What does one pray for when asked to pray for on the inauguration of the President of the United States? Even more, what does one pray for a president whom many already regard as a messiah-figure? The Bible has its own set of inauguration prayers: the coronation psalms. Psalm 72, a coronation psalm for Solomon begins “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness and your afflicted with justice.” I thought of this psalm this morning as the ceremony was going on, but quickly realized it would have been inappropriate to pray for a presidential inauguration. While I do pray that Obama will lead in a way that reflects God’s desire for righteousness and gives justice to the oppressed, the application of any text like Psalm 72 or 110 (also a coronation psalm), to a present-day political leader is idolatrous: Christians who believe that those psalms are ultimately fulfilled in the the reign of Jesus should be wary of using them to describe any other person than Jesus. So again, what should we be praying for President Obama?
Mark Labberton (of First Pres Berkeley, CA) listed humility, wisdom, and courage as three qualities the new president needs in a short reflection for Leadership Journal. Interestingly enough, Rick Warren prayed for these three things (and integrity, generosity, and compassion) in his invocation this morning. The prayer, as Labberton also recommends, avoided party-line petitions and focused instead on seeking the peace of our country and the world, as the exiles were instructed to do in Jeremiah 29:4-7. Warren’s prayer reflected this same principle: “Help us to share, to serve, and to seek the common good of all. May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy, and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet.” In my opinion Warren’s choice of using the names of Jesus from various languages and traditions (Yeshua – Hebrew; Isa – Arabic) was a beautiful way of including those present from other traditions while still maintaining the integrity of the prayer as distinctly Christian, one prayed in the name of Jesus and concluded with the Lord’s Prayer. Well done, Rick Warren. Of course, the fact that Obama is our first African-American president is a sign of the peace, shalom, of God in the breaking down of racial boundaries (Eph 2, Gal 3:28). (As a young, white, middle-class male, I can’t even begin to understand how meaningful today was for those who’ve fought long and hard in the civil rights movement! But that’s a post for another time.)
So, on this historic day, I do pray that God will give Obama wisdom, humility and courage; that he will seek the shalom not just of this nation but of the whole earth. And I pray that regardless of political views, American Christians will continue to uphold him in prayer. As 1 Timothy 2:1-6a says, let “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (TNIV).