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Another National Day of Prayer has come and gone. Wisconsin U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb put a negative spin on the day by ruling that the practice is unconstitutional. She ruled that “the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience. . . . The government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual’s decision whether and when to pray.” She needs a history lesson from the very Founders who drafted the First Amendment and also called for national days of prayer and thanksgiving. In 1789, the same day the wording of the First Amendment had been finalized, Congress called on President Washington to declare a National day of prayer and thanksgiving. The proclamation stated that “it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” John Adams, in his 1798 Proclamation, stated something similar:
[T]he safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God; and the national acknowledgment of this truth is . . . an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him.
Judge Crabb’s ruling was not the only damper on the day. There’s the case of Tony Perkins, President of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, a former member of the Louisiana legislature, and a six-year Marine veteran, who was disinvited from Andrews Air Force Base National Prayer Luncheon. Why? He had criticized President Obama’s desire to overturn the military’s “Don’t ask. Don’t tell” homosexual policy. The Joint Base Andrews Chaplain’s Office released the following statement:
The Joint Base Andrews Chaplain’s Office sponsors a voluntary annual prayer luncheon, focusing this year on deployed personnel, families and prayer. The Chaplain’s Office retracted Mr. Perkins’ invitation after his recent public comments made many who planned to attend the event uncomfortable. This was a local decision made by the Chaplain’s Office who wanted the luncheon to be inclusive for the entire base community. The Chaplain’s Office respects and defends Mr. Perkins’ right to express his opinions, and regrets any inconvenience to him. We thank and respect him for his prior military service.
Can you believe this? The military is about breaking things and killing people, and Perkins was disinvited because his opinions made some people “uncomfortable”? Give me a break!
Not to be undone, Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse was disinvited from appearing at this year’s prayer event at the Pentagon because of comments he made after 9/11 that described radical Islam as evil and dangerous. It is. Graham would have said the same thing if it had been a radical Christian group that had flown jets into the World Trade Center towers in the name of Christianity (see his comments here).
Now here comes the fly in the ointment. James Dobson had Perkins and Graham, as well as Alan Sears of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), on his May 6, 2010 radio show to discuss these anti-Christian measures coming from our government. One thing concerned me. Both Dobson and Graham saw prophetic significance in these events. They were claiming that the return of Jesus must be around the corner. How could it be otherwise? I was thankful that Perkins and Sears did not join in the end-time speculation.
Christians could turn this nation around in less than a year if they had the will to do it. But with big-name evangelicals telling them the end must be near, why bother. The early church had fewer hopeful examples of continued growth with the death of Stephen at the hands of the Jews (Acts 7:54–60) and the death of James the brother of John by the local tyrant Herod (Acts 12:2). At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells Peter that he is going to be martyred (John 21:18–19). The book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest (Acts 28:30). Paul sums up what life was like for him as a disciple of Jesus Christ, a turn-coat Jew, and later as an enemy of the Empire:
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure (2 Cor. 11;22–27).
Then there was the expansive nature of the Roman Empire and the coming persecutions of Christians by Nero. Consider Paul’s words to the young pastor Timothy:
“Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:10–12).
According to Paul, who’s on the losing side? “But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also” (v. 9). If the enemies of the gospel do make progress, it’s because we let them, through indifference, disobedience, and escapism. It doesn’t help that prophecy pundits are claiming eschatological certainty that our generation will see the “rapture” because all the signs point to the supposed (but fictional) glorious event. The church needs to grow up, gain some historical perspective, and study the Bible through its own interpretive lens rather than the lens of the Scofield Reference Bible, Left Behind, or any prophetic system that does not pay attention to the time texts, first audience relevance, context, and the Bible’s own way of making its points. Yes, Paul would die at the hands of the Romans, but notice has Luke ends his book: “And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered” (Acts 28:30–31). Paul wasn’t preaching the any-moment rapture; he was preaching the kingdom of God!
We don’t need the Sate to sanction a National Day of Prayer. Maybe it’s time we break with these types of events. Such a separation will free us to pray for our government officials and against them. The civil magistrate is to be “a minister of God to [us] for good” (Rom. 13:4). When the civil magistrate is not doing this, it is our obligation, in the spirit of Nathan the prophet, to tell him so.