Rick Barry is managing editor of The Body Politic. He has worked on campaigns for local, state and federal office, is a former writer and editor for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and currently oversees communications for the Grace DC church network in Washington, DC.
Not very long ago, I visited an evangelical church deep in the heart of Texas. The sermon was interesting, engaging and literate. The pastor dug deep into a passage in James, drawing out an application that dared his congregation to think about how their church treats the impoverished in their town and how each of them can rethink their relationship to the poor. As a Christian, I liked that his talk plainly took the Bible seriously and would be challenging to everyone in the audience, reminding us that we were there because we are broken, not because we are great. As a communicator, I loved that it would have been understandable to a first-time visitor with no grounding in the faith. It didn't assume we all understood the gospel—it explained the gospel to us again in a new context.
But when I sat with the pastor briefly after the service, I didn't want to talk about the sermon. Instead, I wanted to talk about the lengthy prayer that preceded it. In his prayer, the pastor prayed for the congregation. He prayed for their town. He asked for protection for America’s soldiers overseas. He asked for God’s blessing on the work those soldiers were doing. And that was it.
I couldn’t help but wonder why he stopped there, why he didn’t go on to also pray for the communities to which those soldiers are traveling, why he didn’t pray that God’s spirit be poured out even on those we might consider our enemies. When Saul converted and became Paul, God demonstrated his ability to transform and redeem people we don’t wan to see transformed or redeemed. If we are honestly praying, “Thy kingdom come,” we need to remember that we aren’t the only people God wants to turn into citizens of that kingdom.
I asked the pastor about why he structured his prayer that way, and why he didn’t pray for the citizens of the countries in which the soldiers were being deployed. In return, he spoke winsomely and graciously about expressing gratitude for a country that has facilitated so many blessings in our lives.
And I agree. I consider myself deeply patriotic. But the Bible tells us that one day, the righteous of every nation will be part of the same kingdom. The kings of every state will lay their crowns at Christ’s feet. The language of every tribe will be spoken in the New Jerusalem. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are a testament to the fact that God isn’t interested in his blessings stopping at the water’s edge—all of humanity was subject to death, and so all of humanity can be changed by the offer of new life.
Many Christians feel that their faith compels them to take on pacifism. Others don't. Regardless of how you feel about war, though, soldiers are human beings who are subjected to dangers the likes of which most civilians in the United States rarely see. If a soldier makes it back from being deployed, they are frequently left with inadequate health care for the injuries and trauma they have suffered over the course of their duty. They need prayer for safety, prayer for healing and prayer for reintegration into civilian life after their terms of service are up.
But when we are considering our country's place in the world, I don't think that Christians in the United States can stop at caring for our own soldiers and say that we are really living up to the Bible's call on our lives. We need to care for them and pray for them, yes, but we also need to go farther, to consider more than just our own national interest or tribal concerns.
Let's Practice Together
This weekend, praise God for being good enough and powerful enough to work in places we may not expect. Apologize for sometimes forgetting or doubting that he is so powerful and good. Thank him for pouring out his spirit onto people around the world, of every nation, even nations we may consider hostile or morally reprobate. Ask him to help you better understand what it will be like to worship alongside people who are part of very different tribes from you when the kingdom comes. And ask him to equip the faithful of all nations to offer the people around them foretastes of the peace, healing, safety, righteousness and flourishing that will take root when Jesus returns to make all things new.