Worldliness, for the Puritan, had meant “excessive love for the wealth, affluence, and pride of the world.” For the late nineteenth-century evangelical, however, it increasingly came to mean the presence of certain visible habits of behavior which marked the nonevangelical off as nonkosher. At the same time, an insidious process of cultural fusion was going on in which Christianity was gradually identified with Americanism, patriotism and the preservation of the status quo. –Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life [emphasis added]
Is a pastor ever justified in his ambivalence to a call for prayer & fasting? If not, I stand condemned. Chalk it up to immaturity, a contrarian nature, or a hyper-critical spirit, but this quadrennial fervor that solicits a 24-hr renewal of spiritual discipline strikes me as (potentially) misplaced and counterproductive. I’m referring, of course, to calls for the faithful to pray for the outcome of tomorrow’s presidential election.
Yes, yes I know that Scripture warrants the call to pray for our governing leaders and, by implication, elections: God sets rulers in place (Jn 19:11; Rom 13:1); properly functioning government is advantageous for the spread of the gospel (1Tim 2:1-4); a just government rulers is necessary to promote/protect the common good (Rom 13:3-6). All Christians should be able to affirm such truths & our requisite responsibility to pray.
But the unsettled feeling I find isn’t over the call to pray/fast but the paucity of such calls in the first place. Somehow Jesus’ instructions for prayer & fasting in Matthew 6 strike me as normative–not exceptional–Christian behavior. Unfortunately, our patriotic Christianity would have us read Mat 6:16-17 as “When you fast every four years…” Meanwhile, I can’t think of the last time I heard a call to pray/fast for the persecuted church across the globe or unborn infants or the restoration of a wayward Christian or the mortification of indwelling sin or church renewal or the conversion of our neighbors. Were it not for godly men & women that I know personally who make & take such calls to spiritual action in election time I would be tempted to conclude that all such appeals were little more than the clamor for wealth, affluence, and national pride–worldliness with a spiritual veneer.
In the end the real source of my ambivalence to a day of prayer & fasting for a national election has less to do with the invitation than it does to my/our selective implementation of such spiritual action. Conflicted, I’ll take part in the exercise but only as I confess that the state of our union is a byproduct of my failure to pray/fast more than once every four years.