Today, I had the privilege of offering the invocation to begin the day at the Maryland State Senate. When asked to participate several months ago, I was not sure how to respond. I knew that they want ecumenical prayers, by which they mean prayers that use generic names for God, and are crafted so as not to offend people of other faiths.
I share my experience because I know that many Christians struggle with what is appropriate in such situations.
One concern, of course, is the use of Jesus’ name in prayer. On the one hand, I realize that we are told to pray in Jesus’ name, not to say those exact words at the end of a prayer (no prayers in the New Testament end that way, yet I assume the apostles were praying in the name of Jesus). On the other hand, however you communicate it, prayer that is acceptable to God must be authorized by Jesus. As it turns out, the Senate assured me that their guidlines were only that, and I was free to pray as I wished, so I did, in fact, use Jesus’ name.
My greatest concern was leading a number of non-Christians in prayer. How could I lead in what would be idolatry for many? My solution was to inform the Senate that I would not lead in prayer, but would instead pray for the Senators. I would be especially mindful that there were many non-Christians present (a matter for my own conscience, not only the government’s sensitivities), but I would pray as I understood how to pray.
I think this distinction of praying for a mixed group instead of leading them in prayer may be a helpful avenue for Christians to explore. I would be offended if a Muslim tried to lead me in prayer to Allah. However, I would not be personally offended if a Muslim offered prayer for me. I do not recognize his god, but there would be no harm done to me, and I would appreciate any positive sentiments he expressed on my behalf. Similarly, it would be an offense to God for me to try to lead an atheist or idolater in prayer. But it would not offend God (and probably would offend no one) for me to offer Christian prayer invoking God’s common grace uponÂ non-Christians.
I’ve included the prayer I actually prayed below. Others may come to different conclusions about what is appropriate; I share my journey in this matter to give food for thoght, and to encourage us to find good and helpful ways to serve Christ in a pluralistic society.
Holy and compassionate Creator of all, I humbly bow before you this day, as these Senators and staff prepare to do the hard work of government. I lift them up to you. You have called them to this task; I ask you to help them accomplish much this day.
In every soul, stir up their best insight, courage and graciousness. Enable them to weigh each perspective appropriately, and make decisions that best conform to your common grace for mankind. For the sake of this State, guard them from the temptations that power brings. Grant them this day the mutual respect and good humor that can make sharp differences less abrasive. Help them to find wisdom from each other, and always heed the conscience you have given.
Lord God, I thank you for these men and women. I ask you to give them the health and strength they need to do their job. I ask you to mercifully lighten the personal burdens each one carries into this chamber, and be near to anyone who calls to you for help.
In all, enable them to do what is good, act justly and love mercy.
Almighty God, I know that each of us who prays does so the best we know how. For me, that means that I offer this prayer to you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.