Politics as Ministry

by | Nov 14, 2016

Politics1 (250x250)The 2016 elections are finally over … and now the healing must begin.

At the national level, we’ve already heard conciliatory statements from President Obama, Secretary Clinton and President-Elect Trump. Let us pray that their gracious words are matched by their actions in the weeks and months ahead.

As powerful as these leaders are, they are not positioned to personally engage the people in your life—your family, friends and co-workers—the way you can. This means you have a unique opportunity to minister to people whose worlds have been profoundly impacted by recent political events.

How to Win Graciously

If your candidate prevailed, this is an ideal time to practice the Golden Rule, that is, to treat others as you would want to be treated if your candidate had lost (Matt. 7:12). In other words …

Be humble. Don’t act like this was your personal accomplishment, for it is God who raises up leaders and deposes them (Dan. 2:20-21). As the checkered history of Israel’s kings reveals, God raises up good leaders to bless people and poor leaders to chastise them. Let us recognize that God is the ultimate mover in these events, and pray that our newly elected officials, especially Donald Trump, will prove to be the former kind of leader rather than the latter.

Be sensitive. Don’t celebrate your victory in the presence of those who are grieving. Rejoice with those who share your views but be silent or subdued when talking with those who differ. It would be terribly unloving to compound their sadness and grief.

Be compassionate. Rather than simply holding your tongue, ask God to give you genuine empathy and compassion for those who see the election as a personal and national catastrophe. Rather than dismissing their feelings out of hand, make a real effort to imagine how they are feeling … and then let that compassion move you engage them with gentleness and kindness (see Seven Steps to Empathy; What You Can Do about Racial Tensions).

Be honest. Like every other person who has occupied the Oval Office, Donald Trump has both strengths and weaknesses in both his competence and his character. Although he has many undeniable skills and accomplishments, many of his past behaviors and words are inconsistent with the commands of Scripture and have grieved Christians and non-Christians alike. Be honest about these facts and let them move you to reasonable conversation and constant prayer.

Be patient. Allow people time to grieve, to lament and to vent their disappointments, anger and fears. Don’t try to lecture or debate with them while their emotions are stirred up. Give them time—it may take months—to process those feelings and see what develops during the upcoming transition (see Spanglish for a superb example of such patience and wisdom)

Be discerning. If others lash out at you, remember that they are probably acting out of fear, not malice. Fear typically reveals itself in one of three ways: control, anger or withdrawal (see The Three Faces of Fear). Therefore, even if someone seems to be personally angry at you or rejecting you, choose to not take it personally and to do all you can to leave the door between you open … even if they are trying to slam it shut.

Find Agreement. If others seek to take their fears out on you, try to re-direct the conversation to neutral topics (weather, food, etc.). If they press you on political issues, draw them out with sincere and thoughtful questions (so that you really understand them), and then focus on areas of shared concern. “I agree completely with you that our nation needs to do a better job of [promoting/protecting/reducing] [an outcome we agree on, such as helping the poor or protecting people from injustice]. What are some of the ways you think we could do that?”

Bless those who curse you. If others are harsh, unloving or unjust toward you, do not respond in kind. Instead, remember Jesus’ command to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). For example, rather than boycotting a company that has spoken critically of Mr. Trump’s supporters, consider writing a gracious letter indicating your desire to continue using their services as well as your hope that they will reconsider their actions.

All of these actions are well summarized in Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:12-14).

How to Lose Graciously

If your candidate did not prevail, this is an ideal time for you too to practice the Golden Rule, that is, to behave in exactly the way you’d want others to behave if their candidate had lost (Matt. 7:12). In other words …

Trust God. Remember that God’s thoughts are higher than your thoughts and his ways are higher than your ways (Isa. 55:9). Since he has ordained to raise Mr. Trump and other people into positions of authority, trust that God knows what he is doing (Dan. 2:20-21; Prov. 3:5-7). It could be that he intends to discipline us through poor leaders, or he may be planning to bless us through leaders who eventually prove to exceed our expectations.

Choose your attitude. Viktor Frankl survived the horrors of Auschwitz but lost his entire family in the concentration camp. In spite of all  the abuse and oppression he experienced, he had the wisdom to write, “The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude.” This principle of human freedom and responsibility is just as true today (see these examples). Whatever disappointments you experience in life, you still have the freedom to choose an attitude that enables you to move ahead hopefully and constructively.

Talk it out without taking it out. Instead of venting your emotions at people who might feel personally attacked, talk out your initial feelings with people who share your concerns … but who also have the maturity and wisdom to know when it’s time to move from sharing emotions to praying and discussing constructive responses.

Resist emotional hijacking. Intense emotions can overpower rational thinking and cause us to say and do things that we ultimately regret (see Hijacked). To avoid damaging valuable relationships (and making yourself look foolish), practice the READ principle: Recognize your emotions, Evaluate their source, Anticipate the consequences of following them, and Direct them in a constructive course (see  Four Ways to Defeat Hijacking).

Take your fears to God. As mentioned above, fear typically reveals itself in one of three ways: control, anger or withdrawal (see The Three Faces of Fear). If you sense any of these tendencies in yourself, prayerful look behind them to identify the fears that are fueling them. Then take those fears to God in prayer, trusting that he will make good on his covenant promises: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).

Unplug. Social media can be like wood to a fire (Prov. 26:20). Every time you read another distressing Tweet, Instagram, Facebook comment or news report, you’ll keep your fears and anxieties burning. So give yourself a vacation. Turn off your feeds, silence your accounts and decompress for a few days. When you check back in a week or two, you’ll be amazed how much more objectively you can think about recent events.

Consecrate your concerns to God. When the Apostle Paul was chained in prison for his faith, he realized he had two choices. He could either curse those chains by complaining and doubting God’s goodness, or he could consecrate those chains to God. To consecrate something means to declare it sacred, to devote it irrevocably to the worship and service of God. Paul chose to consecrate his chains to Christ. Trusting that God was always working for his good (Phil. 1:18-21), Paul could sincerely pray, “This is your situation, my Lord. Show me how I can respond to it in a way that pleases and honors you.” You can imitate Paul by doing the same thing with your concerns about our country’s political situation (see Curse or Consecrate).

Channel your concerns into constructive action. Our country was founded on the shared vision that all people are created equal and endowed by God with the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We’ve made great progress toward achieving that vision over the past two hundred years, but there is much left to do. Identify the areas that God seems to be calling you to address, and then do all you can to promote needed repentance and improvement (Isa. 1:17; Eccl. 9:10).

Above all else, pray.

Our country faces divisions and challenges that have been aggravated by months of political rhetoric that has been repeated and magnified by both sides. Therefore, this is a time to obey God’s command to pray earnestly for all of the people in our nation, especially for those who are in positions of political responsibility (1 Tim. 2:1-2; Jer. 29:7).

Among other things, we should pray for repentance from sin, for humility and deliverance from pride, for genuine compassion for the disadvantaged, for true and uniform justice, for a reverent fear of God that moves people to obey his commands, and most of all, for the gospel to go forth with power.

In addition, we can pray for God to give our new leaders, especially the man who will soon sit in the Oval Office, the humility and wisdom that enabled Abraham Lincoln to guide our country through a dreadful civil war (see Lincoln’s Relational Wisdom) and enabled Ronald Reagan to lead us out of the Cold War, which threatened to annihilate human civilization (see Reagan, Lincoln, RW and You).

We desperately need such leadership today, so let us pray earnestly for God’s continued patience, mercy and grace as we seek to repent from our sins, learn from our mistakes and turn these distressing political events into an opportunity for mutual, God-honoring ministry.

– Ken Sande

DRW 2.0 (200x200)If you’d like to learn how to apply these kinds of relational skills in all areas of your life, I encourage you to take advantage of our new online course, Discovering Relational Wisdom 2.0, which you can pursue individually or with a group of friends who share your desire to respond to the challenges of life in a way that honors God.

Reflection Questions

  • If you feel like a winner after the recent election, try to put yourself in the shoes of those who feel like they lost. What emotions are they probably feeling? What events have contributed to those emotions?
  • Which of the recommended steps above would be most helpful for you to take?
  • If you feel like a loser after the recent election, what might you do today that you would regret six months from now? Where are you tempted to forget or doubt God? What good might God be planning to bring from these events?
  • Which of the recommended steps above would be most helpful for you to take?
  • To think further on these issues, read Tim Keller’s NYT editorial: How Do Christians Fit in a Two-Party System? They Don’t.

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2016 Ken Sande

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