If I may piggyback on the title used by my colleague Lee Wishing for his column last week-here's another tale of two cities. The "Jefferson" in question is often affectionately known as "Jeff City," the capital of Missouri, beautifully situated on bluffs overlooking the Missouri River. Two days after a massive rally by public-union supporters in Madison, Wis., a much quieter and smaller group gathered under the rotunda of the Missouri capitol dome. Last Monday was the first day of the 2011 legislative session, and-not unusual for Missouri-the weather wasn't cooperating. As a steady fall of huge, damp snowflakes whitened the grounds, Christians inside bowed their heads to pray.
That in itself is not unusual, or at least I hope it isn't. As much as they sigh and shake their heads over the government, Christians everywhere pray for their leaders. What gave this event a unique slant was that it happened at the specific request of legislators. Last year, a delegation of Missouri senators and representatives, Democrats and Republicans, contacted the regional director of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and asked that members be specifically praying for the task of balancing the state budget. On March 29, 2010, an estimated 800 people overflowed the rotunda and listened to a message by Anne Graham Lotz before breaking up into groups to ask for God's forgiveness, mercy, and wisdom for all members of the legislature. It "worked"-the budget was balanced with a notable lack of antagonism, not only on time but eight days early.
Weather kept the numbers down this year, but the event went on in the homes and churches of people who weren't able to travel. The day began with a prayer walk, as groups toured the offices of individual lawmakers and prayed for the requests posted outside on the office doors. At noon, the assembly of visitors, with some legislators and state employees, came together in a special service sponsored by the Bott Radio Network. Author and speaker Dr. Tom Blackaby spoke about the power of prayer to move history: "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray. . ." (2 Chronicles 7:14). The prayers started with repentance and moved on to supplication for the three institutions ordained by God: family, churches, and government. The service didn't end there, for believers are committed to 40 days of intercession for the legislature, especially in the matter of balancing the budget.
Missouri has its share of cantankerousness, going at least as far back as Huck Finn's pap: "Call this a govment!" That's the natural response to controversial policies, no matter which side of the aisle they're coming from. But whatever the results of this year's legislative session, the prayer kickoff in the Missouri capitol is slated to become an annual event.
Prayer often kicks in during times of crisis, as it did among Republicans of the Wisconsin legislature before they voted for the collective-bargaining bill on March 10. Thank God for that, but it's even better to get out ahead of the game. And as for whether noisy protest rallies or quiet prayer services will have the greater long-term effect . . . thankfully again, there's no contest.