(Blogger’s note: Sorry I haven’t posted in a few days, but I’m just getting over a little intestinal blockage. If you want to hear about that, I’ll fill you in, but otherwise, let’s just move on …)
Sometimes, something will come across my computer screen that makes me wonder if the best thing that could happen to the American church would be a really extensive persecution. Not because I hate the church, because I don’t – after all, I’m part of the church, and so are the Supermodel and my kids and most of my friends. Not because I enjoy suffering, either. It’s because I believe something needs to happen to shake us as a unit out of our current obsessions and get us back to focusing on Father God and Christ and the Holy Spirit. Too much of our time, as a body, seems to be spent with the focus on the world and the world’s way of doing things, and not on who God is and His ways. If it takes going back to the arenas to get us to put God first, well, bring on the lions. Better to be devoured now and live in comfort in eternity than the other way around.
Okay, you may be asking, what prompted THAT?!? Well, something came across my computer screen …
Specifically, it was an e-mail from a group called The Presidential Prayer Team. PPT is a non-profit organization founded shortly after the 9/11 attacks to encourage and promote the Apostle Paul’s admonishment to one of his protégés that we should pray “for kings and all those who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2). For the last eight years, they’ve been working that mandate – sending out weekly e-mails listing specific government officers to pray for, helping to co-ordinate the National Day of Prayer gatherings each May, and generally stressing the importance of intercessory prayer for political figures, specifically in the administrative branch of the U.S. Government. The organization is not part of the federal government – it’s an independent group funded by private donations. Their work, which began during the first term of George W. Bush (a darling of evangelical conservatives), now continues into that of the more liberal Barack Obama.
Now, PPT has always struck me as a pretty solid organization. After all, prayer is supposed to be a major part of the life of any Christian, and Paul’s words to Timothy couldn’t be clearer. Especially when you consider that the “king” ruling when Paul wrote that was the Roman emperor Nero (who, frankly, could’ve used all the prayers one could offer for his soul!). I don’t mind saying that – when I remember to do so, which probably should be more often than it is – I pray for Barack Obama, just as I prayed for Dubya before him and Bill Clinton before him. PPT’s membership may (okay, does) lean heavily to the Republican side of the aisle, and their fundraising methods (mostly selling kitschy little knickknacks) don’t appeal to me, but nobody’s perfect. If their agenda is to promote obeying the Bible and seeking God, I always said, “hey, bring it on, brothers!”
Until last month, when I found myself questioning whether that was, in fact, their agenda.
The e-mail from PPT came on April 24, as part of the run-up to the National Day of Prayer events to be held May 7. The following is part of the text of that e-mail – nothing, including the formatting, has been changed:
Every time we pray together as members of The Presidential Prayer Team, the Lord Jesus Christ does something absolutely incredible. Know what it is?
He intercedes to the Heavenly Father – on our behalf – bringing our requests to Him. And as long-time PPT member Barbara Brown so accurately told me recently, “Only through our prayers can we effectively influence the decisions President Obama makes…for God is our Supreme Lobbyist.”
Do you see the problem here?
Now, the first sentence is fine. After all, prayer is supposed to be talking to Jesus, and Jesus is known for doing some pretty incredible stuff — healing the sick, stopping storms, rising from the dead – so that’s no shock. The second is more or less a paraphrase of the second half of Hebrews 7:25, so that’s not an issue either. It’s that third sentence …
And as long-time PPT member Barbara Brown so accurately told me recently, “Only through our prayers can we effectively influence the decisions President Obama makes…for God is our Supreme Lobbyist.”
To quote rapper Pigeon John, “waitwaitwaitwait, wait!” God is our what?!?
I took the time to look up the word “lobbyist” in the dictionary. The main one we have here at Chez Anselmo (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate) doesn’t define “lobbyist,” but it does define “lobby”:
vi (1837) to conduct activities aimed at influencing public officials and esp. members of a legislative body on legislation. ~ vt 1 : to promote (as a project) or secure the passage of (as legislation) by influencing public officials. 2 : to attempt to influence or sway (as a public official) toward a desired action.
A “lobbyist,” then, would be someone who does the above actions.
So suddenly, instead of us praying for our leaders because God wills it and so that “we may life peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:3), instead of doing it because it will please our Lord and the Ruler of the earth … we’re now praying to get God to “effectively influence the decisions President Obama makes”? We’re doing it so that God will “promote” projects and “secure the passage” of legislation? That is suddenly the focus of coming before the throne of Almighty God in prayer – not to know Him or do His will, but to cajole him into changing Obama’s mind so that he’ll back our legislative agenda? When did we make that hairpin turn?!?
It would be tempting to go from this point into yet another sermonette on how so much of the American has abandoned the will and power of God and are trying to change the world using political muscle. Tempting, but I’m not going to do it. (Today.) I think there’s a bigger issue that needs to be addressed.
Because when you refer to God as “our Supreme Lobbyist,” something is clearly implied. Let me use an example. Pretend you are a lobbyist for some big corporation – let’s say … Microsoft. (Took me a minute to think of a corporation that isn’t going into bankruptcy or something.) Microsoft sends you to Washington, D.C. to encourage people in Congress and the Obama administration to pass laws that will be good for Microsoft’s bottom line – maybe putting more PCs (running Windows, naturally) in public schools, or loosening antitrust laws (allowing Microsoft to buy out more competitors) – and vote down ones that won’t. You spend months there at a time, talking to folks in Cabinet departments, wining and dining key congressional committee members, maybe promising a few donations to re-election campaign coffers.
Now … who decides what you’re going to do as a Microsoft lobbyist? Who signs your paychecks? Who sets your agenda? Who tells you which bills to support and which to oppose? Do you decide on your own, with only your conscience to guide you? Don’t be silly – Microsoft makes those decisions! Bill Gates (or whoever he designates) pays you and tells you what to do, who to cultivate, who to threaten, what laws they want and don’t want passed. You are Microsoft’s lobbyist, not your own – you work for them!
So if we state that God is our lobbyist, Supreme or otherwise, what we are saying is that we are in charge, that we tell God what to do, that He works for us. Which would be ridiculous in the extreme – the Creator of the universe as our errand boy?!? – were it not for the fact that in much of the American church today, that is exactly how we operate.
If you’ve been to a prayer meeting in an evangelical or Pentecostal church in the U.S. (I can’t vouch for elsewhere) in the last twenty years, you’ve seen this. People will spend an hour asking or telling God to do this, that or the other, often without a moment taken to find out what God thinks should happen. Most congregational services are built around an order of service that is rigidly held to, leaving little opportunity for God to interrupt. The “prosperity” movement, aka the “blab-it-and-grab-it” crowd, have taken this even a step further, stating that it is God’s job to make you economically prosperous and physically healthy (usually no matter how you blow your money or your waistline). The focus is on me first, and God when He benefits me.
And it’s not just in the Sunday service, either. Too often, we live our 24/7 lives that way – thinking first (and often second) of what’s in it for ourselves, and then tossing God some leftovers … when we feel like it … if we don’t have anything else we’d rather do. We are busy “looking out for #1” – and in our minds, consciously or not, WE are #1. And God? Oh, He’s that guy we send out to lobby for us. He’s on the payroll, right after the gardener … that is, if we aren’t expecting Him to work for us for free.
But while Jesus came to serve, He is not our slave. We are His possession, and our lives are supposed to be lived according to His agenda, not Him living according to ours. We are to be conformed to His likeness, not Him to our image. We are to follow Him, just as He told His disciples to, not have Him follow us. He is Lord – and I think we’ve lost the meaning of that word completely if we expect Him to push our legislative slate through the Senate. He may push it through … but only if it is His desire to do so. Not because we’ve made it a priority.
Jesus’ own half-brother put it well when he said, in James 4:3-6 (referencing Proverbs 3:34):
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
The point of asking, of prayer – even prayer for our leaders – is not to get what we want for our own selfish reasons. It is to open ourselves up to what God wants to do in us and in the world. He is in charge, not us. He knows what’s best for us, and for Barack Obama, for that matter. We are not to order Him around; we are to receive His orders, and then follow Him. He is not our lobbyist.
I know, that’s humbling … but then, being humble before God is part of the point, now isn’t it?