The Sins of Kings and Princes

You won’t usually hear me saying that the sky is about to fall. Although I may have some prophetic gifting, it’s not usually in the doom-and-gloom category. And I generally don’t get energized over political gossip. But the other day my nation did something that made me righteously mad. We blatantly called evil good and good evil, and we tried to impose that twisted viewpoint on another nation.

I try not to fume about politics (see God’s Hands Are Not Tied, April 30, 2014). But I just could not get this thing off my mind. Still, ranting about it to other people doesn’t help, and stewing in my own juices doesn’t either, so I decided to pray.

At first I didn’t know how to pray. It didn’t seem as if “Make them stop this evil” was the right prayer—the deed had already been done. I didn’t want to pray judgment on them, either. Judgment is God’s department, not mine. I did pray for mercy for the nation affected by this action. But I knew there had to be more.

How do I pray about this, God?

Right away the Holy Spirit brought to mind one of my favorite Old Testament Bible guys, Daniel. Daniel lived in the Babylonian empire under a government that was notorious for making evil decisions. He was part of the nation of Israel that was famous for rebelling against God. But you never find Daniel ranting about bad political decisions or railing against wicked and foolish people. Instead, he prayed. And he not only interceded, he repented for sins he did not personally commit!

Though Daniel was a righteous man—one of the few men and women in the Bible about whom no specific sin is mentioned!—he included himself in his confession. He didn’t repent for “their” sin—he repented for “our” sin. Here’s a portion of his prayer:

Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land. Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame . . .  because of our unfaithfulness to you. We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. (Daniel 9:4-8)

Daniel wasn’t a king or a prince, but he confessed the sins of his kings and princes. So I tried to follow his example. I confessed the sins of my “kings and princes.” Although I have not sinned in the exact way my leaders most recently have, as I interceded and repented on their behalf, I was convicted of my own sins—pride, self-righteousness, apathy, and willful blindness. I am not above my leaders. I am a sinner, too. Like them, I also need God’s forgiveness and mercy.

By the time I was done my anger had melted away—which is good because too easily my “righteous anger” can turn into self-righteous cockiness.  I still felt sad, however. But I think that’s actually okay because that sadness prompts me to pray, in a humbler way than my anger ever could have. And God is more likely to pay attention to a humble prayer than a proud one.

After Daniel prayed his prayer of humble repentance and intercession, God sent an angel to him with an incredible word of encouragement: “Since the first day that you set your mind . . . to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them” (10:12). How I’d love someday to hear God say words like that in response to my prayers!

 

A Prayer for Weaklings

You probably don’t want me to pray for you this week. That’s because God has me interceding in ways that I don’t particular like interceding. Let me explain.

Recently God transplanted some close friends to a new community and radically different culture. The adjustment is challenging to say the least. So I was praying for my friends as I swam my laps at the gym.

Lord, please give them strength, I began. That’s sure what I would want if I were in their place.

Before I could pray anything more, God interrupted. No, child, don’t pray for them to have strength. Ask Me to redeem their weakness and use it for My glory.

Ouch. That’s not really what I wanted to hear. I don’t imagine my friends would want to hear it either. (So I haven’t told them.)

I swam some more and pondered what God had said. Familiar words from 2 Corinthians 12 came to mind: “’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (9-10).

I thought of times in my life when the Lord has seemed closest and His power most tangible. Guess what. Almost without exception, those were not times when I felt capable and in-control—they were times when I have felt most weak.

So I adjusted my prayer. Okay, Lord, then would You please help them to be so keenly aware of their weakness that they throw themselves on You? Because if they do that, I know You will be strong for them and through them. Please use their weakness for Your glory and give them great joy as they see You come through for them.

As the Spirit helped me to pray that prayer, I realized that it’s good prayer to pray for lots of people I care about. Including ones who don’t even admit to feeling weak. I won’t go so far as to ask God to bring insults and calamities into their lives—don’t worry!—but most of us already have enough of those as a result of living in a broken world. What I am asking God to do is to help us not deny, hide, or run from our hardships. When we do that, we might miss an opportunity to experience God’s greatness. My conclusion? If it’s in our weakness that Christ is most strong, then Lord, help me, help us, to be more aware of our neediness, our inability, our vulnerability, our deficits so that we can more firmly depend on You.

If you don’t want me to pray for you after reading this post, I do understand, and I won’t be offended. I still might pray for you—but I just won’t mention it to you!

 

Don’t Worry . . . Pray Scripture!

Have I mentioned before that sometimes I tend to worry my prayers? Here’s what that looks like: I worry about something, so I pray the worry, usually in negative terms: “Lord, please don’t let such-and-such happen.” This seems to be especially true when I pray for people who, from my perspective anyway, might be tempted to make bad choices. By “bad choices,” I mean, of course, “choices-that-I-would-never-make.” I realize that God may actually view this very differently from me!

Anyhow, I sometimes worry my prayers. I was discussing this recently with a spiritual friend. She told me that she used to do the same thing. But the more she prayed the worry, the more discouraged and fearful she became. Then God showed her a different way. He gave her a specific Scripture passage—Psalm 112—to pray for the person she was concerned about. Instead of praying her fears, she prayed the positive, godly qualities mentioned in that psalm. Not only did she worry less, but over time, she saw God doing those very things in the person she interceded for.

So I’m trying it. I pray for a lot of young adults. God has led me to pray for them from 1 Timothy, Paul’s letter to his young adult friend and son in the Lord. This short book has provided me with some wonderful things to pray for the young adults on my prayer list. It has taught me to pray that God would inspire them to

  • hope in Jesus (1:1)
  • discern between truth and lies (1:3)
  • hold onto faith and keep a good conscience (1:19)
  • become intercessors (2:1)
  • earn others’ respect (3:2,8,11)
  • train themselves to become godly (4:7)
  • set an example for other believers—even older ones—in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity (4:12)
  • use and develop their spiritual gifts (4:14)
  • be pure in their relationships (5:2)
  • learn to be content (6:6)
  • pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (6:11)

I’m finding that as I pray these things for the young people I care about, I pretty much cover all the topics I addressed with my old worry-prayers. All my concerns about their choices about relationships, employment and education, lifestyle, and ministry all fall into place. And my heart feels a whole lot more peaceful.

What about you? Has God give you specific Scriptures to pray that help you to worry less and hope more for the people you care about? Would you post a comment so others can be encouraged, too?

Father Convict Them?

The Holy Spirit has a habit of interrupting me. He jumps into my thoughts, my conversations, my activities, and, just the other day, into my Bible reading. I welcome His interruptions because that always means He has something He wants me to notice or something He needs me to do or say (or sometimes not say!). This particular time He wanted to teach me more about intercession. (See also my post from last month: Crisis Intervention.)

I was reading in 2 Chronicles 30 where King Hezekiah of Judah reinstituted the celebration of the Passover after it had been neglected for many years. Besides being serious about worshiping God, it seems to me that Hezekiah was pretty classy. The tribes of Israel had fallen away from the Lord, but Hezekiah didn’t assume they wouldn’t be interested in coming. He didn’t write them off because they’d drifted so far away spiritually. He invited them to the feast anyhow. He hoped that maybe they would return to God and join in the celebration.

And you know what? Some of them actually came! (It makes me wonder how often I’ve failed to reach out to people because I’ve written them off as disinterested or too far gone spiritually.)

Anyhow, people from the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun came for the Passover celebration. But they were sorely out of touch with God’s ways. They hadn’t worshiped Him properly for a very long time. So they showed up without having done the required purification rituals. According to the rules, they were unclean. They really had no business participating in the sacred observance.

None of this seemed to fluster Hezekiah, however. I think Hezekiah understood God’s heart pretty well. Instead of disqualifying the people because they’d failed to follow the law, Hezekiah appealed to God. He counted on His mercy and grace.

Here’s what Hezekiah prayed: “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary” (verses 18-19).

And here’s what God did: “The Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (verse 20).

Hezekiah is my new intercessory hero. He interceded for sinful people. He stood in the gap for them. He acknowledged their sin, but then he asked God to forgive and accept them.

Hezekiah’s example challenges me. Frankly, I am more likely to ask God to convict people of their sin than I am to ask Him to pardon them. Hezekiah showed me another side to the coin. What sinners need—myself included, of course!—is God’s forgiveness. His mercy and pardon change us.

Besides, isn’t this how Jesus prayed? If anyone had reason to be praying for God to convict sinners, it was Jesus when He was dying on the cross. But that’s not what Jesus prayed. Jesus was the ultimate Intercessor. He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

I still think it’s good to ask God to call people to repentance, if repentance is what they need. There’s biblical precedent for that as well. But hearing Hezekiah’s prayer was good for me. I want to intercede for mercy at least as often as I call out for conviction. What about you?