[Okay, I admit it. The title of the note was sheer pandering to people’s sensibilities… sort of. So maybe I should rephrase it a little to “National Day of Prayer: A Short Treatise on the Endemic Temptations Peculiar to Evangelical Americans in the Early Twenty-First Century”. But you wouldn’t be reading this if I had said that much, would you?]
With all the recent press coverage that the upcoming National Day of Prayer has already generated, most likely evangelicals will turn out in droves. Our rebellious spirits have been riled and we all want to thumb our nose at the freedom-from-religion zealots. Many will gather in public places, huddling together with many other evangelical Christians, hoping the TV cameras will show up as well. Most evangelicals are not hoping for TV cameras so that they can be on camera. Most people are hoping for TV cameras so that an unbelieving world will be able to see that they can’t stop Christians from praying… and especially not praying in the public arena. And herein lies the danger zone.
The danger lies in the fact that the question that is rarely asked on these occasions is, “Why are we praying where we are praying?” Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” [Matt 6.5-6] The issue Jesus is dealing with here is not an inside vs. outside issue or public vs. private issue. Our Lord is warning us, not against praying in a public place, but against praying in a public place in order to be seen. And he is certainly not against corporate prayer. After all, think of John 17 and Jesus’ high priestly prayer. It was public and it was recorded to be handed down for our instruction, correction, and encouragement.
So when evangelicals gather in the public arena this coming Thursday, we need to ask ourselves:
“Why am I showing up at this public prayer meeting?”
“What is my main motive for being here in this setting?”
“Can my goals for this day of prayer be just as easily accomplished in a less conspicuous setting?”
“Am I simply here to stick it to the anti-public-relgionists?”
I am in no way castigating the idea of a National Day of Prayer. Our churches need prayer. Our military needs prayer. Our elected officials need prayer. Our economy needs prayer. Our media outlets need prayer. Our families need prayer. And the list goes on. With as much need as we have for repentance, both personal and corporate, maybe several National Days of Prayer are in order. But my prayer right now is that we won’t have to repent over this coming Thursday when we wake up on Friday.