On the National Day of Prayer, How Shall We Pray?

Note: This article is taken from an address I gave this morning at a National Day of Prayer service. 

Churches around the country are gathered this morning for a solemn purpose. We are called to pray for the country where our earthly citizenship resides.

Only a fool would say that prayer is unnecessary in days like ours. It seems the country is more divided than ever; divided between political parties, ethnicities, and special interest groups. Now, more than ever, Catholics should continue to pray at home or in the church, using wood rosaries and reading the Bible.

Sadly, it seems that the American church has followed the nation into many of these divisions. Yes, the American church grows ever nearer to breaking apart along those very same political lines. The American church also still confronts the aftermath of her original sin. Generations ago we turned a blind eye to the evils of slavery. As a result, racial division and even animosity remain within the borders of many of our churches today.

Christian special interest groups take aim at one another as we join the fraying political discourse of the United States, often stooping to the level of our unbelieving neighbors rather than calling those neighbors to a higher way, a better way, a Kingdom way.

Yes, division is the modus operandi of many today, both within and without the walls of the church.

So we pray.

We pray for our country. We pray for our church.

But how shall we pray? What is to be the orientation of our prayer?

For this, we turn to our forefather, the Apostle Paul.

In his first letter to Timothy, that young man Paul had charged with shepherding the Ephesian church, Paul says:

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercession, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

These instructions are the foundation of our work here this morning. As we pray for the Unity of the United States of America, and as we pray that the American Church would be the catalyst and model for such Unity, we pray along the guidelines that Paul lays out for us in this letter.

So as we pray, let us keep in mind these three guidelines.

First, we pray as Kingdom-ambassadors.

In our prayers, we must not lose sight of our identity in Christ. We are people whose citizenship is in heaven, emissaries of another King placed in this country for its good and for the expansion of the Kingdom of God. We are Kingdom-ambassadors whose allegiance is to a Greater King and a Heavenly Kingdom.

Paul reminds us of this just a few verses before our passage. He recounts, as he often does, the powerful mercy and grace he received in Jesus Christ at the moment of his salvation. He describes what his former life was and his absolute need for a righteousness not his own.

His memory of that experience provokes him to praise and adoration. He says, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

To the King of the ages. Paul’s King. Our King. The King of the ages.

We pray today, in many ways, as outsiders. Of course, we know this to be true. From the earliest days of our nation until today, from the evils of slavery and the subjugation of women, through resistance to the Civil Rights movement, to abortion and the destruction of the family, the United States and the Church of Christ have never truly been on the same page. The reality is, we have always been outsiders here.

It must be said, we would be outsiders in any nation. For God’s ways are higher than our ways, and it is His Way, The Way named Jesus Christ that we seek.

There are two temptations that we Kingdom-Ambassadors must guard against. The first is to blindly embrace the country that we have been called by God to serve. For some, the United States can do no wrong. It is holy, set apart and pure. There is nothing that the United States has ever done wrong, is doing wrong, or will ever do wrong. Such blind loyalty is not the luxury of the Christian.

But neither is its opposite. For some, when confronted with injustice and American transgressions, lose sight of the ideals that undergird this country, ideals that exemplify the best that humankind has to offer. The right to free speech, the right to assembly, the right to practice our faith. Freedom of the press, and Protections from government overreach and the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Are these not things that Christians can and should celebrate?

And so, brothers and sisters, as Kingdom-Ambassadors, as we seek the Kingdom from Above, let us not turn a blind eye to injustice nor discount the blessings God has given us through this gift of country.

Second, we pray for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

When Jeremiah was sent into exile, he was told by God to “seek the good of the city” where he was taken. So we too seek the good of the United States of America. We Christians should be among the loudest voices promoting the common good in this land.

The motivation for this work, however, is not in the end for the country itself. It is for the good of the Kingdom. Turn again to Paul’s letter.

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercession, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

We pray for our earthly country for the sake of our eternal Kingdom. It is Paul’s desire that we live “peaceful and quiet” lives and that we be “godly and dignified in every way.” We pray that the United States of America would afford us the freedoms to be able to live this out.

Religious liberty is a term that has been turned into a political punching bag by some, a term that has been loaded down by a freight of ideals that may not line up with the Kingdom of God at all.

But the freedom to be able to live peaceful and quiet lives marked by dignity and godliness is central to our prayer today. We pray for the sustained right to be able to live out our faith without fear of persecution or reprobation. May the leaders of the United States, from the White House to the halls of Congress, from the Supreme Court to State Houses and County Legislatures provide the Church with the protection and freedom needed to do the work of God in the ways of God.

But what is this work of God that we are called to?

Finally, we pray for the growth of the Kingdom.

Religious liberty is not an end in and of itself but a means to an end: evangelization. The freedom to live as followers of Jesus Christ is good and pleasing “in the sight of God our Savior,” Paul says, “[because God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

And what is truth? Truth is a person, the one mediator between God and humankind, the man Jesus Christ, God in flesh.

We pray for freedom as Christians that we might proclaim the Gospel to our neighbors and so that they might come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

May we not sit idly by during our time of liberty and freedom. May we not squander the religious freedom we have today. May we instead use it to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, calling neighbors out of their sins and into resurrection life.

For one day such liberty may be no more. And while the Church of Jesus Christ will not fall, our opportunities for evangelism and evangelization may become limited. Let us pray for the United States, then, that it may continue providing avenues for Kingdom growth.

We pray, this morning, for the United States of America, that land to which we have been called as Kingdom-Ambassadors. And while we may pray as outsiders, we pray for the good of this country that we Kingdom-people might live godly and dignified, peaceful and quiet lives. We pray for the people of this country. We pray that they would find salvation in Jesus Christ, for he and he alone is willing and able to save.

And we pray for the Unity of the United States of America. We pray that the dividing walls of hostility that we have erected between one another would be broken down. We pray for Unity that we might seek the common good together, the good of all of our neighbors.

Therefore we pray for the unity of the American Church. For it is the Church that is to be an example of true Unity for the watching world. We are to be the model of Unity that the nation can follow. May we be a catalyst for such Unity. May we be the example of Unity God has called us to be. May the bonds of peace that bind us to Christ also bind us to one another.

Marcos Ortega

Marcos Ortega (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is an Assistant Pastor at Goodwill Church (Evangelical Presbyterian Church) and lives in the Hudson River Valley in New York with his wife and two daughters.

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