“The message of the 2021 National Prayer Breakfast,” wrote Bob Smietana of the Religious News Service, “can be summed up in the title of a book by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Prize-winning South African cleric: No Future Without Forgiveness.”
The National Prayer Breakfast, held on the first Thursday in February, began in 1953, during the Eisenhower Administration and has been attended by every President since, was held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a prerecorded message, Andrew Young, former UN Ambassador, and civil rights leader, referenced Tutu’s book and suggested our nation can move forward through prayer and forgiveness despite past struggles. Young said that “praying with other leaders led him to form friendships with those he disagreed with.”
“Our prayers were always confession — we talked about our needs,” Young said. “We prayed for each other and we became friends.”
Young further suggested that prayer is the pathway to both forgiveness and unity. “America has sinned,” he said, “and fallen short of the glory of God.”
Other political leaders, including former Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush, as well as President Biden echoed similar statements of faith, hope, forgiveness, and national unity.
“For so many in our nation, this is a dark, dark time — so where do we turn?” Biden asked. “Faith,” he answered. Then added a quote from philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, “Faith sees best in the dark.”
Addressing the need for prayer and its positive impact, former President Bush said, “Prayer is the language of reconciliation. It has the vocabulary of grace, love, and peace our nation needs to move forward together.”
I don’t recall the source, but these wonderful sentiments remind me of this quote: “That which is prefaced by prayer, needs to be punctuated by practice.”
Although not wanting to be cynical, I’m not extremely hopeful these lofty ideals expressed by our politicians will be demonstrated in future actions.
I am hopeful, however, that Christians can rise about the political partisanship that has characterized our country. Regardless of our personal views, party affiliation, or ethnic origin, we share a commonality in Christ. A belief in something beyond social solutions or political policies. And a hope that is other-world oriented.
We know that true unity, as enunciated in Jesus’ prayer, is based on the Word of God (Jn 17:17-23). When it’s our standard of authority, we can find agreement on the most important matters in life. We also become a witness to the world that glorifies God and exemplifies that we belong to Christ.
Because we’re recipients of God’s grace, we can extend grace to others. Through gracious speech, attitudes and actions, we pursue the things that produce peace and mutually edify one another (Rom 14:19). These behaviors strengthen and enhance unity. And attach wings to our prayers.
The faith needed to change the direction of our nation is not found in human trust, American ideals, or political activism. It is faith in the Faith (Rom. 5:1-2). That faith is birthed and buoyed by God’s Word (Rom. 10:17). It is demonstrated by our actions. But if “faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:26), then prayer devoid of practice is pointless and unprofitable.
As we imbibe these spiritual attributes of faith, hope, and grace coupled with prayer, we grow in our love for one another, even those who are unlovable, and tap into the strength needed to forgive one another. When we fail to forgive others, we “burn the bridge over which we ourselves must pass.” Because God won’t forgive us either (Matt. 6:14-15).
When we see others not as Republicans or Democrats, Liberals or Conservatives, Northerners or Southerners, Black or White, Americans or Foreigners, but as fellow human beings created in the image of God, with a soul needing salvation, our prayers acquire a deeper significance. A new meaning. And a greater purpose.
Pray for unity. Then put into practice the principles that will perpetuate it.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman