An Independence Day Prayer

By Matt Sapp

As we pause to celebrate our country this week, I am grateful for the unique promise of liberty granted to Americans and for those who have dedicated their lives to upholding it over the centuries.

But I’m also struck this year by the work required of each generation to nurture and protect the Christian values and common bonds that give meaning to our freedom. One of the ways we do that is through the language that we use.

The way we talk about and to one another can either strengthen our common bonds or fray them, and I’m worried that the tenor of our national discourse is too often doing the latter right now as political differences and partisanship bury the fruits of the spirit under a mountain of divisive rhetoric.

So I want to suggest a prayer that asks Christians to lead the way in bringing Christian values—things like love, gentleness and self-control—back into our public discourse as we celebrate 242 years of liberty.

I hope you’ll join me in this prayer:

AS A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

God of our common faith and ruler of the nations,

As we pause for the Fourth of July, we are grateful for our country, for the place you’ve given us in it, and for your presence among us. We pray that you would guide us as Christians to seek the best interests of our nation with the benefit of your blessing—and to engage our work as citizens in a way that acknowledges that you are God and Father of us all.

As Christians in America, we pray hopefully for a future of peace and shared prosperity consistent with the dawning reality of your kingdom here on earth.

As Christians in America, we pray collectively that we would use our words in ways that promote your values, and we repent of the words that we have used in error.

As Christians in America, we pray that you will guide us to act collectively in ways that inspire unity as we make intentional efforts to heal the divisions among us.

As Christians in America, we pray that you will use us to take the lead in building good will and common purpose among Americans of all political stripes; among rich and poor, male and female, young and old, rural and urban, immigrants and native-born; and among people of every race and from every nation.

All of this can be summed up very simply: God, Bless America, and use the shared efforts of Christians to do it.

AS INDIVIDUAL FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST

God who reigns in me,

As a dutiful citizen of my country and a faithful disciple in your kingdom, I pray that you will lead me to be generous and forgiving as you are generous and forgiving—especially toward those with whom I disagree.

As a dutiful citizen and faithful disciple, I pray each day that my words and actions will serve to calm rather than inflame the fears of those around me.

As a dutiful citizen and faithful disciple, I pray that you will help me to be the kind of person who inspires the best in others rather than someone who seeks to exploit the worst in them.

As a dutiful citizen and faithful disciple, I pray that you will bless me with the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do it; with the humility to admit wrongs and the dignity to seek forgiveness; and with compassion for those who struggle and a genuine concern for the least among us.

All of this can be summed up very simply: God, Bless America, and use me as your instrument to do it,

AMEN.

As we pause to honor our country next week, I’m praying that God’s love would be reflected in the way that Christians engage their work as citizens—and that Christians would take the lead in welcoming charity back into our common discourse.

God is alive and present in our world and in our nation, and we have the privilege of nurturing and protecting the values that God has entrusted to our care for this generation.

With humble gratitude for the blessings of liberty and the means through which to preserve it, we remember that the future ultimately isn’t ours to fight over. The future, like the present, belongs to God. And it’s already been decided.

Happy Fourth of July.

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The God of Terrors, and other nightmares

By Joe LaGuardia

The Bible says that God is love, but it also says that God is terrifying.  In a recent study on covenants of the Bible, my congregation and I read Genesis 15 as a refresher on the promises God gave to Abram.  The covenant ceremony which God initiated states:

“As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him” (Gen. 15:12).

We think that the promises of God are beautiful, that the land and offspring set aside for Abram was bountiful and blessed.  We forget that the promise was just as much a nightmare as it was an inheritance whereby God assured Abram that the Lord would be a “shield” of protection (v. 1).  Protection against what?

At the time, Abram was well on in years.  He doubted God’s promise of offspring because his wife Sarai remained barren.

“I remain childless…you have given me no offspring,” Abram told God.  And the biblical text is sympathetic. Genesis 16 begins, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children.”  Besides, God said that Abram’s offspring was destined for slavery, not for one season, but for several generations–400 years.  What kind of promise is that?

We spend many hours if not days avoiding those things that terrify us.  We spend large amounts of money alluding death and vulnerability.  We encourage one another, as if to exchange favors so that we sustain the illusion that we are not fragile, that life itself is not terrifying.

Perhaps, in all of this bluster, we fail to recognize that it is God who resides in the terror as much as in the celebrations of life.  We do not sleep because we are afraid of the nightmares.  We are afraid that God might answer our prayers and show up.

In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard quoted mystic Jacob Boehme: “The whole Deity has in its innermost or beginning Birth, in the Pith or Kernel, a very tart, terrible sharpness, in which the astringent Quality is very horrible, tart, hard, dark and cold Attraction or Drawing together, like Winter, when there is a fierce, bitter cold Frost, when Water is frozen into Ice, and besides is very intolerable.”

That is the writing of someone who has experienced the presence of God, an intimacy with God and an urgency of one who recognized his own fragility in the face of God.  It is the writing of someone who also knew the hardships of cold winters–a season very much a part of God’s creation as spring or summer.  It is the “know this for certain” of God (Gen. 15:13), a conviction that not every calling or anointing or divine intervention is set to the music of Chris Tomlin or Cheers.

Boehme’s reflection is not words crated to talk about divine experience, but crafted to describe the experience itself, in its most honest poetic horror.

If God is not terrifying, then why avoid God as much as we do?  Why not pray more or kneel more or intercede more?  Why not listen more or dig deeply into God’s Word beyond the mere parts we enjoy reading, the ones that make us feel good or reinforce our preconceived notions of who we think God ought to be?

Perhaps it is because God is a God of nightmares as much as visions and dreams, that God is in the darkness as much as God is the “Light of the world.”

God is the “smoking fire pot and a flaming torch” that passes in night, threatening to scorch those who get too close or wander carelessly into Presence with too much hubris.  It threatens to consume anyone who yearns to domesticate that Fire and wield it to do her bidding.

It is easier to look at what we long for — our longings are safer than God.  We find the Hagar in our household who can bear the offspring promised to us.  We pass each other off as invaluable pawns to the powers and Pharaohs that exploit us.  We laugh when God returns to us yet again, even when we pass on God’s promises to us.  We are too old to birth something new, to raise a child.  We are too frightened to tell the truth that the one we claim as sister to Pharaoh is in fact our wife destined for something greater than settling on the shores of the Nile.

We want to be left alone, but God does not leave us alone.  God does not seem to have it or want it that way.  So God visits again, and deep darkness settles upon the earth.

 

The Power of Intercession and Prayer

By Joe LaGuardia

Some time ago I was anxious about issues related to church.  There were things on my mind that I had no control over, things that should not have worried me but did.  I was driving myself crazy, my wife crazy, and distracting my kids from family time.

It did not take long before the Holy Spirit woke me up early one morning.  There are few times I wake up earlier than 5:00 AM, and when the Holy Spirit wakes me up that early, I know I need to listen!  That kind of movement is qualitatively different, and there washes over me a particular–indescribable, really–spiritual manifestation that captures my attention and heart.

In that moment I dumped (for lack of a better word) everything before God.  It was a combination of robust prayer–of boldness, so to speak–and honesty.  I said in my spirit, “God, you handle this!  This is your church, your ministry.  My life is yours, and you’ve called me to this.  You deal with this.”

A few minutes later I fell back to sleep in a posture of rest and peace that I had not felt in a long time.

This event reminded me of the power of intercessory prayer.  It is a type of prayer we see in Isaiah 37, when one of God’s children had more than he can handle, and he needed to hand it over to God.

Isaiah 36 and 37 are chapters that come from a time when the Assyrian nation threatened the existence of Judah.  Assyria had conquered most of the Middle East; Israel and Egypt were next.  The Assyrian king, Sennacherib, threatened Judah’s King Hezekiah with a royal letter: “You know perfectly well what the kings of Assyria have done wherever they have gone.  They have completely destroyed everyone who stood in their way!”

Sennacherib went on to say that the gods of other nations did not come to the rescue, why should Hezekiah expect the God of Israel to be any different?

Upon receiving this letter, Hezekiah became anxious.  The threat against his nation was very real, and the Assyrians had threatened him personally!  But instead of running around wondering what to do, Hezekiah’s sought the Lord.  Scripture says that Hezekiah went to the Temple, spread the letter before the Lord, and interceded on behalf of the nation.

As a result, the Lord responded: “Because you prayed about King Sennacherib of Assyria, the Lord has spoken this word against him.”  God affirmed that Assyria was a mere pawn in a larger drama of salvation and that God would protect Israel.

We Christians must be mindful of the power of intercessory prayer.  We must spread our own letters of anxiety before the Lord and remember that the Lord promises to take care of us.  We need to rest assured that the Holy Spirit will pray with us just as much as the Spirit captures our hearts, and gives us boldness to bring everything before Him.

In a devotional based on Isaiah 37, F. B. Meyer states, “Let us more habitually hand over our anxieties and cares to God.  God calls us to enter his rest…to place Himself and his care between us and all that would hurt or annoy.”

Intercede on behalf of those loved ones in your life.  Affirm and ask God to protect you and keep you.  In all things, surrender unto God and trust that the Holy Spirit will bring a peace that surpasses understanding.  There is power in prayer and in intercession.

Lord, hear our prayers!