Voter registration is ending this week. Early voting for the November election in the United States begins in a few days. Election Day is Tuesday, November 3. On that day we will elect our next president and a whole host of other governmental leaders nationally, regionally and locally. The intense “state of our union” indicates that voter participation will be at an all-time high. Many, perhaps most, feel that the stakes are higher than ever.
Over a century ago, Hatton W. Sumners lived a life of public service and left a legacy that helped put me through college. Sumners was born in Tennessee in 1875 and moved to Dallas in 1893. He trained as a lawyer and eventually became a Democratic congressman representing that region for 34 years.
After leaving Congress, Sumners returned to Dallas. In 1949 he created a foundation that continues to award college scholarships more than 70 years later. Providentially, I was awarded a Sumners Scholarship that made my last two years of college a reality at a time when my family faced financial disaster.
When I graduated from Howard Payne University in Brownwood, TX I was given a copy of Sumner’s book, The Private Citizen and His Democracy. In the beginning Sumners states:
It is evident at this time that whatever hope we may have of preserving for ourselves a system of democratic government, and turning back while there is still time, from the disaster toward which we are moving, is centered in the private citizens among us who are sufficiently informed as to the facts, sufficiently intelligent to know what they mean, and sufficiently patriotic to want to prepare themselves, and determined to do whatever may be necessary, at whatever cost, to repair, operate, and preserve their government as a democracy and protect the public security. [i]
I wonder what disaster loomed in Sumner’s mind and heart as he wrote those words. His times, like ours, were challenging, even terrifying. Some of the problems, threats and oppressions of his day are still showing themselves among us today. But Sumners sounds an urgent call. We are most blessed to have a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Citizens of two kingdoms
Many around the world and throughout history long for the liberties granted to us. Democracy is a highly precious gift to be treasured, protected and participated in.
As Christ followers, our greatest allegiance is always to Jesus, our King. By his grace and power, he has made us citizens of heaven (Ephesians 2:19, Philippians 3:20). As we live faithfully, we serve boldly as his ambassadors through what we say and do. We also live with an eager and excited expectation of our King’s return and his perfect, just and loving eternal reign.
But for now, we are also citizens of this world and of this nation. Blessed to be citizens of a democratic republic, each of us needs to embrace Sumner’s call to be deeply informed about the issues of our communities and country. We must grow our minds so we can rightly understand and apply that knowledge, and to care enough as patriots that we engage in the processes of democracy afforded us. To do less, while sometimes desirable, is to abdicate our responsibility to both of our citizenships.
Politics has become a new contact sport
In America today, politics has become our favorite contact sport, even surpassing football in these strange Covid-19 days laden with layers of civil unrest, derision and division. Like a football game of old, today’s politics are played without pads. Politics and civility can’t exist in the same sentence these days much less in policy debates and relational engagement. Sometimes, not even among those who claim Christ Jesus as their Savior and Lord.
This must change. Pastors and church leaders can help improve the tone. Pastors are still people of influence among the people they shepherd. We can’t impact or influence all, but we can set an example while we preach and teach the ways of Jesus week by week no matter the political season or climate.
The best place to start? On our knees of course. My pastor said a long time ago, “in any situation, the person on their knees sees further and clearer than all others.” We rant and rave in our living rooms, social circles and social media feeds, but do we engage in equal or greater time in passionate prayer for those in authority that excite or enrage us?
It sometimes amazes me how many politically passionate believers can’t name more than two or three governmental leaders. We love to pontificate about one or two prominent office holders but often ignore the clear and simple instruction of God in 1 Timothy 2:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (vv. 1–4).
Believers should desire to please God in all things. Pastors and church leaders should want people to be saved by grace through faith in Christ. They should want all in their community and congregation to enjoy peaceful and quiet lives through increasing sanctification and fellowship.
Clearly, for this to happen, there is a connection to what is going on in the authority structures around us. Acts describes how the gospel changed lives and communities, sometimes in great persecution and sometimes in seasons of peace.
While trudging through yet another crisis in the church or community, I have sometimes prayed for what happened with the early church following the threats on Saul, “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers” (Acts 9:31 NIV).
The Daniel model of prayer
I’m not totally clear how my prayers for those in government and my participation in civil opportunities impacts what happens in my church family and the greater kingdom of God. I just know it does. So, let me suggest the following prayer lists for you and your church. At least once a week, pray by name for those who hold office and authority (I focus on this on Fridays).
Governmental Leaders you should know by name and pray for weekly:
- Mayor, city council and city manager
- School superintendent and school board
- Country judge and county commissioners
- State governor
- State representative and state senators
- Congressmen representing your region
- U.S senators from your state
- Supreme court judges
- The president and vice president
Here’s another prayer list to consider.
God commanded us to pray “for kings, and all those in high positions.” Government is essential and powerful but it is but one piece of the larger eco system of our communities and nation. A few years ago, I bumped into a ministry called “Pinnacle Forum.” Founded by Bill Bright, this national ministry encourages its members to pray for and engage with “Seven Mountains of Culture.” I added one to their list at the end. What if believers prayed for one of these “mountains” and their leaders each day?
Cultural Mountains of Concern:
- Churches and Non-Profits
- Family & Marriage
- Sport, Arts & Entertainment
- Journalism and Media
- Healthcare (my addition)
How about we start right now? How about we develop the Daniel habit of stopping at least three times a day to get on our knees, look up to God in heaven to praise him for all his goodness and to ask for his best for those who steward power and opportunity, ourselves included (Daniel 6:10).
[i] Hatton W. Sumners, The Private Citizen and His Democracy, page 1. Sumners Foundation, Dallas. 1959.