I have been reading lots of comments on the changes that President Obama has made regarding this years National Day of Prayer. I have to tell you I am just a bit bewildered that people are getting flat out nasty over something that is intended to be an intimate, worshipful, and uplifting conversation with God. All I can conclude is that most people have no idea what prayer is really about, no idea what government is really about, no idea what being a Christian is really all about, and well, no idea about history either.
Let’s start with the history since a big part of the issue seems to be that the President is not hosting a public event as part of the National Day of Prayer. Instead he is simply signing a proclamation about the day and then praying with his family. That is essentially what ever other president did before him with the exception of President Bush the Younger. Harry Truman signed the first proclamation for the National Day of Prayer but held no special event for it. Even the outspokenly Born Again Jimmy Carter did it that way. For the eight years of the most recent past president there was a White House hosted event of some kind. So why are people vilifying this president for doing exactly what was done by every other president, with the single noted exception? Now don’t get the wrong idea, the guy I voted for is not in the White House. He is back in the Senate representing Arizona. I am not an apologist for President Obama. What I hope I am is someone who is looking at this thing with some wisdom and objectivity. Historically speaking only one president consistently held a prayer event on this day. That hardly sets a pattern that should never be challenged and to go back to the original method for honoring the day is hardly giving in to the Anti-Christ.
As to the question of the role of government followers of Jesus need to be extremely careful. For far too long we have relied on the power and influence of the government to be the salt and light for the faith that we as Christians to often fail to be. If we were doing our job of praying and fasting and exercising the various spiritual disciplines as we should, then there would be no need to rely on the government to model that behavior for us. Besides, to we also expect the government to model spiritual behavior that is important to non-Christian religions? Should not the government of, by, and for, all the people, also then recognize Ramadan the Muslim month of fasting or the Hindu Festival of Lights? Personally I would rather the government no be involved and see if Christians might not start to live the provocative lives we are called to instead of counting on the weight of government to make up for our lack of spiritual dedication.
That then gets to what it means to be a Christian and what prayer is all about. The kinds of angry comments I have read on the web that are directed at the President for not holding a prayer breakfast at the White House serve only to dishonor the name of Jesus and the practice of prayer. How in the world can we be calling on the President to hold a prayer breakfast and do it with the same tongue that vilifies him for not doing so. How can we ourselves go to God in prayer when there is such bitterness in our hearts? The answer is simply that we can’t. We might go through the motions of prayer but I suspect that God is not listening. Why? Because we can not say that we love God whom we have never seen and not love our neighbor who we have. Because we can not bring our offering to God, be it material or spiritual, if we have something against our brother. Jesus said that we should instead leave our offering at the altar and go get right with our brother, then come back and have time with God.
Frankly I think that instead of all the anger and dismay being expressed on the Internet, we would be more in line with what God wants from us if we prayed for the President. We should pray that in his time of prayer that He hears from God. We should pray that God gives him wisdom and strength. We should pray that God helps him to be a man who upholds justice for all people. For God is a God of justice. That is what Christ followers should be concerned about on the the National Day of Prayer.