By now, we may know who the next President of the United States will be. Or not. Either way, this is a good opportunity to take stock of our hearts in the midst of the most contentious, polarized, and troubling election in recent history. And this is on top of a raging pandemic. How have you responded during this election cycle? If I’m honest, it has not always brought out the best in me, and I know I’m not alone.
Ask yourself, “Lord, in what ways have I not been the aroma of Christ to my family, friends, and neighbors? How have I contributed to an ‘us versus them’ mentality? How have I sown disunity, despair, and despondency? How have I not trusted your work and your ways as the sovereign King of the universe?” Perhaps you’ll notice things like this:
- Anger—“Those people have got it all wrong. They are destroying our way of life and they have to be stopped at all costs.”
- Fear/Dread—“Oh no. The wrong person has been elected. We’re doomed.”
- Self-righteousness—“How could any true Christian think that? We know the right way and clearly, God is on our side.”
- Cynicism/Hopelessness—“What does it ultimately matter? No one seems to be able to overturn the poverty and racism that is the air my family and neighborhood breathes day after day.”
- Control/Power—“If we can get the right person in the right position, then we will be calling the shots.”
- Demeaning speech—“…(Person X)… is an absolute idiot. And so are his/her supporters.”
And the list goes on. It’s not very pretty, is it? In the midst of my own prayerful reflections, God brought to mind an unusual passage: Joshua 5:13–15. Let me set the scene: Joshua has just led the people of Israel across the Jordan into the Promised Land and they are encamped near Jericho in preparation to take possession of the land. Joshua notices a man standing nearby with a drawn sword and he asks a logical question: “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And quite surprisingly, the man answers, “No.” He refuses to directly answer Joshua’s binary us/them question! Instead, the man goes on to say, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” Joshua falls down in worship as the angel says, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” It is reminiscent of God appearing to Moses in the burning bush (Ex 3:5). God appears at important turning points and this was one for Joshua. He needed to know that the battle for Jericho was the Lord’s, not his. No mere human ally would be enough.
Perhaps in these tumultuous times, when we are tempted to ask (others, as well as God), “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” we need to hear this: “No. But I am the Lord your God. Now I have come. I have taken on flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, to live and die and rise again so that hearts may be renewed, sin and misery may be banished, and my kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven. Join with me in this kingdom-building endeavor, but remember, “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zech 4:6).
Many of our sinful responses in this season assume that we are the drivers and power-brokers of history (or at their mercy), rather than stewards of the kingdom that God is surely building. The Lord is first and foremost for his glory, not for Republican or Democratic (or any other party) agendas per se. He invites us to relational and civic participation in ways that bring honor to his name. Perhaps, with his help, this is how we can respond, even over these next few days:
- In place of anger, pray, “Lord, my anger so quickly morphs to an unrighteous counterfeit of your good and holy anger. I know that you, Jesus, are the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Where falsehood, unrighteousness, and injustice are getting the upper hand, please bring your truth, righteousness, and justice to bear on our broken world. Help me to speak the truth in love in ways that promote your honor” (Eph 4:15).
- In place of fear/dread, pray, “Lord, I know that nothing can thwart your plans (Job 42:2). Help me to trust that you are present and working for good when I am tempted toward anxiety.”
- In place of self-righteousness, pray, “Lord, I know that I don’t always see clearly. Help me to get the log out of my own eye before going after the speck in my brother’s eye” (Matt 7:1–5).
- In place of cynicism/hopelessness, pray, “Lord, it seems like nothing is changing. We’re about to be evicted. I can’t get the medications I need. Help me to rightly lament the anti-shalom I see. And help me to have hope that you indeed are near to the brokenhearted (Ps 34:18) and will bring joy instead of weeping (Ps 126:4–6).
- In place of control/power, pray, “Lord Jesus, you know how I grasp for earthly power, even if it’s cloaked in religious language. I am weak and you are strong. Accomplish your purposes; wield your merciful strength on behalf of your people.”
- In place of demeaning speech, pray, “Oh Lord, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight (Ps 19:14). Let me speak words that build up rather than tear down (Eph 4:29).
We might say that the summary of all these prayers is, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” coupled with “Please show me how to be part of the answer to that prayer in a way that befits your glory and holiness.” As we embody these prayers, it will become increasingly clear to a polarized and watching world that we are a peculiar people whose citizenship in heaven profoundly shapes our earthly sojourn, for the glory of our good and gracious King.