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FIRST-PERSON: Graduation prayers are great, but don’t stop there

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–God doesn’t have a prayer. That, it seems, is the ultimate goal of this generation of secular culture shapers who seek to sweep all vestiges of prayer from the public square.

U.S. District Judge Fred Biery recently ruled in favor of Christa and Danny Schultz who objected to prayer being offered at their son’s Texas school graduation.

Judge Biery ruled that Christa, Danny and their son would “suffer irreparable harm” if prayers were offered at graduation.

The judge’s ruling prohibited speakers or students to say words such as “join in prayer”, “bow their heads”, “amen” and “prayer,” FoxNews reported. Even the words “invocation” and “benediction” had to be struck from the program. His order, he said, was to be “enforced by incarceration or other sanctions.”

Thankfully a federal appeals court June 3 overruled the ridiculous ruling. But this was not an isolated incident. Activist judges seeking to muzzle public prayer are legion and similar challenges are sure to be repeated.

Biery’s ruling is a sad commentary on the spiritual state of the nation.

According to the National Day of Prayer Taskforce, “there have been 136 national calls to prayer, humiliation, fasting and thanksgiving by the president of the United States” since 1789.

But now somehow a prayer during the graduation would inflict “irreparable harm” on a boy and his parents.

Really though, the thought of a judge determining where God can and can’t be invoked would be hilarious if it weren’t so pathetically sad.

The whole thing reminds me of a humorous graffiti that appeared on a wall in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

An urban poet had scrawled, “Dios no existe. Juan” (“God does not exist. Juan”). Juan, the Argentine atheist, at least had the courage to sign his name to his belief.

The next day the graffiti had been amended. It now read, “Juan no existe. Dios” (“Juan does not exist. God”).

Think about it. The person who arbitrarily decides he has the authority to “eliminate” the Creator will one day stand before Him. That is a sobering thought.

Jesus said, “And I say to you, My friends, don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will show you the One to fear: Fear Him who has authority to throw people into hell. Yes, I say to you, this is the One to fear!” (Luke 12:4-5)

But apart from being genuinely concerned for the spiritual destiny of the self-appointed God abolishers, we shouldn’t get too worked up about their public prayer policies.

Would redemptive history be altered in any way if the Medina Valley Independent School District didn’t squeeze in a perfunctory prayer before the official business began? Probably not.

Does the Constitution guarantee our free expression of religion in the public arena? Absolutely. Should we use every legal means to preserve that freedom? Without a doubt. But there is a deeper issue in play here.

Transforming biblical prayer is organically produced, not legislatively induced. What does that mean? Spirituality cannot be legislated. It is the natural result of the living Body of Christ walking in step with the Holy Spirit. This battle is won in heavenly, not earthly courts.

There’s no doubt that an opening prayer at a public event has a certain Norman Rockwell quaintness to it, but the true power of prayer is unleashed in the church, by the church and through the church.

God’s plan is for the church to be the incubator and instrument of powerful, world-changing prayer. When the church fervently prays for revival, the public square will inevitably be impacted in far more significant ways than an “invocation” and a “benediction” printed on a graduation program.

A quick look at four instances of the church in prayer in the book of Acts reveals four powerful “church at prayer principles”, all of which profoundly impacted the culture of the day, and can similarly transform our world today:

— Acts 2: The fledgling church waited on God for heaven-sent power. Now that was a prayer meeting that forever changed the world.

— Acts 4: The church prayed for and received power to minister in the face of political and cultural opposition.

— Acts 12.5: God honored the church’s prayer by liberating its leader Peter from the political and religious intrigue arrayed against him.

— Acts 13.1-3: The Church in prayer received divine guidance in sending missionaries who profoundly impacted the Roman Empire for Christ.

The first century church faced cultural challenges similar to those faced by the church today. Yet it overcame those challenges utilizing their other-worldly weapons of warfare — weapons that “demolish arguments and every high minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:4).

The church today has been accused of being reactive instead of proactive so often that the accusation has become cliché.

If we want to continue to merely react, we can sulk every time that God isn’t mentioned at some ribbon cutting ceremony.

But If we truly want to proactively shape culture we can call our families, small groups and churches to crash the gates of hell in Jesus’ Name.

There is no better way to overrule the Judge Bierys of the world. Can I hear an “Amen!”
Ralph Tone is a church growth consultant for LifeWay Español.

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  • Ralph Tone