Takeaways from the National Prayer Breakfast

Being in Washington, D.C., for the National Prayer Breakfast was an incredible experience. Several people have sent messages and asked me questions expressing a desire to hear more about it; therefore, I thought I would put together a few of my thoughts and some highlights from the event.

1) I feel incredibly thankful to have been invited to this event by the Crane family and to have been able to share it with good friends, Rabbis Daniel and Karen Bogard and Imam Kamil Mufti. I am also grateful that these friends enjoyed their experience and felt loved by so many Christians.

I think processing the speakers and events through the eyes of my Muslim and Jewish friends allowed for a better experience. It allowed me to see how so much of our communication as Christians is coded and can send unintended messages.

2) I feel hopeful because, just as the Apostle Paul wrote that there were saints in Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22), there are many amazing and godly people in D.C. who are trying to honor the Gospel and do the right things. Bible studies and prayer groups that go across political lines are taking place all around the city and are binding people together around Jesus, even in spite of differences. This is a good thing.

3) I was encouraged by numerous conversations, including a brief but powerful interaction with a Senator from Delaware named Christopher Coon and a positive meeting with Rep. Darin LaHood. I was edified by new friendships and old ones, and I was excited to make many new connections with people.

4) At the luncheon on Thursday, King Abdulla from Jordan gave an incredible message of hope and unity. He talked about the refugee crisis and how both the Bible and the Quran speak of the need to serve the poor and displaced. He boldly denounced the members of ISIS as being heretics and emphasized that the silent majority of peaceful Muslims need to rise up and speak out. He also passionately spoke of the teachings of Jesus and the impact they have on many Muslims like himself. It was an eloquent and powerful message, calling upon Muslims and Christians to serve the greater good and overcome the evil and fringe elements of our societies.

5) A number of brief quotations and thoughts have stuck with me from the multiple speakers I heard. For example…

·       “Let us not seek common ground, but higher ground.”

·       “We are defined by our choices more than our beliefs.”

·       “Can I see God’s image in people who are not in my image?”

However, one thought in particular has resonated with me. Nebuchadnezzar, the pagan and immoral King of Babylon, is referred to by God three times in the book of Jeremiah as “my servant.” As one of the speakers spoke about this, I realized that I cannot personally determine who or what God is using. This applies to politicians and leaders on both the right and left—the people I like and the people I don’t. Many people, including the prophet Habakkuk, could not conceive of the idea that God was using Nebuchadnezzar to carry out His plan. And what was true then is still true today.

6) I was a bit troubled by the fact that during the two-and-a-half-hour prayer breakfast—in the midst of multiple prayers, speeches, and random comments—not one time did I hear someone speak about repentance or forgiveness for the sins of our nation. Perhaps this was an innocent oversight, or perhaps it was an indication of a subtle and yet very dangerous belief that we have little to repent of as a nation.

Sometimes it is easy for us to celebrate the greatness of America and yet forget we are not nearly as righteous or as godly as we might think. Not all of our bombs and wars are justified. Not all of our motivations are pure. Not all of our issues are solved. Not all of our positions are right. Just as our forefathers wrote about freedom and all men being created equal while they oppressed Native Americans and capitalized on slavery, we have blind spots today, too. They may not be evident to us, but one day they will be exposed.

Repentance is the foundation for transformation and freedom for individuals and societies. It was disappointing and a bit concerning that this theme was not mentioned.

7) The lack of diversity was also concerning. There were very few African Americans or Hispanics at the two-day event. While there were many foreigners, there were few domestic minorities. What makes this most concerning is that this is an invitation only event. This means the people in power are inviting the people closest to them, which makes me question how many powerbrokers in this country have close friendships with people who are different from themselves. I’m not talking about polite relationships with neighbors or co-workers; I’m talking about friendships with people who are ethnically or religiously different.

Scripture tells us that there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Gentile in Christ, yet this event with over 3000 people was predominantly attended by the white and wealthy. Events like this one make me acutely aware of issues such as white privilege and systemic racism. Please understand, I’m not judging people. I’m simply sharing my observations and what it triggered in me. And, in case this makes you angry or uncomfortable, I actually talked to some of the event’s leaders about this, and they affirmed my concerns.

Overall, I was incredibly blessed to be part of this event. It challenged me, gave me hope, and exposed some concerns I have for the church and our nation. The good news is that we are always in process as individuals and as a nation. I’m confident that this event will better equip me to do my part in moving ahead to make our world a better place, hopefully reflecting the Kingdom of God in some small way—on earth as it is in heaven.