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.
This is a blog about politics. More specifically, it’s a blog about the ways Christians are prone to react to politics and the resources the gospel provides to help us react differently. Over the past two and a half months, we’ve gotten some encouraging feedback. It seems that many of the people who come to this website leave energized, motivated and happy. That’s good—thinking about politics can be stressful, discouraging and draining. Most of our readers are living in countries where they have some degree of civic responsibility, so anything we can do to help them resist despair in a distinctively Christian manner is fine by us.
But we don’t want to just be a feel-good content farm. We want the work that goes into this website to help the people who read it to make God’s kingdom visible to and felt by the people they interact with in their civic lives. And giving people a foretaste of the kingdom to come requires more than just reading thoughtful articles and feeling good about them. It requires prayer. Persistent, honest, humble prayer.
Prayer is what separates Christianized philosophy from living, breathing Christian faith. If you’re reading great articles and books on the way the Christian faith relates to politics, and you’re having conversations with your friends about the way your faith informs your political opinions, and if you’re known for being eloquent and convincing in your faith-based political principles, but you aren’t regularly bringing your hopes, fears, frustrations and reliefs before God in prayer, then you aren’t approaching your politics as part of the body of Christ.
Being one of God’s people called to live in any kind of democratic society comes with serious temptations. As Max Everett wrote on this blog earlier this week, “the temptation to bring about Heaven on Earth using the levers of power often seems irresistible.” And it comes with a corollary temptation: The temptation to fear that the levers of earthly power can prevent the coming of Heaven’s kingdom. Now, we don’t expressly think these thoughts—we’re all too sophisticated and too nuanced to ever tell ourselves such blatant lies. But these fears are still there, dancing in the corners of our hearts. More often than not, they are at the root of our indignation or exuberance.
We need God’s help to identify these false beliefs and we need the Holy Spirit’s strength to resist acting in accordance with them. That kind of surgery on our innermost being doesn’t happen in a classroom or a debate hall—it happens in prayer. It happens in conversation with our counselor, the Holy Spirit. Having a nuanced understanding of the political issues or a robust vocabulary for public theology might—might—be able to help you have that conversation with God more easily, but it won’t teach you to be still or humble.
Luckily, God doesn’t ask us to do anything he hasn’t already equipped us to do. As the psalmist and the prophets of the Old Testament noted, he gives us the tribute he demands from us. As multiple writers in the New Testament assure us, he has already equipped us for every good work. And in this case, one of the best tools for entering into this sort of difficult, reflective conversation with God is the end of Psalm 139:
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
An Exercise in Political Prayer
The next time you find yourself having a powerful emotional reaction to a piece of political news or a political position a friend holds, stop, take a deep breath, and ask God to search you, reveal your inner idols, and lead you step by step on the narrow path of sanctification.
Then, in front of God, ask yourself something like, “Do I believe that God is still capable of showing love, mercy and justice in the world despite this piece of bad news or this frustrating policy?” Or, “Do I believe that Jesus’s vision for flourishing in this world is bigger and more profound than this policy I’m excited by?”
Then ask God to help you see what it would look like if you really believed the answer to that question was “yes.” Thank him for giving you everything you need to faithfully demonstrate that confidence in his love and power and for delivering it all to you in the life, death, resurrection and eventual return of his Son.
This is a short, simple, even somewhat rote prayer exercise, but it’s also probably going to be a difficult one to do consistently, especially for those of you who are already passionate about politics and government. It may even feel artificial and forced, depending on the Christian tradition you come from. But as two of the most extreme candidates draw the largest crowds and the most media attention in the presidential primaries; as major controversial decisions about marriage, health and the environment come out of the Supreme Court; and as international nuclear agreements are signed that influence the world’s most volatile region, it’s probably worth a try.
Did you find this article interesting or this exercise helpful? Sign up for The Body Politic’s new monthly newsletter for more help praying through your relationship to politics, government and civics.