What Do You Pray for a Nation: A Plea for the Church to Be a Calming Presence in a Moment of Chaos

2021 storming of the United States Capitol

When we think about how to pray for our nation, we must consider what it means to pray for ourselves and for our own individual and collective character and direction. We must remember that the church is not another group seeking to get their way in Washington, but a community of men and women bound together by faith in Christ. We are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” joined together so that we “may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). While it is surely right to pray for our nation at this moment, we cannot be distracted from our primary task of offering faithful testimony about the God who has conquered sin and death.

As D. L. Moody notes,

“Think how much work has been neglected by temperance advocates in this country because they have gone into politics and into discussing woman’s rights and woman’s suffrage. How many times the Young Men’s Christian Association has been switched off by discussing some other subject instead of holding up Christ before a lost world! If the church would only keep right on and build the walls of Jerusalem they would soon be built. Oh, it is a wily devil that we have to contend with! Do you know it? If he can only get the church to stop to discuss these questions, he has accomplished his desire.”

Moody was not advocating for a complete divorce from the political realm. Rather, he desired to see the church realize its true vocation of proclaiming what it means to serve a crucified Lord in word and deed. Far from calling the church to isolate itself from the world, Moody desired to see the church be a light. As he notes elsewhere, “In the place God has put us he expects us to shine, to be living witnesses, to be a bright and shining light. While we are here our work is to shine for him…”

As we look upon the political turmoil of recent days, we should certainly be asking God to guide our leaders so that they enact justice and govern under his authority. At the same time, we must remember that the church is situated in the world so that its members can be “a distinct people within the world confronting the challenges we face not with overwhelming competence or unassailable wisdom, but with a peace that surpasses all understanding’ (Phil 4:7).” So, let us join together in prayer.

A prayer for the church in a time of national crisis

Lord, as we look out upon the fragility of the political realm, our propensity to act out of fear, frustration, anxiety, and anger, and our tendency toward exclusion rather than embrace, we understand more deeply the miracle of the church. As those who believe in Christ, we are irrevocably connected, called from darkness to light, and commanded to love one another even when such love means we must surrender our rights. You yourself sent your Son who did not deem equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage, but demonstrated that self-giving is essential to who you are. We seek to follow that example. In this moment in which there is a temptation to fear men, remind us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. Remind us that we are always free to obey. You have taken away the sting of death. You have given us a new vision of what is happening in the world and asked us to live in light of a resurrected Savior who did not flinch as he was beaten, nailed to a cross, and mocked as he died.

Such is our legacy, and we pray for the strength to suffer. More than that Lord, we pray for the strength to stand as faithful witnesses to you. As Christians, we do not give ourselves over as members of one political party or another. Our primary identities are not symbolized by elephants or donkeys. All that we are and have are yours. We stand as your witnesses and your followers, displaying your wisdom, authority, and rule.

O God, we recognize that new leaders will bring new challenges. We want to ask you now that you would be at work in the hearts of those you have appointed. We pray that they would recognize their place as a “secondary theater of witness” and enact justice and righteousness in accordance with who you are. We pray that our rulers would not be “a terror to good conduct but to bad” (Rom 13:3).

We ask Lord that in all circumstances we would bring glory to you. Keep us from gossip, disrespect, and foolish actions that would somehow convey to a watching world that we do not serve you or that you are not sufficient. Keep us focused on our primary task of proclaiming you to a world that needs to know you. Give us a peace that surpasses understanding (Phil 4:7), a heart that delights in your instruction (Psalm 1), and a voice that speaks with grace, wisdom, and boldness to proclaim the good news of your kingdom to those who are lost.

Lord, help us to live in light of the knowledge that you alone can and are making all things new. Help us to be a constant reminder to the world that you are present and prepared to offer life and peace to all those who place their faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

JAMES SPENCER, PHD is President the D.L. Moody Center, an independent non-profit organization based in Northfield, MA, and author of Useful to God: Eight Lessons from the Life of D. L. Moody and Thinking Christian: Essays on Testimony, Accountability, and the Christian Mind

Image credit: Blink O’fanaye