By Chuck Kelley
This week the United States will be voting in one of the most important presidential elections we have ever had. Christians across America are praying about this election and calling others to pray. Our instinctive expectation when we pray is for God to intervene in the circumstances and situations we bring before his throne. It is proper and appropriate to expect God to respond when we pray. We must never forget that he responds in the way he deems best and that his response may often be different than our desires. Whatever God’s response, the act of prayer is itself a pathway to joy.
Prayer is a petition we present before God — never directions we give to God. However, knowing that every time we pray in accordance with biblical guidelines, God does hear and does respond, is a promise that should bring joy to the heart of every believer. Prayer becomes our passage into a front row seat to see God at work. It is our assurance that we are living in his grip and are a part of his unfolding purposes. Christians with the habit of prayer tend to be Christians who live with a deeply rooted sense of joy growing from their certainty about God’s presence and work in their lives. Let’s dig a little deeper into why we can experience joy as a fruit of our prayers.
The first way a Christian learns to pray is praying as an expression of need to the Lord who loves us and gave himself for us. The Gospel tells of our sin and the sacrifice Jesus made to save us. If he would do that, he would surely hear my cry for help. If he will provide forgiveness and eternal life, surely he will provide present help. Praying for his intervention on the basis of his provision for our salvation becomes a vivid reminder of how he feels about us. Prayer is in effect a tutorial reminding us of why we can have confidence in the Lord and what his presence in our lives means. When the Gospel story drives your prayers, it drives you to joy.
The second way a Christian learns to pray is by praying for the needs of others. Someone once defined evangelism as “one beggar telling another beggar where to get food.” Our encounter with Christ reveals his love for us. Our walk with Christ makes clear his love for others. The Gospel is bigger than me. The Gospel is for the whole world. As John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The better you know the Gospel, the more you understand the love of God is deep enough and wide enough to embrace all who turn to Jesus in faith.
The Apostle Andrew was always bringing others to Jesus because he knew that Jesus cared about them, too. Imagine his joy as he watched Jesus embrace those he brought with the same love he experienced. Knowing the Gospel is for the whole world drives us to pray for the needs of others with as much passion as we pray for our own needs. Seeing God work in ever-wider circles multiplies the joy of seeing him work in us.
The third way a Christian learns to pray is by praying for the purposes of God to be fulfilled. Children know their parents love them, but they do not understand the depth of that love. As they grow and mature, they realize more and more the distinctive, sacrificial love that drove every loving act of their parents. Things their parents did and decisions their parents made look different when they realize those decisions were driven by love. As adults with children themselves, those kids are often surprised when they raise their children in the same way they were raised. Why? Parental love drives their decisions, too. As we learn more and more of Christ, our prayers begin to reflect more and more of his priorities. When you are praying for what you know God wants to do, you rejoice in the certainty he will hear and he will respond to prayers in the direction he is already going.
Pray for our nation in this election season, and stand in the Gospel. Pray knowing that God loves every man and woman, boy and girl in this nation. Pray knowing that our needs all matter to our Heavenly Father. Pray knowing the Father’s priority: He wants America to be a nation that will honor him and follow his ways. Pray knowing that religious liberty is one of the most crucial freedoms we have, allowing all to follow the dictates of their conscience before God. Pray knowing that leaders do matter. When we decide whom to follow we are deciding our destination!
Chuck Kelley is president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.