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.