I was in the library last night, picking up a book I had requested from another library. It's a children's book on mushrooms, and I like the storyline and accompanying illustrations, and the way parts of the book look like a nature journal. We take nature walks in our home each week and also with my grandchildren, so "The Mushroom Hunt" seemed like a good addition to autumn nature study.
I didn't expect this library book to get me thinking about the election.
To be fair, it's hard not to think about it. It's all over Facebook, Twitter, the news, podcasts, and people's conversations. It's been an election season like no other I can recall, with both candidates scoring high in one area: "least liked" in recent history.
But I was at the library, thinking about nature study, and in particular getting a book on mushrooms. My mind, at least for awhile, was not on the choice before the nation.
The librarian handed me the receipt. "It's due on the 10th," he said.
And then it hit me. November 10th. The election is the 8th.
When I return my library book, the election will be all over.
Well, of course, there's the possibility it won't be completely over. Anyone who lived through 2000 (and this year's youngest voters at least were born then, though they wouldn't remember) knows that elections aren't always decided that night. Or for many nights.
But likely, this fractious, troubling, momentous decision will be past, when I bring "The Mushroom Hunt" back to the public library. And it all suddenly loomed very near.
I have read or listened to many wise and godly men and women speak about this election. I can't recall a time when Christians, particularly Christians who share similar values on urgent priorities like life, religious liberty, national safety, the Supreme Court, and economic and personal freedom, have been this polarized.
I have come - tentatively - to my likely voting decision for this election - and I am not going to write about it today. I don't know if I will at any point.
But I have come to an even bigger decision. It came to me when I was thinking about the election, and feeling frustrated and powerless and somewhat discouraged about it.
I am going to pray.
Now obviously, I've been praying already. I can go back to a much earlier time in the primary cycle and find my prayer requests written out, prayer requests that were both specific and general - for a certain candidate, and for God to be glorified. But lately, the barrage of news from and about both camps has nearly paralyzed my prayer life in that area. And that's not a good thing.
The Bible says to 'pray for those in authority.' Neither presidential candidate is in a position of authority over me - yet. The vice presidential candidates actually have more authority at the moment, and though I don't live in either state where they govern, one of them at least has the capacity in the Senate to make decisions that impact me and my family. But not one of these four people - Trump, Clinton, Pence, or Kaine - is right now specifically ruling over me.
By the time "The Mushroom Hunt" is due, though, two of them will be.
And in the meantime, they all are ruling in a sense - they are ruling the airwaves, the internet, the national conversation, and they are ruling the yards.
Signs are cropping up. I took a picture of each camp's sign today, which was interesting in itself. My own street is remaining apolitical this year, it seems, so I drove around awhile and then had to pull over to get these stunning photos. (I envisioned taking some beautiful images, with the setting sun reflecting off of a few nearby fallen maple leaves. That didn't happen, clearly.)
Those signs have become notices for me - notices that tell me to pray.
It was an exhortation, a command, that "first of all" - before I give my opinion, before I engage in articulating my points, before I do anything else - "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks" (that's a lot right there...) "be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority."
(I Timothy 2:1)
These four people need my prayers.
I can't just vote for my favorites, or my candidates, or my side. A study of the time period for the Apostle Paul's writing of this letter to young Timothy reveals that Nero was the one 'in authority.' That adds significant perspective. The rhetoric is pretty intense right now, from both the Republicans and the Democrats, but no one can accuse either candidate of lighting Christians on fire to illuminate their personal garden. (Although, give it a day or so, and who knows what will be said next. I'm kidding. I hope.)
There's a reason to pray. It's so that 'we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.' Such a life is louder than the text indicates. When a believer in Jesus Christ lives a life of godliness and honesty, that testimony speaks to an ever-growing circle of people. And that observable testimony is a testimony to the life-changing power of God.
That's because praying for those in authority, even - especially - when they are leaders that oppose our values or our convictions or (in the case of the early church) even our very existence, that's a strong witness.
It's also the most important thing I can do right now. When I saw those political signs today, I gained what I had been missing: a sense of purpose in this election. I have a role to play, and it matters whether or not I carry out that role. It matters because God hears and God answers.
Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Tim Kaine, Mike Pence - I am praying for you. I am praying that if any of you don't know Jesus Christ as your Savior, that you turn to Him and accept what He did for you on the cross. Truly, ultimately, that's your most important decision. If you once knew and walked with Him but you've followed another path, I pray you return, fully and joyfully. And if you already know Him, I pray you stay closer than ever to the only One who can guide you, help you, and sustain you. God alone can help the country. That's the way it's always been, and that's the one thing - in this radically changing time - that hasn't changed at all.
The election is soon. Well, according to my library receipt, anyway. (Library due dates always arrive with much haste. I have a backlog of fines to prove it. Oops. That revelation would likely keep me out of public office. But I digress.)
And every yard sign, every news story, every debate, every tweet and post and podcast and conversation - they are reminders to pray for these four, their families, this election, and this country. And yes, for the rest of the world, too. Because as important as my vote is - and it is important - my prayers matter, my prayers reach the heart of God, and my prayers can make all the difference.