Three men went up to pray, so begins the modern-day version of a famous story told by Jesus himself.
Franklin Graham was one, and as he went, he called upon all ministers and congregations to do the same. Graham is, as everybody knows, the successor to his famous father as leader of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Graham, unlike his father, has used this post to promote certain political leaders, especially Donald Trump.
His call to prayer included this rationale:
“President Trump’s enemies continue to try everything to destroy him, his family, and the presidency. In the history of our country, no president has been attacked as he has. I believe the only hope for him, and this nation, is God.”
I don’t know where Franklin Graham prayed on June 2, 2019; but I do know where the second man—Donald Trump—landed during prayer time: at the McLean Bible Church in suburban Washington DC.
Trump has not been a regular participant in worship, and he did not give advance notice to the church (save for a phone call while on the way). He showed up, spoke to the pastor out of sight of the congregation, then walked onto the stage with the pastor.
The pastor is David Platt, and he is the third man who went up to pray.
Platt prays with his church each week, and it is a large church with many visitors. But when he prepared his Sunday responsibilities for June 2, 2019, he did not know about the celebrity who would show up asking for prayer.
Platt escorted Trump to stage center and, without introducing the President, announced that the congregation had a surprise opportunity to put into practice a verse of scripture they had just read: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high position, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (First Timothy 2: 1-2).
Many Christians pray for leaders each week. It is part of their liturgy. And many presidents have attended worship regularly and have heard these prayers offered on their behalf. “This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,” the Timothy text continues.
Platt is a white Evangelical, and it is widely known that 81% of this American demographic are enthusiastic about President Trump. Not so Platt, but whether Trump knew that or not is yet a mystery. Perhaps Trump thought he was appearing before a gathering of his base supporters; and after the prayer the thin wave of applause and scattered shout-out might have made him think so. Whether Trump’s sudden show at the megachurch on Sunday was political strategy or spiritual desperation will also remain a mystery.
But what we know is this: Pastor David Platt offered a spontaneous two-and-a-half-minute, 336-word prayer that invoked God as supreme ruler, begged that grace, mercy, and wisdom be granted to the President, called upon the President to govern with justice and righteousness, and included a similar appeal for people in all sorts of important positions.
Also this, from the center of the evangelical understanding of our Christian faith: “God, we pray that he will know how much you love him, so much that you sent Jesus to die for his sins.”
It is a remarkable prayer, devoid of distorted political rhetoric that cluttered Graham’s call to prayer and equally devoid of the despicable self-righteousness that so often accompanies the public pronouncements of the President. It was a prayer the President needed to hear, a prayer that we all needed to hear. It is a prayer we all trust God will answer in some form or another, at some time or another.
It is, in fact, a prayer that many pastors around the country could use, week after week, to lift up the leaders of our nation—mayors, governors, judges, senators, and presidents of all sorts—in obedience to the command of the gospel quoted above.
Three men went up to pray; but millions of Americans witnessed that impromptu prayer service (watch the video here) more inclined to echo the word and deed of the man in the Jesus story who stood afar off, smote his own breast, and prayed, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”