What Would You Do, Pastor?
So…it is 9:50am some Sunday morning and I get a phone call at the church with someone telling me that the President is in town and is coming by the church to be prayed for. What do I do?
This isn’t an entirely theoretical question – it happened with David Platt at McLean Bible Church in McLean, Virginia this past weekend. Here’s the link to the story in case you haven’t heard about it.
So, what would I do?
First, what I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t pass on the chance, regardless of who the president is. Whether a president that I support and/or voted for or a president I vehemently disagree with or whether a president who I felt meh about. 1 Timothy 2 (a letter from a veteran church leader to one just starting out) makes it very clear:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.
But it goes deeper than that for me.
First, I believe that no one is unworthy of prayer. No one. I believe that every person is created in the image of God and everyone is worthy of God’s love. There is no one who is perfect and there is no one who is beyond redemption. We’re all somewhere in between those two impossible extremes. So, if President Obama had called and said he was coming to my church and was asking for me to pray, I would say yes. And if President Trump had called and said he was coming to my church and was asking for me to pray, I would say yes. I would say this for any president just as I would for ANYONE who called or came to the church I serve and asked to be prayed for. In fact, just a few days ago, we had a gentleman who came in who definitely had some “issues” and he simply wanted to be in the sanctuary for a while and wanted someone to pray for him, and I did. Why? Because that’s what I do as a pastor. That’s what we ought to do as people of faith.
Second, saying no to this request eliminates any possibility of speaking a Gospel message to the President. What impressed me about Platt’s prayer was that it wasn’t lauding the President as if he was God’s anointed leader. The President of the United States is just that. The President of our country. But he is not the de facto faith leader of the Christian church. There are things that every president has done that are not in line with what I understand to be Gospel teachings but having an opportunity to speak the Gospel truth to the president is something that no pastor should pass up. Platt did not miss that opportunity to speak truth in love. I was impressed with what he said and how he said it. Here’s the text of his prayer.
There was the acknowledgment that, as Christians, we serve Jesus first and foremost and that we are all in need of God’s work in our lives and in the world. There was a message of love – that God loves President Trump just as God loves everyone. There was a a call for action that leads to justice, equity, and goodness. There was prayer for the President’s family – again, people created in the image of God just like everyone else. There was even a bit of a challenge when Platt spoke that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and that fools despise wisdom and instruction. And finally there was an inclusion of praying not only for President Trump but for other leaders in our country – not just Republicans or Democrats, but for all in congress down to the local level. And Platt concluded with asking for blessings on President Trump but toward something- toward wisdom, love, grace, righteousness, and justice. So the prayer came to focus on asking blessings on the president that will lead to those blessings in our country and our world.
I hope that, if I were put in such a situation, I’d be able to assemble words like that in a short period of time. Now, whether President Trump takes those words to heart is not in Platt’s control nor anyone else’s. As a pastor, when I offer something in a prayer or in a sermon, it is not in my hands how those words are received – that is, I believe, the Spirit’s job.
And finally, saying yes to this request is an opportunity to extend the love of God for someone who needs it. Regardless of who sits behind the desk in the Oval Office, I cannot imagine the weight of responsibility that is upon that person. They have decisions that need to be made that affect the lives of millions of people in our country and billions of people all over the world. They are pulled in directions that I cannot even imagine. I remember an article a few years ago that showed recent presidents at the beginning of their term and then at the end. They do not age gracefully when in office. So to pray for a president is a way to minister to a person who is in great need.
I also appreciated the very passionate and pastoral response that Rev. Platt posted on the church website responding to the criticisms that had come his way from his choice to pray for the president and for the “optics” that it brought about. Again, the focus of his response was not on the politics but on the Gospel. Here is that message. I will take Platt’s response any day over the criticism leveled at him for doing what he felt called to do.
One of the things that breaks my heart right now is the demonization of “the other.” The right demonizes the left. The left demonizes the right. And yes we have seen the president demonize his opponents. But as ministers of the Gospel, we are called to rise above it. We are called to a loyalty to Jesus first and foremost. We are called to seek to live faithfully to the words that we have in Scripture. We are called to be those who show all people that they are created in the image of God and that they are image bearers of God in the world. We are called to speak God’s truth to power when given the opportunity. We are called to love all people. And we are called to pray for all people.
Finally, I remember something I heard in a sermon a few years ago that has echoed in my heart and mind ever since. When I am angry with someone. When someone has hurt me. When someone is doing something that I cannot abide. When these things arise…pray for them. Not praying that the things that they are doing are right, but pray for them. Pray for God’s work in them. Pray for transformation not only in them but in me. And even when I don’t have the words, even simply saying, “God I lift this person into your hands” is all we need to do.