GOSPEL CENTERED INFLUENCE
Influence is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, and behavior of someone or something. As I reflect on the nature of influence, I think about those in civil government. They undoubtedly have an effect on the lives of everyone living in a country or nation, which brings us to the age-old problem... How does a “nobody” reach a “somebody” and affect them for change? Obviously, in the land of America, there is the effect of the ballot box, or voting. This seems to be the way that most Christians have engaged in influencing their government for decades. Does this have an effect? Certainly. However, what is the most important effect or change that can be wrought in a nation, a country, a government, and its leaders? When believers sincerely consider this, it is the effect of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I call this, “gospel-centered influence.” The following account illustrates this point.
I had been ministering in the capitol merely a few months when a legislator came to me about a great moral issue of the day that was pressing on him. He remarked, “You’re a pastor. I want to know what your opinion is and what the Bible says on this particular issue.” I responded that my opinion didn’t matter, but what the Bible said was paramount. As we spoke, I determined not to lobby him to vote a certain way. He was disinclined to vote for a Biblical position on the matter, and I didn’t need to attempt to “win” his vote. However, many times, a moral issue is simply a sin issue, and that was the case here. So, for the next hour and a half we talked about sin, how we are all in the sinking boat of sin, and how the only way out of this sinking ship is the lifeboat of Jesus Christ. I didn’t ask him how he was going to vote. That didn’t really matter. I was more concerned for his soul. Although he didn’t pray with me to accept Christ at that moment, the seeds of truth that God had allowed me to share worked a miracle in his heart that I later found out about.
Several days after this, I watched in surprise as this legislator voted for the Biblical side of the issue. Reporters gathered around him to ask why he had voted that way, and he responded that he had become a Christian. He began attending rallies for the same cause that he had previously been against. His entire perspective had changed because of the gospel. As he was going around promoting these new principles, he actually shared how a young man at the capitol had told him about Jesus and about salvation and that he had become a Christian. This was the true miracle. Sadly, within a few months, this legislator passed away unexpectedly. This really drove home the point of emphasis to me, as to why I should pray for my leaders, and why I should influence them - NOT for the cause of issues or politics, but for the cause of the gospel. Every believer needs to be cautious as he enters the political arena. Let us never set issues or politics above the gospel. Let’s not make politics a stumbling block. The gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive enough to the non-believer. We don’t want to be moralists, encouraging morality instead of salvation. Christ does not say, “Live right, walk right, talk right and maybe I’ll accept you.” In fact on the cross, He says, “It is finished.” Jesus has done all that needs to be done for our salvation.
How, then, do churches go about reaching government leaders with the cause of the gospel? This chapter will focus on three ways we can have gospel-centered influence on our leaders: prayer, practice and perception.
Prayer is the essential ingredient of gospel-centered influence. Prayer for leaders is a command given by God to His people. Multiple times throughout the Old Testament, we see men and women of God praying for their leaders. Jeremiah lays out the case to pray for the peace of Babylon, because that’s where the Israelites were headed. Daniel prayed for the kings he served. Esther fasted and prayed for days before she went before the king to influence him. Prayer recognizes that God has the foremost influence, for He holds the heart of the king in His hand (Proverbs 21:1.) Therefore, every believer has a direct line to the King of Kings, who governs the entire world. Even Nebuchadnezzar admitted that the King of Kings, “...rules in the affairs of men.”
So believer, how do you pray for those in authority? Thankfully the Lord has given us a list. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 lays out four ways we can pray for our leaders.
Let’s discuss giving thanks first. Truly, prayer is not only about asking for what we desire. In fact, as we think of prayer and ultimately influencing the heart of God, giving thanks is one of the key elements. It is extremely difficult for the believer to thank God for leaders they don’t like or don’t agree with, yet it is a direct command to thank God for those in authority over us. This command wasn’t given to believers in a time of Christian prosperity, but rather in a time of dictatorship, tyranny, and persecution, and it still holds true today. We are required to give thanks for the leaders God has given us.
Second is intercession. Intercessory prayer is praying on behalf of someone. This certainly should be the case for Christians. Our leaders may in fact, not know how to pray, so we stand in their place and lift them up. There is an old story that one of our retired legislators tells as true - A Democrat and a Republican were walking in the halls of the Statehouse. (Contrary to popular belief, Democrats and Republicans do talk to one another.) The Democrat turned to the Republican and said, “You Republicans wave the banner of Christianity and say that God is on your side...I would bet that you don’t even know the Lord’s Prayer!” The Republican was aghast and replied, “Of course I do!” The Democrat responded, “I bet you $20, that you cannot recite the Lord’s Prayer right now!” The Republican accepted the challenge, and in the halls of the capitol building, he quite piously and reverently bowed his head and commenced reciting the Lord’s Prayer. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…” When he was finished, the Democrat looked at him and admitted, “I didn’t think you could do it,” and handed him the money.
While this is a funny story, and not likely true, the fact is that while there are many leaders who are praying believers, there are numerous ones who do not know how to pray, and have not received the gift of Jesus. Thus the primary prayer for legislators does not concern legislation, but salvation. This is real intercession.
Third is prayer. Prayer is petition. It’s much more than simply asking for what we want, though. Prayer is communication. It is the telephone line between us and God. We talk to Him and He responds through His Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Communicating through prayer centers us on what is truly important.
When we pray for those in authority, we are actually giving a gift to them. Proverbs 18:16 says, “A man’s gift maketh room for him and bringeth him before great men.” As we think of influence, we naturally think of giving a gift. This is often done on a carnal level. “Mr. Worldy-wise” will tell you to gain influence by giving money and gifts and similar material wealth. Although we, as believers, shun bribery, there is a principle of gift-giving in Scripture that is healthy. If we want a seat at the table of influence, at the “city gates”, or at the city council meeting, for example, we have a far more powerful gift to give - the gospel. Again we want to influence them for the cause of the gospel, so the first thing we do is to take time out of our schedule to pray for them. This is a tremendous gift of time and effort, and this gift is providing prayer warriors around the world a seat at the table of influence.
Last is Supplication. Supplication has the implication of begging or earnestly beseeching. As we think of begging God, certainly on behalf of our nation, we remember the example of Nehemiah who begged God to work on his nation’s behalf.
These four influential types of prayer make a nice acronym: Thanksgiving, Intercession, Prayer, and Supplication, or TIPS for “peace and quiet”(I Timothy 2:2.)
How can churches actively practice praying for our leaders? We need to make it a part of our corporate worship as well as a part of our daily prayer lives. In Paul’s letter to Timothy (I Timothy 2:1) he urges us to pray for our leaders, “first of all”, implying that we are to make it a priority. Prayer for our leaders has been written in many of the rote prayers throughout church history. Our forefathers prayed for their leaders. It was a regular part of their worship. In contrast, many of the modern era churches do not encourage praying for our authorities. Yet it’s something that Paul asserts needs to be a priority. So make it a priority in your personal and corporate worship and prayer groups. Pray for those in authority, specifically those in civil government.
Another practical piece that is often overlooked is to let your authorities know that you’re praying for them. Send them a note, an email, a Facebook Post, or call them and let them know you, your church, or your small group has been praying for them. You’ll be surprised at the impact this makes. Again, we’re talking about gospel-centered influence. As you pray for someone, God influences their heart. When you let them know you’re praying for them, you begin to have influence in their life because you’re communicating your care for them.
When you begin communicating with your leaders, the next practical step will come naturally: Ask them how you can pray for them. This question will prompt many different responses from political leaders. If it’s someone you don’t know well yet, they may give you a general prayer request. However, as you persist in prayer, persist in letting them know, and persist in asking how you can pray for them, trust and influence will begin to build. The old maxim suggests, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” So just continue to faithfully pray, regularly let them know you’re praying, and ask them how you can pray for them.
The last practical step is to simply follow-up. Pray, let them know, ask how you can pray for them, and then follow-up on those prayer requests. Has there been resolution on that request? How is God working? Or maybe the situation is still on-going and you let them know you’re still praying for that particular prayer request. These four practical ways are simple but vital in building gospel-centered influence in the lives of leaders.
The testimony of the believer is critical in changing the heart of leaders toward the Gospel. 1 Peter 2:17 encourages us in this, “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles, that whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” This clearly indicates that our behavior and testimony should be such that others see our actions and are drawn to the Lord.
Having ministered in the capitol building since 2004, I have unfortunately seen believers act in ways that aren’t Christlike. Near the beginning of our ministry, one legislator even told me that Christians could be some of the meanest-spirited people in the world, and I’ve regrettably seen emails that can attest to this fact. Here is a prime example. Several years ago, I was walking with a legislator through the Statehouse when two women came up to us and began to discuss a particular issue. They were quite passionate about this issue. They were dressed conservatively and appeared to be church ladies, but as they began to talk and get worked up about their cause, they sounded like anything but Christians. The legislator that was with me had to excuse himself to get to a meeting and that left me there to finish listening to the ladies. I was unable to get a word in edgewise as they continued with their vehement diatribe. They finally slowed down enough to ask me what legislative district I represented. I told them I was just the chaplain at the Statehouse. They were surprised and embarrassed as their language had become quite salty and derogatory the more fervent they became about their issue. I believe they realized too late that they had not been representing Christ in a way that was honoring to Him. I tell this story to remind us that as we attempt to influence those in power, it’s easy for Christians to think that we can influence in our flesh, and neglect the power of prayer. (“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Zech 4:6) If we believe Proverbs 21:1, then our first response should be prayer. That should further inform how we communicate. Let us not allow the fear of the world’s power to shake our faith. We know the God of the universe Who’s ultimately in charge. So then, our most powerful gospel-centered influence is through prayer, to influence the power of God, to work on the hearts of powerful people.
Many civil government leaders don’t see churches as being beneficial to society as a whole. Local churches need to change this perception. As local leaders often move to higher offices, it behooves local churches to impact these local leaders with gospel-centered influence early in their public service. If followers of Christ are purposeful about the practical steps of gospel-centered influence at the local levels, leaders’ perception of our churches can shift entirely. Simply start by making prayer for leaders a priority in your church. Follow up your prayers by finding out the prayer needs of your local government officials. As you pray for them, God will give you a heart to love them. Find out how you can pray for them and minister to them. Attend a city hall meeting to pray and learn about the needs in your community. Reach out to your local city and county officials and find out how you can honor them and pray for them. Put action to your prayers - follow up, meet needs, serve unconditionally. Action should not inspire prayer. Prayer should inspire action.
This plan for gospel-centered influence has the chance to change a nation and indeed the world! It all starts with making prayer a priority in our personal and corporate prayer times. Will you join the paradigm shift from politics to prayer, practice and perception, and thus impact your city, state, nation, and world with the gifts of prayer and pastoral care?