"'We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.' All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD." 2 Chronicles 20:12-13
These verses of scripture come from a time when God's people were facing a vast army from several nations that seemed unstoppable in human terms. There, one of the few kings who sought the Lord in that day stood before God and his people to encourage them to pray for help. They did, and God heard them.
The situation in the United States, as trying as it is, pales in comparison to that situation and, at least from a physical standpoint, to many situations around the world. The poverty and persecution that are common in many countries is still farther from most of us than they are to many. But this passage of Scripture is one of many powerful reminders that God can do what seems impossible when his people cry out to him.
Over the past few months I've seen and heard a number of fellow Christians complain loudly about many things to do with the election: the positions of the candidates (both of them) on various important issues, the coverage (or non-coverage) of the media, the concerns about voter fraud, and the easy passes one side seems to get from the press. Many of these points are well taken, but the question I’m asking is: what good does the griping do? And is our murmuring accomplishing anything but briefly making us feel better while leaving our souls in a bad state, with much-needed prayers going unsaid?
I'd like to suggest another course in the few days we have between now and the election: let's repent of our complaining, and set aside time - good time - to pray, even fast, for the election and the next president. Our pastor has asked members of our church who are able to fast and pray this week to do so, including this Sunday when we will have an evening prayer service. With so much at stake in this election I believe it to be a wise suggestion.
The principle of God's people praying for the welfare of the governments over them stretches from the Old Testament to the New. In Jeremiah 29:7, God told the Israelites to pray for the pagan nation that conquered their own, Babylon, where they were now captive exiles: "Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." This passage is critical, because it shows that, a) God wants his people to pray for the nation where they are because, b) he knows that their welfare is tied to the welfare of that nation. In the New Testament, Paul's command to pray for "kings and all who are in authority" – including, at that time, the Roman Emperor – is consistent with this same principle (1 Timothy 2:2).
These commands presume that God holds the nations in his hands. In fact, he does:
...He gives nations to those whom he wills (Isaiah 41:2) ... "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord" (Proverbs 21) ... Nations who think they can escape God's control are foolish (Psalms 2) ... He reigns over all of them (Psalms 99:2) (including our own, whether our country acknowledges that or not) ... At the end of time all the nations will worship him (Revelation 15:4) ... If a sparrow cannot fall apart from our Father's will, then neither can countries (Matthew 10:29) ... He has "determined the times set for them" (Acts 17:26).
If we know these verses to be true, then it's times like now when we need to put faith into practice by praying in trust, believing God will guide our country as he sees fit. But if we do, we need to be careful to pray with right motives. James warned his readers that, "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (4:3). When we pray, we need to have God's glory and purposes in mind, not just our comfort. The issue is never whether God is with one human side or another, but whether we are sided with him (Joshua 5:14).
We also cannot presume that our nation's economic welfare and spiritual welfare run in the same direction. God may have reasons for letting our nation reap some of the whirlwind from its excessive debt (personal and national). But we can pray that in the midst of it he would also show mercy. We can also pray that God would spare us from the worst of what our enemies would plan against us, especially now when America seems vulnerable as we face another change in government.
This last point, about the need to seek God's mercy, cannot be overemphasized, especially when we realize that the warning of Jesus - "to him who is given much, shall much be required" - refers to those who are given both revelation and material things. In Matthew 11:20-24, Christ told some Jewish towns that it would be more bearable for Sodom than those towns on the day of judgment because they had been given so much revelation and still failed to repent.
There may be no nation in history which has been given as much exposure to the Gospel, accompanied with material blessings, as our United States. This may leave us in a far more perilous place before God than we realize. God may want to have mercy on us, for the sake of his people here and for other reasons, but we cannot presume to have it. God spared a wicked nation, Ninevah, in part because the people of that city "could not tell their right hand from their left" (Jonah 4:11). We cannot claim the same degree of ignorance. So when we pray, let's come as we are, God's people in the midst of a nation that desperately needs God's mercy.
If we believe that God can save people and even nations, and that all things are in his hands, let's pray with faith for him to intervene and work in and through our election process, then trust the outcome to him. He has never promised us a path around hardship, just that if it comes, he'll still be with us: "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
Steve Hall is a ruling elder at Stony Point Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Richmond, Va. He is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently practices law while studying to be licensed for preaching in his presbytery.