The Value of Christian Protest


In recent days we have seen a marked contrast. On Friday Washington, D.C., was flooded by many excited supporters of the new president. Throughout the weekend the excited supporters were replaced by unhappy protestors. With D.C. as the hub both the support and the protest spilled over across the country. Traveling through a few “red” states this weekend, I encountered both chatter (positive and negative) as well as organized protests. It’s not exaggerating to say that many Americans are sharply divided and deeply engaged in what is happening in the country.

Christians seem to be echoing the division. I briefly popped my head into the tent of social media and read a splattering of comments. Reflecting the country, many evangelicals seem to be deeply divided and deeply engaged in what is happening.

How should we as Christians respond to things that we don’t approve of? This type of variation and intensity prompts the question. In fact, I received a question like this from a member of our congregation. Thinking Christians want to respond biblically. Realizing that the situations that prompted the protests and support over this past weekend are varied and somewhat complicated, I won’t attempt to propose a silver-bullet for how to respond. However, I do want to highlight something that often seems to be neglected when considering the conflict that plays out before us in the 24-hour news cycle:

Prayer is an under-estimated resource for affecting social change. Therefore, prayer is a powerful form of protest for Christians and one that should be more regularly utilized.

Here are three reasons why.

1. Prayer works.

At the end of the day we want to see change, right? Presumably this is why people are protesting or expressing their frustration. How does change happen? What better way is there than prayer? James reminds us of Elijah and his fervent prayer in order to encourage us to be faithful in prayer (Jam. 5:17-18). Paul tells the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer (Col. 4:2). Jesus himself spent long periods of time in prayer and frequently withdrew to himself for this purpose (Luke 5:16). God instructs the people of Israel to pray for the welfare of their city while in captivity (Jer. 29:7). The apostle Paul instructs Christians in the nature of the spiritual battle: “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood . . . but spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). So what are we to do? Among other things, Christians are to pray “at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18). God would not model and command prayer if it was a waste of time. Don’t forget, prayer works.

2. Prayer refines our desires and calibrates our hearts.

It is easy to uncork our frustration on social media or over dinner with a friend. It’s really almost effortless. But what about praying? Now this takes work. To pray we have to be quiet and think about what we are saying. Why are we so mad? Why are we so happy? Prayer is like the divine power-washer that scrubs off the worldly barnacles from the side panel of our lives. It blasts away the excess and cleans us up by refining our desires. It also calibrates our hearts by syncing us up with the divine agenda. We can easily get wrapped up with what is going on here (either positively or negatively). However, there is something incredibly sanctifying about praying, “Your kingdom come” and truly meaning it.

3. Prayer shows our dependence.

I regularly return to 1 Timothy 2 and read Paul’s words to Timothy. He tells him to pray for leaders and all of those in authority. We should remember that these were not necessarily elected officials from the Bible Belt; they were in varying degrees of ambivalent to hostile to the church. Yet the apostle orders prayer. I find it fascinating that this is the prescription. He wants churches to be filled with people who understand what they are here for. It is about the people of God living a quiet, peaceable, godly, and dignified life (1 Tim. 2:3). If we can honor God by living in light of his Word then we are happy, blessed people. But in order to do this we need to pray. And in God’s providence this prayer demonstrates our dependence upon God.

No Better than Prayer

I am not trying to be self-righteous uncle over here looking down my nose at you. But, I am saying, listen, while there may be more you can do than pray, there is certainly not less. And, whatever you do end up doing, it won’t be better than prayer.

Imagine with me what our churches would look like if they were filled with people who viewed prayer as a powerful form of personal protest. Imagine how your life might change (what you say and how you say it) if prayer was your regular and preferred response to the world around you. Sure, social media might be quieter, but so might your heart—and the world around you.