Monday, December 29, 2008



Lord God, maker of all that is good, and true and beautiful, all that is right, and righteous, and holy, all that is giving and forgiving and merciful, we entreat you on this day to have mercy on our nation America.

We confess to you that we have been self-centered, self-seeking, self-indulgent, self-absorbed. Sometimes we have even assumed that we are your favorite people, but Lord in our better moments we know that arrogance and ignorance dull our spiritual senses and cause us to over-estimate our standing with you, over-compensate for our own sense of being a young and inexperienced nation, and over-react to those who would do us harm.

How much of the bounty you have bestowed on us have we wasted in over-indulging ourselves, in greedy pursuits? How much of the largesse you have bequeathed have we wasted on fighting unnecessary wars, alienating both friend and foe, wasting our moral capital on pointless pursuits and vain strivings, all for little or naught. In the eyes of even our allies we need a complete makeover, but more importantly Lord, where do we stand in your eyes? Are you ashamed of your violent children who refuse to trust you and leave vengeance in your hands?
And now Lord we are experiencing correction, economically and otherwise. Help us to receive it as the discipline we need. Help us not to point fingers of blame at others, but ask ourselves--- Is it I Lord? Have I contributed to our being a debtor nation? Have I spent money like there was no tomorrow? Has my capital run through my hands like water through a sieve? Have I built my financial house on sand or on solid rock?

Forgive us Lord our sense of entitlement, our sense that it is ‘owed’ to us, often without hard work, without fulfilling the Genesis mandate. Forgive us for seeking short cuts to success, to wealth, to opulence—gambling, lotteries, and the like. Help us to remember Lord that work is a gift from you, and while ‘the workman is worthy of his hire’, we are not entitled to riches, or early retirement or pension, simply because we have worked hard. Forgive us our dishonesty Lord… for seeking ‘something for nothing’ for seeking compensation without real injury, for seeking good goods for little or no money, and thus driving out of our nation the artisans, the blue collar workers, the furniture makers, the textile experts, and many others. We are reaping what we have sowed Lord, and the fruit is bitter. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves much less loved our enemies, but rather we have loved things more than we have loved people, and so we have used people to get the things we love, rather than the reverse.

And Lord what of our leaders? We remember the stories in Samuel about how Israel got the king that they deserved, rather than the leader that they needed. We ask Lord as we stand on the cusp of a new administration that we will have godly leaders equal to the awesome tasks we face with daunting troubles both at home and abroad. Give us patience with our leaders as they try to dig us out of the enormous holes we have dug ourselves into. Lord, remind us to pray for our leaders even when they exasperate us, perhaps especially when they exasperate us. Give us leaders that promote a culture of life, not death, peace not war, equity not privilege, justice and liberty for all, not just for privileged few. Give us leaders that will appeal to our best and most Christian instincts, not our worst ones, leaders who will make faith rather than fear based decisions about our drastic circumstances.
Lord we do hereby repent of all our sins as individuals and also as a nation, but help us to daily live out that repentance by actually turning away from the very things that made for debt, death, destruction, disaster, and the demise of our nation.
We know you are not finished with us yet, and there may yet be more painful corrections along the way, but Lord we take them all as tokens of your love, for we know you chasten those that you love so deeply, so that our relationship with you will not go forfeit, so that we will seek your face when all else around us is falling apart and the dark clouds loom.

We remember your promise ‘If my people who are called by my name will repent and turn to me….” and we cling to it, like a man clinging to a rope from a helicopter who is being rescued from a raging sea. Lord, teach us to truly put you first in all that we are and all that we have. Teach us the meaning of doing justice, loving loving kindness, and walking humbly with You.

Most of all, Lord, we ask in the New Year that your Son’s image might be better reflected in our demeanors, our behaviors, our beliefs. Lord we ask in the New Year that when the world looks at us, they may get a glimpse of you. And for us Lord we ask that we might see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly every single day of 2009.

In Your Blessed Name we Pray these things,




Greg Johnson said...

I agree with you in that prayer brother.


Know that you are loved,

Gina Harris said...



Paul D. Adams said...

I shall pray with you and seek God's face in repentence for my own sins and those of our nations.

"God have mercy on us and may the change we have heard so much about begin within us!!"

Saleema said...



Ameen--in Arabic!

Randy Barnhart, Atlanta GA said...

That was a very moving prayer, however, I can't follow you all the way through it. In fact, you lost me in the first paragraph. It seems, unfortunately, to represent the sort of prayer/preaching that ails us (the church in the United States). We use phrases like "our nation" and quote passages like 2 Chron. 7:14 applying it to the nation in which we happen to reside, thereby feeding the very arrogance and improper identification with the powers of this world from which you (rightly and movingly) pray for deliverance. So much of the prayer speaks the word to God that we (the church) need to speak, but it is not evident if you (we) are praying as Americans or as Xns. At this moment in our history it is imperative that we differentiate clearly.

I'd prefer to see you write a prayer making it clear that we are Xns who happen to live in America, rather than Americans who happen also to be Xns.

IMO, we have to rein in our use of the first person plural pronouns because for too long we've thrown them about confusing the church beyond repair. We simply don't know who we are any longer. We are vested in and identify with Caesar's kingdom. Witness our willingness to wield his sword in defense of "our land."

Please forgive the negativity. I guess your prayer touched a nerve. Thank you for all you do to serve Christ and the church. Your writings have been and continue to be a blessing to me -- and others through me (I hope!).

Ben Witherington said...

Obviously R, we are Christians first, and Americans second, and anyone who knows me at all, will know my feelings about that. But it is equally a mistake to deny or ignore that we are Americans clearly affected and influenced by the dominant ethos of our country for better or worse. De-enculturation can only happen when we own up to our national as well as our Christian identity.



Anonymous said...


Oscar T. G. said...

A prayer with political overtones is just a political post.

We are all well aware of your stand on politics, nothing new there. But I'd rather pray for the Church in America more directly, that we resist the urge to identify with the prevailing national ethos rather than to couch a prayer in a sideways criticism of the nation itself.

We are Christians living in a fallen world, one that will ultimately be put under the subjugation of the Prince of Peace. We are His advance emissaries, the light of the world, a city that is set on a hill, to bring light into all the house, not just our own little corner.

The USA is NOT a chosen nation, and its people are NOT the chosen people of God as was Israel. So if your "prayer" blesses others then fine, it served its purpose.

Nathan Howard said...

Take heart. In the darkest days of Israel, God sent a Redeemer. Jesus promised to be with us, his disciples, to the end of the age. Jesus has never left us. He is still with us. I believe with all my heart that the hand of God is moving in a mighty way in our nation. Pray without ceasing.

Nathan Howard
Tyler Street United Methodist Church
Dallas, TX

Randy Barnhart, Atlanta GA said...

Dr. Witherington, it is by no means "obvious we are Christians first, and Americans second," and that is the problem. Your position as a believer is, as you say, "well known" (and I certainly wasn't attacking you personally). I have no idea what church you are part of, but I seriously doubt any church here is in danger of denying or ignoring "that we are Americans." Would that it were so.

True, not all break into full blown idolatry in our worship on national holidays, but many so-called evangelical churches do. Perhaps most do. Similarly, very few of us (Christians living in America) have failed to "own up to our national... identity." We are, sadly, as American as anyone and more than most. We say the Pledge, vote in large numbers, and speak at least as passionately about "our nation" as any Americans do. More to the point, though, we are what Hauerwas calls, "blank check Christians." No longer are we pacifists or even just war believers. Rather church members throughout the USA (generally speaking) are willing to kill whomever and whenever the duly elected President of the United States tells us to kill -- and we send our sons and daughters to do the same. Then we sing about it just before taking Holy Communion. We can do this precisely because we have a poorly developed sense of identity, not knowing (at the deepest level) who or Whose we are. Witness the aforementioned idolatry that passes for Xn worship at national holidays. No, it seems to me we've pretty thoroughly "owned up to our national... identity." That is not what's lacking. What we need to do now is "own up" to being subjects of the world's true king -- and own up to being His subjects only.

My point was and is: we who teach and preach and pray in public, we who lead, maybe especially in the United States, must begin to differentiate clearly between where we live and who we are. We've not done that well, and I don't think your prayer does.
We may live in the United States, but we are citizens of another Kingdom. Our identity comes from another Place. Prayers like the on your blog, using "our" to modify "nation" as it does, speaking as it does of "our leaders" with reference apparently to American politicians, quoting scripture that speaks of God blessing his people as thought it might apply to the United States obscures the truth just as the church is dying for clarity.

Ben Witherington said...

And here is where you are wrong R. Not in your quite correct insistence on differentiating between being an American and being a Christian. No, you seem to assume there is some inherent evil in being a citizen of a nation. And frankly Paul would disagree with you strongly-- he was both a Roman citzen and a Christian and proud of both. And frankly the Roman Empire was far more pagan than the American one. So, while you are quite right that we need to make distinctions, but frankly we are not just citizens of an other-worldly, we are both part of the body of Christ and part of the body politic, in this case, the American one. And if you read 1 Peter and Romans 13 and other such texts carefully you will discover we are called to be good citizens, to pay our taxes without cheating, to respect the governing authorities and the like.

And as for my church-- I am a member of the UMC, which is I think in more danger of being hyper-critical of America in some respects than the opposite extreme. I quite agree America is not God's chosen people. True enough. But we are called by the NT to be good citizens and good neighbors. This involves necessarily both social and political dimensions.



Ben Witherington said...

P.S. I would suggest both Oscar and R meditate for a while on 1 Tim. 2.2, 1 Pet. 2.13-17, and of course Rom. 13.


Randy Barnhart, Atlanta GA said...

Dr. Witherington, I’m not entirely sure where I stated that “there is some inherent evil in being a citizen of a nation” or anything like it. Even less did I say that we are citizens of some other-worldly [kingdom or place]. The kingdom of which we are a part is as this-worldly as it gets. The incarnation pretty much settled that. If anything I said sounded Gnostic or escapist, please chalk that up to my inarticulate rambling. What I meant to communicate was that taking our identity from anything other than Christ and his Kingdom (in our case from the USA) is the cause of a great unfaithfulness in the church. It leads to an apparently divided allegiance, one which may not, in actuality, be divided at all. If we are willing to die for Caesar and if we are willing to kill for Caesar then I am not sure what "allegiance" remains for any other would-be Lord, including Jesus.

It may well be the case that Paul was proud of his Roman citizenship as you say, but I can’t find the passage in the epistles or Acts that say so. Where is that idea found? I can see where Paul made use of his Roman citizenship as it served his true loyalty, and maybe when it could get him off the hook (though those two are not necessarily mutually exclusive). Beyond that, I can’t find too much. From what I read of Paul, it stands to reason that he may have been ashamed of affiliation with so cruel a regime -- however I can’t find direct support for my view either.

I’ll certainly defer to your knowledge of the Roman empire, and it probably was “far more pagan than the American one,” but I bet I can make a case for “our” Empire that would pass a straight face test.

I agree with you "we are called by the NT to be good citizens" so long as the NT defines "good." Maybe we could begin with the Magnificat or Simeon or the Sermon on the Mount, maybe. Some of Paul's subversive language would also be an instructive place to begin and would be in keeping with Jesus and the tenor of the rest of the NT. My guess is that Caesar (then and now) would not agree with the NT's idea of a "good citizen." Respecting authorities and paying taxes may or may not make a "good citizen" in Caesar’s eyes. I suspect it would ultimately be found insufficient to meet Caesar's ends.

We have been trained by a church that thinks it is possible to say the Pledge and the "good confession" and mean them both. We've sat under preaching that claims one can "simultaneously turn the other cheek and draw the sword (Yoder)." It is no great wonder that the average Christian residing in America hears "good citizen," not to mean baptismally appropriate civil obedience (no more and no less) but a full-throttle support of and defense of the nation -- by whatever means necessary.

Having been "discipled" in churches that teach (implicitly or otherwise) that we can pursue the American dream and the Jesus vision at the same time and with equal vigor, can we be surprised by a church that knows not sacrifice, save the sacrifice to the god for which we die and kill?

I am aware of how great a debt I owe you and I thank you for listening and taking the time to respond. You always make me think, always draw me back to Scripture and to Christ. May God bless you with many more productive years of study, teaching and writing. The church and the world will be richer for it.

Randy Barnhart, Atlanta GA said...

I've now meditated on 1 Tim. 2.2, 1 Pet. 2.13-17, and Rom. 13. Thank you for the advice.

I also found that reading these against the backdrop of Revelation 13 was quite instructive. It reminded me of just how little positive language there is in the Bible regarding Empires. Even Romans 13 is not an endorsement of any particular regime -- not even "ours."

I do pray for those in authority (though not enough) and will continue, but I welcome the reminder.

Pax Christi,


m.hakminlee said...

Randy ("R), while I generally agree with what you are saying and that your thoughts conveys a necessary corrective to misguided Christian nationalism, I think it might be misplaced or misdirected in this blog since Ben is speaking out of an understanding of the biblical notion of dual citizenship. That is, I don't think he is confusing or equating both allegiances, nor is he saying that America is Israel or God's chosen nation. It's clear that this is a sensitive issue for you and you might be reading more into Ben's prayer than is there, which easily happens when we are so sensitize to a particular issue. At the same time Ben, I'm not so sure R is disagreeing with you about the concept of dual citizenship--he's just seems to be reacting and arguing for now from one side of the pendulum.

Regardless, let's remember brothers the big picture that Ben has invited us to share in his prayer to our God. We can be thankful that the Paraclete, through whom we share a common bond, intercedes on our behalf to the Father when we don't quite have the rights words to pray(or even perhaps when we don't always get it perfectly right). May grace reign.

Paul D. Adams said...

To Randy Barnhart, Atlanta GA:
I do hope that you spend at least as much time and effort in prayer for our nation as you have on your blog entries.

Moreover, after the spirit of George Eldon Ladd and recently of N.T. Wright, the strict dichotomous thinking you express between this world and God's world may not be so strict, since heaven's kingdom and earth's kingdom do interlock (to use a term of Wright's). The "already but not yet" (to coin Ladd's phrase) contains considerable degrees of intersection at many levels including political, economical, spiritual, psychological, et al. Ben's prayer nicely captures these areas of overlap and it is in those that God and we live and move and have our being. Ergo, to this end we must pray!


Excellent . I shall pray with you together. Have a blessing 2009 for all of us. Amen!

Randy Barnhart, Atlanta GA said...

Paul that was a rather cheap and unkind remark you shot my way.

Dr. Witherington used language in his prayer that is simply unhelpful to a church which already identifies far to easily with the United States. This identification (seen also in your own post, btw) hampers a weak church struggling to live out it's ultimate allegiance.

I have no interest in, as you put it, "dichotomous thinking" that draws a distinction between "this world and God's world" -- nor did I suggest it. Thanks for the comments.

Unknown said...

Question: Is there a reason why you misquote the Old Testament in your prayer ? How can we be a people of the Word if we can't even properly quote a well-known passage.