On Jan. 20, 2009, we witnessed a truly monumental event. Barack Obama became the first African-American president of the United States.
Many Christians with prophetic insight have said that racism is one of the root sins of our nation. One does not have to agree with the politics of our new president to realize that the election of Barack Obama provides perhaps the greatest opportunity in our nation’s history for reconciliation and healing. I was in Nigeria the night of our elections in America. (I voted early.) The euphoria and good will toward me in the wake of Obama’s victory, simply because I was from America, was stunning. For those who have eyes to see, the next four years should provide some exceptional opportunities in world missions.
I was heartened by the president’s decision to choose Rick Warren to give the invocation at the Inauguration. With every other evangelical Christian, I was lifted in spirit by Rick’s compassionate and firmly scriptural prayer. Having given the invocation in the U.S. House of Representatives a few years ago, I know something of the challenge and tremendous opportunity such a platform provides. Rick’s prayer was probably the most widely watched and most highly scrutinized prayer in history.
God bless you, Rick, and thank you for compassionately yet courageously invoking the name of Jesus—not once, but four times! Pastor Rick’s declaration of the Name above all names in Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish and English signaled loud and clear that the gospel and its blessings are for everyone, everywhere.
The instincts of every true patriot, no matter our political persuasions, are to rally around the new president. But as Christians, the Bible is clear that we owe him more—much more—than just our best wishes. When it comes to those in authority, scripture indicates we are to do the following:
1) First Timothy 2:1-2 says we are to pray for our leaders. And let’s remember, we are to pray for them, not against them.
2) We are to intercede for our leaders. This means we are to take a stand in their behalf. If the president acts against God or against Scripture, we are to intercede for him, beseeching God to show him mercy and change his mind and heart.
3) Also, we are to make supplications for our leaders. This carries the idea of earnest entreaties. This is not a light assignment and we are not to take it lightly. Our emotions must be involved, even overturned, if we are truly making supplications before God’s throne of grace.
4) Finally—and this is a tough one when we disagree (especially on scriptural grounds) with our leaders—we are to give thanks for our leaders. You can be sure Paul had plenty of fierce disagreements with Caesar and with many Roman authorities. Yet it is also clear that Paul valued his Roman citizenship and used that status for righteous ends.
Paul’s frame of reference was that those early believers in Jesus were to give thanks for their pagan, polytheistic political leaders. Remember, these were the sadists who got their kicks from burning Christians at the stake or feeding them to lions. Yet Paul said to give thanks for them! Surely we can give thanks for our political leaders, most of whom at least have some kind of Judeo-Christian orientation.
Our culture is racing headlong toward secularism. This has created much angst among Bible-believing Christians. The perception many non-Christians have of us (that we have helped to create) is that we are constantly angry and adversarial. If evangelicals are to have any kind of national voice, and if we want a place at the table shaping the colossal issues of our time, we had better re-learn winsomeness and civility.
Peter said as much when he wrote that we are to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15 ESV). And Paul said that when we engage in our leaders’ behalf through intense prayer and sincere thanksgiving, this will produce a peaceable climate that is conducive for evangelism (see 1 Tim. 2:1-4).
God rules in the affairs of people and nations. “Exaltation comes neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south. But God is the Judge: He puts down one, and exalts another” (Ps. 75:6-7). Rick Warren is right that this is a “hinge point of history.” At this crucial time for our nation and world, let’s pray, supplicate, intercede and give thanks for our leaders. We owe it to them.
David Shibley is founding president of Global Advance, a Dallas-based ministry that provides on-site training and resources for some 40,000 developing world church and business leaders each year. His latest book, co-authored with his son, Jonathan, is Marketplace Memos.