Christian leaders, lawmakers and distinguished guests packed into the U.S. Capitol for the 68th National Day of Prayer observance Thursday night, calling on Americans of all political stripes to “love one another” or run the risk letting a divided kingdom fall.
In the midst of a split Congress and a politically divided America, believers gathered at the Statuary Hall for a night of worship and intercessory prayer, fervently asking God to use His divine power to heal the ideological divisions plaguing the nation.
“We are deeply honored, every one of us, to live in the greatest country in the history of the world but we also are keenly aware that we are a country experiencing problems and difficulties: things like racism, things like hatred, things like violent crime and a host of other things,” Georgia Republican Congressman Jody Hice said during the event.
“All of these things are an indication of the true problem, which is a spiritual problem of the heart. The reality is that this spiritual problem cannot be changed by another law or another piece of legislation.”
The only solution for the problem, Hice, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, said, is for God to bring about a spiritual awakening that transforms the hearts of Americans so they can “once again love Him and love one another and therein our nation is healed.”
Ronnie Floyd, a Southern Baptist pastor and author who serves as president of the National Day of Prayer, explained that Jesus made clear in John 13:34 that His followers are to “love one another just as I have loved you.”
“John 13:35 goes on and says, ‘everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another,’’ Floyd said, adding that unconditional love is the only action that gives a person away as a follower of Jesus Christ.
“You are not known by your creeds, by your songs, by your doctrine, by your knowledge, by your achievements, by your dress, or by your appearance. Jesus says you are only known by your love.”
Floyd pointed out that the word “love” is used 12 times in John 1 through John 12 and 44 times in John 13 through John 21.
“The love is the key theme in Jesus’ farewell to His disciples,” added Floyd, who was recently elected as the new head of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. “Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 for His disciples and the Church is driven by His burden of love for us.”
“Just think what would happen if ‘love one another’ [happened] across American life. How many marriages would be saved and healed? How businesses would experience more prosperity? How many churches would thrive, grow and explode with Gospel advance?” Floyd asked.
“How much more great things could get done in city governments, state governments and in the United States government? How much safer would our schools and our public venues become? How much more poverty and homelessness would be eliminated if we learned to love one another? How much more exciting would life be every day if it was permeated by the power of love?”
In today’s culture, people are quick to ridicule each other publicly through the media or social media platforms in a quest to get more likes or followers. President Donald Trump has also received quite a bit of heat for his brashness on social media.
However, Floyd warns that such behavior is “not Christian.”
“Treating other people like trash may be vogue in the culture, but it is not Christian,” Floyd said, not mentioning the president by name but just speaking generally about the social media culture today. “Demeaning the value of someone publicly might light up social media world or become breaking news in the United States, but it is not Christian and it is just not right.”
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and a California Assemblies of God pastor, said that people of God should be united by Jesus’ love.
“That means that when we have this love, the donkey and the elephant cannot divide us, the spirit of God unites us,” the 49-year-old Rodriguez said. “If we love one another, we see the image of God in each other. If we love another, we elevate the truth that every life in and out of the womb carries, God gave it value.”
“When we love one another, the giants of bigotry, discord and strife is brought down by the stone of charity,” he added. “It means that when they cursed us, we blessed them. When they condemn us, we forgive them. It is time to reclaim the love mantle.”
Rodriguez, pastor of New Season Church in Sacramento, stressed that the “most loving institution on the planet” must be the church of Jesus Christ.
“Because you can’t find this love in a Google search. Siri can’t provide it and Amazon Prime will not deliver it,” Rodriguez explained. “This love comes with a viable legitimate encounter with God’s precious Holy Spirit.”
Floyd added that the government also cannot deliver an adequate fix to the problems the nation faces and politics “cannot heal.”
“We are not the answer. Christ is the answer and Jesus reminds us of these words: every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction,” Floyd said, quoting Matthew 12:25. “No city or house divided against itself will stand. Your family is not an exception to this. And your church is not an exception to this. And the United States of America is not an exception to this.
Floyd added that forgiveness is not an option for believers as Jesus calls His followers in Matthew 5:44 to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
“We must release. We must forget,” Floyd, 63, said. “Yet, we must seek the one who offends us and love him or her in a better way. You see, when you belong to Jesus, you belong to love. Love is the better way. Love is God’s way.”
The Rev. Anthony Thompson, who lost his wife, Myra, when white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine people inside Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, told those in attendance Thursday that he never truly experienced the peace of God until he forgave Roof for taking his wife away from him.
The day came two days after his wife was killed and Thompson faced Roof in court during a bond hearing. Thompson said that he told Roof that he was forgiven and called on him to repent and seek forgiveness in Christ.
“I am going to tell you, God’s peace is real because after I forgave Dylann, I experienced God’s love and I experienced God’s peace,” Thompson said.
“For the first time, I knew and understood exactly what it meant and felt like to experience the peace of God that passes all understanding. It was in my heart, it was in my soul, it was in my body. He just freed me. He freed my heart. He freed my soul and body on the verge of bitterness, rage, anger and malice. He healed me from the inside out. I am here to say that He took away all of my burdens and granted me peace, peace that you could have tonight.”
Kie Bowman, the senior pastor of Hyde Park Baptist and The Quarries Church in Texas, followed Thompson and issued a call to repentance.
“If Rev. Thompson can forgive a man who took the life of his wife, who are you to hold any unforgiveness in your heart?” Bowman asked.
At the conclusion of the two-hour ceremony filled with music and prayer for the nation’s civil, judicial and military leaders. Floyd read aloud the 2019 National Prayer that he composed.