This piece originally appeared on FOX News Opinion on FOXNews.com.
By Bruce Ashford and Billy Hallowell
Wednesday night we watched the third – and final – presidential debate. Americans are more divided than ever before. Right now, citizens and pundits alike are brutally battling it out over the 2016 presidential election. And at the center of this controversy are the candidates themselves — the Republican nominee Donald Trump and the Democratic contender Hillary Clinton.
Allegations of sexual misconduct. 33,000 deleted emails. Claims of “election rigging.” And the material just keeps coming.
Escaping the furor is nearly impossible. From tense exchanges on Twitter and Facebook to a never-ending news cycle driven by controversy and contention, the nation cannot avoid the tumult of the ever-depressing 2016 presidential election. It is simply everywhere.
Christians are no exception. Inundated with electoral politics, many Bible-believers are expressing confusion, frustration, and uncertainty about what to do on Nov. 8. Sadly, the nominees of both major parties present significant challenges for anyone committed to voting according to biblical values.
Adding to that difficulty is the fact that the stakes in this election are incredibly high. There’s legitimate concern over the composition of the Supreme Court as well as the rapidly increasing social and cultural rot of our nation.
America is truly at a crossroads, and emotions are running high.
But amid all the chaos, there are some central questions that we, as Christians, must ask ourselves: Are we fulfilling our biblical responsibility to our leaders — and to one another? Are we praying for God to work in and through this electoral dilemma?
As we battle back and forth over the political situation, it’s easy to forget the importance of prayer. Ask yourself: when is the last time you prayed for President Barack Obama, or for members of Congress?
The Bible is clear; Christians are meant to seek God’s guidance for our leaders and those in authority. Yet, many of us are so consumed with fear, frustration, or even apathy that we’ve forsaken these instructions.
Consider these words from 1 Timothy 2:1-2: “Therefore I exhort first of all that all supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” That’s a powerful command, one of the few clear imperatives the Bible gives us concerning government and politics.
Caught up in the electoral fever pitch, we often forget that when we pray, we are appealing to the Person who is sovereign over world leaders. The real, true and unadulterated power resides with Christ — and does not rest in the hands of any political leader, president or otherwise.
Rather than trusting in a candidate or party, we should be turning to God for national guidance. We should ask the Lord to guide the path of America’s future leader, while placing our faith in God alone. Because our hope is not in an elected president or a nominated justice, but in a coming King.
In the end, this conflict in our nation is not limited to social breakdown and political warfare. At its root, this conflict is spiritual, and that should bring us comfort. As 2 Corinthians 10:4 tells us, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”
When we pray, we are also reminded that our political interaction should be peaceable and godly. This not only affects how we interact with one another while debating controversial issues, it also makes it more difficult to demonize or slander a presidential nominee. After having prayed for a leader, we are more likely to appropriately engage and constructively evaluate a candidate’s positions and character.
And the essential benefits of prayer don’t end there. When we turn to God in prayer, we are asking Him to give us wisdom — a rare commodity in the current election cycle. As the people of God grapple with whom to vote for on Nov. 8, we stand in desperate need of such a gift.
James 1:5 tells us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
You never know: God might act in a surprising way in response to our prayers. He may bestow unexpected blessings or bring forth unanticipated outcomes during this contentious season, but we can’t possibly know until we get back to the basics. If we have any real concern for our nation, the one thing we must do is pray.
Several times this year, social media flash mobs mocked evangelicals for saying we would pray for our country in regard to the black and blue shootings, or other harrowing events that unfolded. In their view, our tweets about prayer were simply a means of circumventing difficult issues instead of acting upon them.
For our part, however, we’d turn the criticism around and say that prayer is a more powerful form of activism than flash mobbing on social media. We share the conviction that our obedience to the biblical command to pray for our political leaders is more important than the sum total of our social media statements, radio shows, or opinion pieces.
We must pray that God will act in and through this election cycle. Only He can redirect the badness of our situation toward good ends. Only he could make something beautiful from the ugliness of this moment in our national history.
The dire nature of the situation—two deeply flawed presidential candidates, social unrest, rampant injustice, disintegrating political parties, and divided Christian communities—should be more than enough to bring us to our knees, exactly where we’ll be if we possess any true concern for the future of America.
Bruce Ashford is the Provost and Dean of Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as Professor of Theology and Culture. He co-authored the recently-released “One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics” (B&H Academic, Dec. 2015) with Chris Pappalardo. Follow him on Twitter @BruceAshford.
Billy Hallowell is a journalist and cultural commentator who is a senior editor atFaithwire.com, the former faith and culture editor of TheBlaze and the author of “The Armageddon Code.” Follow him on Twitter @BillyHallowell.