Be Careful What You Want Someone Else To Pray For

There’s an old saying, “Be careful what you pray for.” Perhaps we should change that to “Be careful what you want someone else to pray for.”

Allow me to explain.

Last Saturday, the thought began to cross my mind: I wonder if anyone will pray for President-elect Barack Obama at church tomorrow? It began to burr into my consciousness; no, it actually got stuck in my craw. I figured I knew the answer to the question, but then I thought: Wait Mike, you ornery old so-and-so, break some new ground–think positively and charitably for once.

And I tried. I really did.

I mean, what could possibly be that controversial about praying for an incoming President–out loud, by name–in a church assembly? Wouldn’t that be in keeping with the biblical command to pray for our leaders, presumably without regard to whether or not that particular leader was a member of the preferred political party of the majority of members in attendance?

One would think. But anyone who has been awake and breathing during the past year, who has read the malicious email forwards passed on by fellow Christians and tasted of their off-the-charts fear and suspicion or heard the guarded foyer talk and the “The Sky Is Falling” rhetoric that would occasionally creep into the proceedings of the assembly itself might think otherwise.

As it turns out, no one mentioned either the impending inauguration or the President-elect in public prayers or any of the other proceedings. I have no reason to believe that this was any sort of intentional slight or calculated decision. In all likelihood, those planning the worship simply didn’t think about it at all. Nevertheless, it was a fine time of worship and fellowship in every other way.

But I still thought it would have been a good thing to get beyond our message of the week, programs and provincialism for just a few moments and connect ourselves to the church catholic which, the world over, was praying for Barack Obama. We might have paused long enough at this juncture of history and considered what role God might be playing in all this. It seemed to me that it is was simply the right and meet thing to pray for a man who will be burdened with the Herculean task of trying to lead a nation that is reeling from war and tough economic times. Even if many among us considered Barack Obama their “enemy” more than their president, we’d still not be off the hook.

But we didn’t.

Still, I wasn’t particularly disappointed or angry because I knew deep down knew going in what would probably happen and had steeled myself for the answer to the question that I had asked the previous afternoon. No problem, I thought, I’ll just ask someone to pray for the President-elect when requests are taken at the beginning of class.

That is, until my friend Dave came up to me before class and said, “Hey Mike, mind leading the opening prayer after announcements and requests?”

I think I gave Dave one of those deer-in-the-headlamp looks as I stammered out my reply–a timid “Uh, uh, sure.”

I’ve always thought the existence of so many funny-looking animals (star-nosed moles? I’m sorry but that one’s just hilarious) and sex (really, who among us would have thought that up?) were proof that God most likely had a sense of humor. Add this to the list: Having something stuck in your craw and thinking that somebody should do something and then having God turn to you and say, “That’s a good idea. Why don’t you take care of that?”

And I did. Although the older I get the less enamored I am with leading public prayers. Too much room for error on the part of the pray-er. Too many infomercials, too much sermonizing, too much prattling on about details that God most likely already knows and amount to us simply talking to ourselves in many cases. So after briefly addressing a few other concerns, I prayed the following prayer:

“Please give President-elect Barack Obama the wisdom that he will need to lead this country, and please keep both him and his family safe from harm.”

Short and sweet, nothing earth-shattering or radical. Or was it? I figured that there were probably a few class members who were uncomfortable with that prayer, but probably just as many who were glad to hear it and were perhaps even a little bit relieved.

I’ll probably pray those words a few more times today as I run about trying to do my daily tasks and catch a peek from time to time at history-in-the-making. And I’ll be a lot more careful–next time–about what I want someone else to pray for.

  1. mmlace

    VERY good post, Dr. Eyeguy! I’m glad you had the opportunity to lead your brothers and sisters in a prayer for our new leader.

    In our first service this past Sunday, we actually had one of the single ladies in the congregation ask for the prayers of the church. She stated that she was traveling to D.C. this week, and she asked that we pray for their safety and for the events of the week.

    So we actually did have one of our Shepherds who took the time to do so…to pray for our sister who would be going to D.C., but also to pray for Obama.

  2. kristiS

    I have been amazed at the number of people I have heard that are offended by praying for him. I would want to offer the same prayers for McCain. This is a scary time and a scary job under the best of circumstances, and I don’t believe we have the best of circumstances right now. I voted for the guy, so I’ll obviously be praying for him (and admittedly, probably crying a bit during the inauguration) but I would do the same, perhaps without the tears, for John McCain and I would hope anyone with good sense would.

  3. Mike the Eyeguy

    I’m posting this comment from my friend Gina which she posted on my Facebook link:

    “So much of this has to do with church culture. I attend a conservative Lutheran (ELCA) congregation. (Yes, they do exist) I imagine 75% of the congregation voted for Senator McCain, but praying for PEOTUS Obama, was not an issue, because every Sunday we pray for our leaders and those in authority, from the POTUS down to the mayor, and including our bishops.
    Glad God gave you the opportunity. ;o)”

  4. Mike the Eyeguy

    I’m posting this comment from my friend Gary which he posted on my Facebook link:

    “That’s funny! As a Presbyterian, I have heard prayers for leaders from both parties at services. Sounds like you handled your predicament with God and with your views most appropriately.”

  5. Stoogelover

    I was not there but knowing the church in Long Beach where I was for 15 years, they prayed for Obama. And, as much as I dislike his political views, you have actually spurred me to pray for him this morning. Good post.

  6. Jeff Slater

    Our church is overwhelmingly conservative (I’ve overheard lots of Obama jokes in the foyer). But I’m happy to report that there have been several public prayers offered for Obama. One of our older elders even prays for the terrorists every time he leads a public prayer.

  7. sbaugh

    We had at least one prayer for him Sunday, but the surprising thing was the insert in the Sunday worship guide with a full page guide asking us to pray for Obama and all of our other government leaders. Made me proud.

  8. Hal

    We were in Atlanta for the weekend and we visited a white-bread, Mega-Church. The assistant pastor who led the prayer admitted that most the the congregation probably did not vote for the incoming president, but he said that it was appropriate to pray (individually and collectively) for the president as well as view and participate in as much of the inauguration festivities as possible. He then led the prayer and prayed for the president and our country. I thought it was done well.

  9. Mike the Eyeguy

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Those are some encouraging stories.

  10. Laurie

    Well done, Eyeguy. Now that you’ve attacked this issue, perhaps you can take on two more “prayer” issues that drive me insane: 1) The TMI prayer (“Dear Lord, Myrtle has hemorrhoids. Not the kind that can be fixed by Preparation H. These are the really, really bad ones. She’s sittin’ on icepacks 24/7”) and 2) The “If I pray for, say, my finances, maybe somebody listening will give me money! Again!” prayer.

    Maybe I’m a horrible person for being annoyed by these, but…

  11. Mike the Eyeguy

    Yes, just horrible! 😉

    Do you have any more examples?

  12. carolinagirl

    …and the entire Church said, “AMEN.”

  13. Mike the Eyeguy


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