Friday, September 2, 2016

Pondering and Praying, then Picking a President

Candidates Clinton (top) and Trump.
Our presidential election is less than two months away.  While many Americans now reside in the land of #NeverTrump, I do not believe American voters should be residing in that land, or in the land of #NeverHillary.  I have considered being a citizen of “#NoVote,” but history teaches that people who choose not to vote can determine election outcomes as much as voters.  Therefore, I’ve decided to pull up stakes and move to #MaybeTrump.  Although my final decision must wait, let me share a few points I am considering.  [I invite you to use the “Comment” box below to respond.  I am not offended by polite disagreement.]

First, we can be thankful that there are still two months until Election Day, and a lot can happen during this time to influence our voting.  Therefore, I am joining what I hope is a host of American voters who are thinking carefully and discussing how to vote in this difficult, presidential election year.

 The wisdom books of the Bible have much to say about making wise decisions.  Proverbs 15:22 states, Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.   Proverbs 18:13 adds, He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.   Regardless of political party or religious affiliation, voters should apply the principles of these proverbs and use the time remaining to stay informed and become well prepared to exercise our freedom to vote.  Based on these Scriptures, voting early in this election could be your first bad decision.

Dr. C. Fred Smith of Southwestern Baptist Seminary has written a blog article entitled “How to Really Choose the Best Candidate!”.  Here is an edited summary of his “basic principles for becoming an informed and biblically grounded voter:”

1.      Study what the Bible says about character and leadership--Key concepts: virtuecharacter, vice, wisdom, behavior of Kingsetc.
2.      Read one or two good books on Christian Leadership principles.
3.      Read Article One and Article Two of the U.S. Constitution often enough to get familiar with them.
4.      Evaluate candidates in light of Biblical and Constitutional teaching, knowing that no candidate has ever been perfect. 
5.      Ignore most of the media circus.  Instead look at full transcripts of their speeches for evidences of their leadership style, vision for the country, moral character, virtues, etc.
6.      Ignore extremist websites–especially those that focus on tearing down the candidates.
7.      Look up the candidates’ resumes–What have they accomplished in the past? How does that relate to the office they are seeking?
8.  About a week before the election, decide who will get your vote–and again, do this with the knowledge that the candidate you choose will not be perfect.

     My second consideration before voting-- Americans who profess Christianity have an obligation to do more than vote wisely.  Scripture commands us to pray.  The primary season allowed Americans to chose two candidates for president of the United States—Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  Many agree that both candidates have moral and ethical deficiencies.  But as such, they reflect much of what is endemic to the majority of Americans who elevated them to victory.  In fact, if we are honest when we look in the mirror, we may see some of our own values and character flaws in one or both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

I believe Christians must choose how they will respond to a weak field of candidates.  We can continue to highlight their character flaws as if God is powerless to transform them by Election Day.  Or, we can pray that God will work mightily in the lives of the candidates through people and circumstances surrounding them between now and Election Day.  Furthermore, we ought to pray that our hearts and minds as American voters will be honest, humble, and discerning.  Have we made this presidential election a prayer priority?

Franklin Graham emphasizes the importance of a praying electorate in Decision Magazine, saying, “When the Scripture says that the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water (Proverbs 21:1), it means that a Sovereign God can turn the heart of a king at any time and in any way.  If there are policies and platforms that don’t conform to biblical ethics, the intercession of Christians can be used in a powerful, transforming way.”  Grahams’ point applies not only to those currently holding high office but also candidates running for office.  He notes further that “… the ultimate reason the Bible instructs us to intercede on behalf of our leaders is so that they might come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.” Graham cites Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:3-4:

This (our intercession for those in authority) is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

That is right!  The Bible not only commands us to pray, but that we intercede for the souls of our leaders and candidates for office so that, in the words of Franklin Graham, “…our leadership would personally know God and the salvation found through faith in Jesus Christ alone.”   Graham solemnly adds,  “I can’t help but ask myself if all Christians had fulfilled this admonition and been faithful to pray for our leaders, would our nation—even our world—be different today?  Can our diligent, heartfelt prayers make a difference for the future?  Most certainly.”

Therefore, while we wait for Election Day, why not pray fervently and expectantly?  This question is only partly rhetorical.  I say this because I am facing two obstacles against my effort to pray fervently before I vote.

First, my faith is often too small to believe that God could intervene to transform the life of one or both of the presidential candidates. But then, I follow Dr. Smith’s principle #1 above and open my Bible. There, I find encouragement in the historical and prophetic books like Daniel.  In Daniel 4, we read the account of how God transformed prideful, pagan King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon into a humble leader who afterwards spoke these words publically:  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride (Daniel 4: 37).  What an amazing change of heart!

We can also read in Daniel 9 how this prophet interceded by fasting and prayer in sackcloth and ashes for his nation in exile. Daniel’s prayer is a model for those of us today who strive to understand the power of fasting and prayer.  God eventually turned the hearts of, not one, but several pagan kings who amazingly allowed the release of the Jewish nation from captivity. These pagan kings even assisted in the return of the Jews to Israel.  For example, in Nehemiah 1: 4, we read that when the prophet heard of the deplorable state of the city of Jerusalem during the Jewish exile (445 BC), he sat down and wept and mourned for days… fasting and praying before the God of heaven.  Then, Nehemiah appealed to the heart of the Persian King Artaxerxes I.  Amazingly, Artazerxes granted him permission to rebuild the ruined walls of Jerusalem.  Then this pagan king willingly supplied Nehemiah with the resources and protection to accomplish the mission!  Truly, the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord…and God can direct that path a king takes like the rivers of water (Proverbs 21:1).

Daniel and Nehemiah are only two examples of how God worked in history through great men of prayer and faith.  The author of Hebrews 11 lists many other men and women who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions….  Accounts like these from Scripture ought to encourage us today to fast and pray fervently and expectantly.  

Perhaps like me, you face a second obstacle against praying for our leaders and the candidates for office.  Suppose even if one or both of the candidates were miraculously transformed spiritually before November.  Can we trust that they would have the moral and spiritual maturity necessary for the office of president?  After all, look at their habits and past reputations—liar, adulterer, pro-abortion ‘murderer,’ proud, boastful, rash, brash, etc.  It’s no wonder many Americans are tempted to reside in the land of #NeverTrump, #NeverHillary, or #NoVote.  But then, was there ever a presidential candidate the all voters agreed would make a  good president?

For now, my focus for prayer is upon my personal attitude, my proneness toward sin, and the sin so prevalent in the American electorate.  As a born again believer in the incarnation, sinless life, death, resurrection, and imminent return of Jesus Christ, I am thankful that God did not look at my life and declare, “#NeverJohn.”  Instead, as the old hymn declares, God sought me, and bought me with His redeeming blood.  And God is still working to transform this stiff-necked rebel by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12: 2) through learning from people, experiences, and the Scriptures which are intended for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness…(2 Timothy 3: 15).

Or have we as believers in Christ’s atonement forgotten how terribly unsuited we were for an “office” in God’s kingdom?  Have we come to the point in the recognition of our spiritual poverty that we can see ourselves in the center of the crowd of Jewish Pharisees, each ready to stone us until Jesus defends us, and says to our accusers, He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone (John 8: 7)?  Or instead, do I see myself among the accusers surrounding a Donald Trump or a Hillary Clinton lying on the ground while shouting out accusing words? ADULTERER! “LIAR!” 

Thankfully, many of God's people are humbly praying for our nation, for the person God will allow to assume leadership in January, and for a new resurgence of moral clarity and integrity in America.  Many Christians are concerned about their own personal walk with God so that their eyes are clear to identify candidates with integrity.  Perhaps if the spiritual eyes of God’s people had been more “clear” (Luke 11:  34) in 2012, fewer Christians would have abandoned presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a decent, moral man, who then narrowly lost to Barack Obama.  Romney had campaigned as a social and fiscal conservative, so there is reason to believe that the past four years could have been different under his stronger moral and ethical leadership and prior experience as a governor.

In this year’s election, many moral and fiscal conservatives view Donald Trump as a weaker candidate than Romney because of Trump’s lack of moral and spiritual maturity.  However, I am encouraged that Trump campaigns as both a fiscal and a social conservative (e.g. support for sanctity of life, and for maintaining law and order).  Trump’s choice of Gov. Mike Pence, a man of proven character and leadership, for vice president suggests that he knows the importance of making responsible choices of men and women to serve in government.  Trump also recently demonstrated some humility when he expressed regret that some of his words have been hurtful.  Willingness to admit error is an important trait of a leader.  I am thankful for small indications that God is at work in the life of candidate Trump.  As he receives classified briefings, I pray that Mr. Trump will sense more clearly the weight of the presidency and call upon God for wisdom and strength as other presidents have done.

I am also praying that God will use one of Trump's advisers just as He used Barnabas as recorded in Acts 11: 22-26 to encourage Saul, a former persecutor of Christians.  In spite of much fear and resistance by the first century church to the acceptance of Saul, Barnabas recommended him to the church based on his genuine profession of faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins.  Saul was eventually accepted by the church and became Paul the Apostle, one of the great early church evangelists and church planters.

Come November 8, some of us will remain in the land of #NoVote, being unable to vote in good conscience for either candidate. But, when neither candidate is deemed morally and spiritually qualified, does that justify abstaining?  Anyone may choose not to vote, but we should remember that the outcome of elections is decided by both voters and non-voters. In 2012, many, including Christians, were among residents of #NoVote because they refused support Mitt Romney. The resultant reelection of Barack Obama suggests that choosing not to vote doesn’t prevent us from leaving our fingerprints on the outcome.  Also, residents of #NoVote must consider how much they are dismissing the importance of substantial differences in the platforms of Trump and Clinton.  Careful reading and listening to the candidates reveals stark differences in their vision for America with respect to the following:

1.   Respect for “rule of law” vs. extending “compassion” arbitrarily
2.   Sanctity of human life
3.   Respect for U.S. Constitution (e.g. 1st and 2nd Amendments; “separation of powers”)
4.   Responsibility of government to protect from foreign invasion
5.   Solution to urban and rural poverty
6.   Support for marriage and family
7.   Education—school choice, improving teacher effectiveness
8.   Protection of religious freedom
9.   Rights and dignity of women
10. Fiscal responsibility of government
11. Importance of character and integrity for those in “public service”

To the shame of the Christian community in America, our nation has become more like ancient Greece and Rome. But unlike the Greeks and Romans, thanks to God’s grace working through the Founding Fathers, we have the freedom to vote.  Unfortunately, more and more we are faced with a choice between candidates with character qualities not unlike a Roman Caesar or a Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar.  Yet God still works through pagan authorities; and, He continues to command Christians to pray for those in authority and to be salt and light in the public arena.  By “Spirit-led, Scripture-fed prayer,” we can develop more closely the mind of Christ and we can see more clearly what God is doing in our lives and in our nation as we participate as “salt and light” (Matthew 5: 13-16) while we anticipate Christ’s return. 

I do not know yet how I will vote in November, but I’m glad there is still more time to get acquainted with the candidates and their respective platforms.  Meanwhile, we ought to pray for them and for ourselves as voters that God will spiritually revive us, and revive America as God desires.  The prayer of Daniel, in Daniel 9, is a great place to begin praying in a "Scripture-fed, Spirit-led" fashion as you enter a time of quiet prayer, and perhaps even fasting for your relationship to God, and for revival in America and the World.  For more on prayer and fasting, see "How Do You P-R-A-Y This Thanksgiving?"

[I welcome your comments. Please click on “Comment” below if you care to respond.]


Anonymous said...

Hi Dr John. Of the many reasons I am voting for Trump (not perfect but the lesser of the evils) is Clinton could have avoided the death of Americans at Bengazi. Respectfully, HJG

John said...

Thank you, HJG. It does appear that what you say is true. In fact, many suspect that some of her e-mails yet to be released will support what is already known; namely, that she KNEW and told her family that Benghazi was a terror attack while her surrogates were lying to the American people. I also believe that, in spite of the uncertainties of Trump's conduct as president if he is elected, the 3-branch federal government will still impose control on him better than it would upon Mrs. Clinton, given her support from the media and our increasingly liberal, progressive culture. Much to PRAY about, and serve as God allows us to be salt and light.