Reviewing Vice President Pence’s brief remarks at the 2020 National Prayer Breakfast, I was caught up short by the phrase he always uses. It was a phrase I heard him use in a large non-denominational church in Mesa, AZ, when he was the VP candidate in 2016. It was fitting then but, oh, how much more fitting today.
Here it is in the context of remarks by Vice President Pence at the 68th Annual National Prayer Breakfast, emphasis added:
You know, when Karen and I travel across this country, and when the President and I travel, we — the sweetest words we ever hear are when people will reach out, grab a hand, and say, “I’m praying for you.” And you know when people mean it, and it’s always a blessing.
And so, I want to encourage you to continue to avail yourself of the opportunity to pray. Pray for all of those in positions of authority. And at this National Prayer Breakfast, I’d encourage you to, in these divided times, pray for America, for all of the American people.
For I truly believe that those ancient words that Americans have clung to in much more challenging times than we could ever imagine in our day are still true today, that if His people, who are called by His name will humble themselves and pray, He’ll do like He’s always done through the long and storied history of this nation: He’ll hear from Heaven, and He’ll heal this land, this one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
So thank you for joining us for this year’s National Prayer Breakfast. God bless you all. And God bless America. (Applause.)
VP Pence is not claiming that America is the chosen nation. He is reminding us that believers have an obligation to turn from self-regard, self-reliance, and self-importance, turning their attention upward and praying in that spirit. Of course, there is a bit more to the verse, a bit that does not go down so easily (see that humbling selves part):
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
—2 Chronicles 7:14 (KJV)
The cultural restoration we need is not so much in the Federalist Papers as in the Psalms, if you will. The verse invoked by VP Pence is in the context of a series of conditional promises from the Lord to King Solomon as he completed the dedication of the Temple.* I found Vice President Pence’s reminder quite timely, and believe his claim to be true.
It will take more than elections, more than a great man, more than some campaign to take back civic culture and education.** The good news is that we do not need to wait for an election, or a leader, or a campaign to pray.
* 2 Chronicles 7, King James Version (KJV)
Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the house.
2 And the priests could not enter into the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord’s house.
3 And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.
4 Then the king and all the people offered sacrifices before the Lord.
5 And king Solomon offered a sacrifice of twenty and two thousand oxen, and an hundred and twenty thousand sheep: so the king and all the people dedicated the house of God.
6 And the priests waited on their offices: the Levites also with instruments of musick of the Lord, which David the king had made to praise the Lord, because his mercy endureth for ever, when David praised by their ministry; and the priests sounded trumpets before them, and all Israel stood.
7 Moreover Solomon hallowed the middle of the court that was before the house of the Lord: for there he offered burnt offerings, and the fat of the peace offerings, because the brasen altar which Solomon had made was not able to receive the burnt offerings, and the meat offerings, and the fat.
8 Also at the same time Solomon kept the feast seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great congregation, from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of Egypt.
9 And in the eighth day they made a solemn assembly: for they kept the dedication of the altar seven days, and the feast seven days.
10 And on the three and twentieth day of the seventh month he sent the people away into their tents, glad and merry in heart for the goodness that the Lord had shewed unto David, and to Solomon, and to Israel his people.
11 Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord, and the king’s house: and all that came into Solomon’s heart to make in the house of the Lord, and in his own house, he prosperously effected.
12 And the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice.
13 If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people;
14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
15 Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place.
16 For now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there for ever: and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually.
17 And as for thee, if thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, and do according to all that I have commanded thee, and shalt observe my statutes and my judgments;
18 Then will I stablish the throne of thy kingdom, according as I have covenanted with David thy father, saying, There shall not fail thee a man to be ruler in Israel.
19 But if ye turn away, and forsake my statutes and my commandments, which I have set before you, and shall go and serve other gods, and worship them;
20 Then will I pluck them up by the roots out of my land which I have given them; and this house, which I have sanctified for my name, will I cast out of my sight, and will make it to be a proverb and a byword among all nations.
21 And this house, which is high, shall be an astonishment to every one that passeth by it; so that he shall say, Why hath the Lord done thus unto this land, and unto this house?
22 And it shall be answered, Because they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods, and worshipped them, and served them: therefore hath he brought all this evil upon them.
King James Version (KJV)
** In rummaging through news websites, I ran across an excellent piece by a professor from BYU. He is speaking from a different church tradition than mine, but Prof. Hal Boyd‘s words complement the thrust of this post:
Disciples aren’t ultimately bestowed that lofty title because they succeed in inserting their favorite scripture into a primetime television spot or find a way to lobby dogmas into an omnibus appropriations bill.
As important as evangelism or legislation aimed at the good continues to be, genuine discipleship comes as human actions conform to high ideals — as we allow, in the wisdom of Hamlet, a divinity to shape our ends.
It may be, in the end, that heaven is less concerned with how each senator votes on impeachment and far more concerned with how we all — as political actors and as citizens — comport ourselves in relation to one another and to what extent we choose to act “with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.”