Wisdom from the 2020 National Prayer Breakfast

The National Prayer Breakfast is an event that I always look forward to watching. This year’s prayer breakfast was most unusual. Arthur Brooks, was the featured speaker for the breakfast. With President Trump on one side of the dais and Speaker of the House Pelosi on the other side Arthur spoke from Matthew 5:43-44 NLT, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” The President and the Speaker both looked uncomfortable to me during his talk from this passage.

Here are some excerpts from his wise message.

Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Pence, Speaker Pelosi, heads of state, members of Congress and honored guests: Thank you for inviting me here today. I am deeply honored and grateful to address the National Prayer Breakfast.

As you have heard, I am not a priest or minister. I am a social scientist and a university professor. But most importantly, I am a follower of Jesus, who taught each of us to love God and to love each other.

Love your enemies! Now that is thinking differently. It changed the world starting 2,000 years ago, and it is as subversive and counterintuitive today as it was then. But … How do we do it in a country and world roiled by political hatred and differences that we can’t seem to bridge?

First, we need to make it personal. …

How many of you love someone with whom you disagree politically?

Are you comfortable hearing someone on your own side insult that person?

This reminds me of a lesson my father taught me, about moral courage. In a free society where you don’t fear being locked up for our opinions, true moral courage isn’t standing up to the people with whom you disagree. It’s standing up to the people with whom you agree — on behalf of those with whom you disagree. Are you strong enough to do that? That, I believe, is one way we can live up to Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies.

What is leading us to this dark place that we don’t like?

The problem is what psychologists call contempt. In the words of the 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.” In politics today, we treat each other as worthless, which is why our fights are so bitter and cooperation feels nearly impossible.

(He illustrates how contempt becomes a habit and then proposes homework in three points.)

First: Ask God to give you the strength to do this hard thing — to go against human nature, to follow Jesus’ teaching and love your enemies. Ask God to remove political contempt from your heart. In your weakest moments, maybe even ask Him to help you fake it!

Second: Make a commitment to another person to reject contempt. Of course you will disagree with others — that’s part of democracy. It is right and good, and part of the competition of ideas. But commit to doing it without contempt and ask someone to hold you accountable to love your enemies.

Third: Go out looking for contempt, so you have the opportunity to answer it with love. I know that sounds crazy, to go looking for something so bad. But for leaders, contempt isn’t like the flu. It’s an opportunity to share your values and change our world, which is what leadership is all about, isn’t it?

I’m asking you to be kind of like a missionary. …

If you see the world outside this room as mission territory, we might just mark this day, Feb. 6, 2020, at the National Prayer Breakfast, as the point at which our national healing begins.

God bless you, and God bless America.

One of the more challenging statements in the Bible when you think about it is, “Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (Hebrews 12:15, NLT) (emphasis mine) Political bitterness has corrupted the soul of our national and local conversations.

I understand how it happens. When we something evil has been done to us, said about us, or something has been taken from us it hurts! Some memories and hurts take a long time to recover from. The memories of the viciousness of the personal attacks grow more painful. In the Bible the betrayal of friends and the attacks of enemies are recited in detail as the psalmist, prophet, or apostle would pray and live out “loving your enemy.”

However, always choose to ask God for help and apply the advice of Jesus, so that those you and those you love are not troubled and corrupted. I promise you God will pull you through.

Arthur Brooks advice unfortunately was not heeded by the President or the Speaker of the House that day. I’m praying desperately for the national healing to begin. A good place to begin though is with three steps Arthur recommends. Refuse to become bitter, love your enemies.

What do you think? I would appreciate it if you would share your thoughts with me.


3 thoughts on “Wisdom from the 2020 National Prayer Breakfast

  1. I am also praying for a return to civility in this country. Try treating each other with respect regardless of that persons beliefs. I wonder if we spent as much time sharing the gospel instead of political memes how much more effective that would be in a world that has lost its way.

  2. Debbie, thanks for your reply. If the body of Christ responds with prayerful grace and civility in this hostile political climate the spread of darkness and hatred will be shut down.

  3. In my opinion, Arthur gave a message that needs to be published to the nation. He was right on! I have been so grieved by the hate I see in our nation and I found it causing me to be depressed until God stopped me with the words “why aren’t you praying for them?” Praying for those with whom you disagree is difficult, yes. But when you pray for them, the hate, dislike, anxiety dissolves!

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