You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,that you may be children of your Father in heaven. – Matthew 5:43-45 [hr]
After the last elections, our vice-chairman, John Bornschein, wrote a poignant article, addressing the state of our culture, and just how wide the chasm of biblical truth and moral relativism has grown. Here is an excerpt from that article:
“Abraham Lincoln, quoting from the biblical passage of Mark 3:24, boldly stated that “a house (nation) divided against itself cannot stand.” The issues that divided our nation during the 2012 elections were of greater significance than the prevailing economic scrutiny. Rather, the moral values of the sanctity of human life, preservation of marriage, defense of Israel and religious freedoms became the overwhelming subject of many attack ads, speeches and debates. There seemed to be more emphasis on the definition of marriage and the defense of the unborn than ever before.
Clearly candidates aligned with opposing sides of the spectrum with no middle ground. Based on the arguments, life was described as either 1) sacred and meant to be preserved no matter what the circumstances or 2) life was a decision and not a right. Either marriage was described as one man and one woman as it was from the beginning, or it was left to interpretation and redefinition based on social moral relativism. In addition, there were clear divisions on the subject of Israel and religious freedoms.
Therefore, we must examine ourselves as a nation. Aside from party affiliation, the election was clearly a revelation of the values of the voter. Therefore, the problem isn’t as much in Washington D.C. as we would like to believe. The problem is in our homes, our communities, and even our churches. Indeed, the heart of the American people has changed.”
In plain language, we find ourselves living in a nation, and at a time, when seemingly, more than half of the voting population have beliefs and philosophies that are contrary to ours. In the spheres of government, military, family, education, media, business, and even in the church, it is becoming difficult to find people who hold to, and stand up for, a strong biblical world view. In such a contentious environment, those who ‘try to live godly’ will certainly make more enemies and experience more persecution.
The word translated ‘persecute’ literally means ‘to make to flee or drive away’. The idea, being to harass, trouble, molest or mistreat someone, until they give up or leave. So when Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12, “The fact is, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”, we can, as the old saying goes, ‘take that to the bank’! Not a pleasant thought, and it certainly doesn’t feel good! Deep down, we all want people to like us, but when we take a stand against ungodliness in our culture, many will stand against us. And when they do, we are to pray.
Knowing what to do is one thing, but doing what we know to do is quite another. When we pray, Jesus directs us not only to pray, but to pray with love. When we take a closer look at the word translated ‘love’ in Matthew 5, we find that it’s the same Greek word used in John 3:16 to describe God’s love for us, in John 3:35 to describe God the Father’s love for Jesus and in John 11:5 to describe Jesus’ love for Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Unconditional, never failing, always enduring love! You see, Jesus knew a little something about human nature. He knew that our natural response to ‘enemies’ and ‘persecution’ would NOT be prayer. He also knew that our prayers, if not sincere, would not ‘availeth much’. So He began with a command to love. You see, prayer, motivated by love, will always produce passion.[hr]
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. - Ephesians 6:12 [hr]
Growing up in Iowa, wrestling was a part of the culture, and Iowa’s favorite wrestling ‘son’ was Dan Gable. During his prep days and college career at Iowa State, he compiled an unbelievable record of 182 wins and 1 loss. His only defeat came in the NCAA finals his senior year. Gable was a three-time all-American and three-time Big Eight champion.
Dan Gable, 1972 Olympics USA Gold Medalist
After college, he added titles at the 1971 Pan American Games, the 1972 Tbilisi Tournament and the 1971 World Championships. He won an unprecedented six Midlands Open championships and was that meet’s outstanding wrestler five times. In 1972, in Munich, Germany, he won a gold medal at the Summer Olympics without surrendering a point to any of his opponents. The Soviets came to the Olympics with only one goal in mind: to defeat Gable. They were unsuccessful.
His coaching career, reflected the same intensity and skill. As the University of Iowa’s all-time winningest wrestling coach from 1977 to 1997, Gable compiled a career record of 355-21-5, all at Iowa. He coached 152 All-Americans, 45 National Champions, 106 Big Ten Champions and 12 Olympians, including four gold, one silver and three bronze medalists. The Hawkeyes won 25 consecutive Big Ten championships, 21 under Gable as head coach and four while he was an assistant coach and administrator. An amazing record, compiled by a man who knew a little something about wrestling!
The concept of ‘wrestling’ was not unfamiliar to early believers. Attempting to describe the continual battle that believers face, Paul used a Greek word, often translated ‘wrestle’. He wanted us to understand the nature of the battle. That we don’t wrestle with human beings, but with spiritual beings. And not just any spiritual beings, but principalities, powers, and rulers! Demonic angels of every rank and description, who are not to be approached casually, or half-heartedly.
As we wrestle in prayer for our nation, our families, and our congregations, perhaps we can learn something from Dan Gable’s philosophy. In his own words, he said, “I’m a big believer in starting with high standards and raising them. We make progress only when we push ourselves to the highest level. If we don’t progress, we backslide into bad habits, laziness and poor attitude.” [hr]
It has been said, that the ‘description’ of the activities of the early church was a ‘prescription’ of essentials that are needed for a vibrant and thriving fellowship. Luke summed it up in Acts 2:42, by telling us that “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Inspired teaching, fellowship, eating together or sharing communion, and praying. Does that describe our churches today? If someone new were to attend our services, and asked to describe what they had experienced, what would they say? Would ‘they devoted themselves to prayer’ be in the top of their list? While prayer is certainly present in most churches, does it play a primary role, or is it only used as the ‘wrapping’ for the service. A prayer to begin, and a prayer to end.
I find this both interesting and challenging. What would our services look like if prayer played a more prominent role in what we do? The Apostle Paul made prayer a priority, when he said, “I urge, then, first of all, 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.” Nothing to do with politics, just a heart for obedience, and a desire to live peaceful and quiet lives.
So why is prayer primary? Maybe it’s as simple as God wanting to be a part of what we are doing – wanting to be in the midst of it all. If you’re a parent, I think you’ll understand. It’s just like having all of your children gathered around you, interacting with them individually and together, all at the same time. They are ‘communing’ and ‘communicating’ with each other – and with you! The root of both words is the same, meaning ‘to share or transmit’. Perhaps if we viewed prayer in this way, we would begin to give it the priority it deserves. If we do, we will most certainly be described as a people devoted to prayer.