the leaders you have ordained for this time. Finally, may their leadership result in the peace and welfare of our nation so that we may also find welfare and live tranquilly in godliness and dignity. Lord, thank you for hearing my prayer, and help me to bring these leaders before you in prayer regularly. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Theological Matters: A 9/11 Prayer for Our Nation

national_park_service_9-11_statue_of_liberty_and_wtc_fire

Virtually every generation has one of those moments where they will forever remember what was happening when a tragedy struck. My grandparents’ generation had Pearl Harbor. My parents’ generation had the assassination of JFK. My generation has Sept. 11, 2001.

I will never forget where I was when I heard about the tragedy of airplanes flying into the World Trade Center towers in New York. After finishing a morning class in seminary, I heard rumblings of something terrible going on. I walked to my office at the student center to find out that a plane had struck a building in New York. We quickly set up a television feed in the seating area of the building, and I stood there staring at the screen for the rest of the day. I watched as the buildings crumbled to the ground. I was numb.

In the face of these once-in-a-generation tragedies, Americans have often sought peace in a return to religious roots. Church attendance increases for a period of time. Political leaders invoke the name of God to bring calm to the situation. For a moment, it seems as if the spiritual headway made during the aftermath of tragedy may lead to another Great Awakening.

Now, 15 years after the tragedy that has defined the memories of my generation, the hopes of a new Great Awakening seem a fading dream. The current state of American culture feels more like Babylon than Jerusalem. Christians may identify more with exile than with home at this point. What should Christians do on this anniversary of 9/11? How should we feel about the state of America today?

*Read the rest of my post at Theological Matters.

Guest Post: 3 Back-to-School Prayers for Your Children

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

I don’t know where I first heard it, but I have always loved the saying, “Having happy children is good, but a parent’s real job is to mold great adults.” It is with this thought running through my mind that I make my list of prayer requests for my children this school year. Yes, I would love for my children to ace all of their classes, always have someone to sit with at lunch, and received all of the best awards at the end of school. However, would the ease of a typical, great year truly build strong character and emotional endurance? Yes, it would be easy, but muscles are not built by a life of ease. In the same way, my overarching prayer for my children this year is that their spiritual, emotional, and academic muscles will grow stronger and their endurance through instruction and personal relationships will grow deeper and wider. Specifically, these are the three ways I will pray for my children during the 2015-2016 school year.

1. I pray they will grow in their love of God and learn to trust Him more.

My two oldest daughters are believers, and I pray this year they will grow in knowledge of their Savior. I wish this was as easy to measure as their physical growth, but, this year, I will look for opportunities to gauge where they are in their walk with Christ. I pray they see him move in ways they have not experienced before. I know that this cannot always be done with sunny skies and cool breezes. I pray when the hard days come for my children, I can help them turn to Christ for comfort or direction. For my younger children, who are not to the age where they are aware of their need for a Savior, I pray that they will see the Lord more in me. If they are going to be drawn more to Christ, I must be drawn to Christ as well.

2. I pray they will continue to grasp the command of Colossians 3:23, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.”

As they do their math homework, as they do their chores, as they help a sibling, I want them to grow in their understanding of God-focused work. The sin tendency within us automatically gravitates towards laziness, but I pray we will learn to counter-act that tendency with a heart towards working for the Lord in whatever we find ourselves doing. In the same vein, the second part of the verse is equally important. Many tasks are attached to immediate rewards, either personal or social. A child does his school work in hopes of a good grade. She completes chores with the expectation of an allowance. He practices an instrument to impress the instructor. Earthly rewards are not bad for children, and in some instances they help spur them on to work harder. However, the insatiable desire to please their Savior and honor Him with a good work ethic is important over a lifetime. Therefore, my prayer this year is that my children may simply grow in their understanding of what it means to “work as unto the Lord.”

3. I pray my children will have opportunities to learn to love well.

At school, there are many different personalities. Each instructor, each peer will have good days and bad days. I pray that my children will flex their love and compassion muscles to show grace to those around them. Honestly, this does not come easily for all my kids, but to love those around us is a way we can point people to Christ in a very tangible way. There is always a reason to be kind and I pray that this year will bring many opportunities for them to do so.

That We May Lead a Tranquil and Quiet Life

It often seems easy in this political season to get frustrated with our elected leaders. We critique everything they say. We consider the “what-if’s” of change. We get angry at political ads. We may even express frustration to someone during a telephone survey. However, I was reminded this morning of something we need to do regularly for our government leaders–pray.

In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul writes,

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

This was a reminder to me that I can do more than talk about our elected officials–I can pray for them. Here are some ideas for praying for our leaders.

1. Pray for their salvation.
2. Pray for wisdom.
3. Pray that they would seek God’s will.
4. Pray that they would honor God in their decisions.
5. Pray that their decisions would lead to peace and tranquility for those under their authority.

I hope this passage stirs you to prayer as it did me this morning.