Editor’s Update: This blog originally ran on June 11, 2012. We decided to re-run it because G92 is joining other Christian organizations throughout the country in urging you to pray fervently for immigration reform. Please commit to praying & sign up for weekly requests and reminders at www.pray4reform.org.
I spent most of last week in Baltimore, Maryland with several dear friends who are part of a leadership cohort in which I participate through the Christian Community Development Association. In addition to lots of compelling discussion and witnessing the impressive community development efforts of New Song Community Church and Newborn Holistic Ministries, one of the highlights of the week was a morning of teaching from Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner on the power and importance of prayer.
In the midst of the many challenges our nation faces today—poverty, unemployment, threats of terrorism, failing schools, incredibly high rates of incarceration, fatherlessness, and, of particular interest to me, an immigration system that is dividing families—Dr. Williams-Skinner reminded us of God’s promise:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Prayer is incredibly powerful. We have the invitation to talk to the Living God and to claim the promises of Scripture. Dr. Williams-Skinner challenged us to take an inventory of our time and then—no matter how busy we think we are—to find an hour each day to spend in prayer: praising God, reflecting on Scripture, interceding for others, presenting our own petitions, listening for his direction, and thanking him (even in advance) for the ways that he responds to our prayers.
We ought to pray specifically, Scripture says, for our leaders, even the ones we didn’t vote for or whom we may not like very much. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy urging “that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Dr. Williams-Skinner elaborates:
There is a direct relationship between the kind of planet we live in and how often we talk to God about leaders. Their decisions can bring joy or conflict; peace or pain; poverty or prosperity to us. To put it another way, we have the kind of leaders we pray for!
I’ve been working for years now to change what I believe are deeply dysfunctional and destructive flaws in our federal immigration laws (and, more fundamentally, in the attitudes toward immigrants among the electorate that prevent genuine reform from occurring). At times, that’s been very discouraging work. Since I started, the situation has gotten dramatically worse: deportations are at an all-time high (and, despite the rhetoric, many of those being deported have no criminal convictions), backlogs for family reunification continue to grow, and partisan rancor is such that almost no one realistically thinks that Democrats and Republicans will be able to come together to fix the problems anytime soon (a recent blog for the Farm Press said that “the likelihood of immigration reform at the federal level anytime soon is about the same as that of pigs flying.”)
And yet, God is bigger than the politicians and their hard hearts. “A king’s heart is like streams of water in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses” (Proverbs 21:1). Perhaps our political process is so broken precisely because the Church (I can at least confess for myself here, and my sense is that I’m not alone) has been unfaithful to God’s command to consistently pray for our leaders.
Dr. Williams-Skinner was not suggesting that we stop all other activities and only pray: “Praying does not mean we stop voting, writing letters to elected and appointed leaders, and to the newspaper editors,” she says, “Blog, Tweet, testify and organize to change our world.” But our advocacy must be rooted in and sustained by prayer. We must never become too busy with activism to pray.
My challenge would be to start by learning the names of your Representative, your two Senators, and the President and committing to pray daily for them. Pray that God would bring them into contact with an immigrant whose story would change their perspective and give them a personal passion for the issue. Pray that the teachings of Scripture about how we ought to treat immigrants would capture their minds and convict them of unbiblical attitudes and responses. Pray that they would have the courage to do what is just and right, whether or not it is politically expedient, but also that the Church would speak up in unity for our immigrant sisters and brothers, so that voting for justice becomes more politically expedient.
Beyond private times of prayer, we can—and should—also come together to pray. I would love to see our churches draw together for concerts of prayer, pleading—like the persistent widow in Jesus’ parable—that God would respond. We can pray in faith, because “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15). “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16) and ask God to do what the pundits say is impossible.
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
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