Thursday, January 17, 2008

Jury Duty: Opportunity for Onsite Prayer

Kingdom of God, come. Will of God, be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10, my translation)
This week, God assigned me to go down to the Hillsborough County courthouse and pray for the kingdom of God to come and the will of God to be done there just as it is in heaven. That was my assignment, although I expect Hillsborough County had no idea that was what would be happening when they sent me a jury summons.

When I first received that county letter I was a bit annoyed. Sure, jury duty is a civic responsibility, and I have a great appreciation for the fact our justice system provides for trials to be conducted before, and decided by, a panel of our peers. But let’s face it, such duty is seldom convenient, although, at least in my home county, everyone tried to be as accommodating at they could be.

As the day for appearing approached, I began to see that God had given me an opportunity to go into the bowels of the justice system and call for godly wisdom to be revealed in all the cases that were to be tried and all the decisions that we to be made. So I began to look forward to it.

The day finally arrived and I drove into Tampa, found a good spot in a nearby parking garage (I came early), filed through the security checkpoint and was processed, along with about three hundred other prospective jurors, into a large waiting room filled with chairs and some tables. Some people brought books to occupy their time, or grabbed a magazine from one of the nearby stacks. Others leaned back in their chairs and closed their eyes. There were also some chatty types scattered throughout, but they were generally sociable without being distracting. Everyone had their own strategy for waiting.

Finding a seat by a large man who turned out to be a truck driver, I began praying silently through the psalms for the day (five a day, because 150 psalms divided by thirty days in a month equals 5).

The time was broken up by various procedural matters. We were welcomed as a group, given a few instructions and explanations about jury service, and then sworn in, en masse, by one of the judges. Then we sat back and listened for our names to be called. Before long, a clerk began to rattle off lists and assembling little groups of about sixteen people, who were then led out by bailiffs for the next step in the selection process. This happened about every fifteen minutes, and when each reading came to end, a collective sigh of relief escaped all those who had not just been called.

In between lists, I returned to my psalms. When I finished that, I began meditating through Proverbs 14 (it was the 14th day of the month). Throughout it all, I offered up prayers, asking God to give His divine wisdom to each group, that each decision they made would reveal the heart of heaven, displaying the proper balance of justice and mercy. I was content to pass the day in that manner.

Then they called my name. I packed up my stuff and took my place in line, ready to move into the next level. I prayed for those who were in line with me. We were led into one of the courtrooms and seated before the judge who was to conduct the case for which we were being considered. The prosecuting and defense attorneys were also present, as well as the defendant, a somber-looking young man. I prayed for them all, that godly wisdom, justice and mercy would prevail in those proceedings, and in the life of that young man.

The case was about DUI, and the attorneys began to each one of us questions. Did we have any particular “feelings” about DUI? How accurate did we think breathalyzers were? What did we think about “the presumption of innocence” and about who had the burden of proof? We each answered in turn. Noting that I am a minister of the gospel, they asked me particularly about my opinion of DUI. I spoke my mind, that “driving under the influence” is wrong because it is dangerous and deadly, that I presumed the defendant was innocent until proven guilty, but that I presumed breathalyzers are accurate unless proven otherwise.

Then we were all led out while the judge deliberated with both attorneys about who would be impaneled in this trial. There were sixteen prospective jurors, but only eight chairs to be filled. In the end, I was not selected. So ended my duty.

I drove home, happy to be released, but also thankful for the opportunity to pray for God’s kingdom to be revealed and His will to be done in such a place where important, life-changing decisions are made. I may never know of any specific outcomes from my prayers that day, but I believe that when we pray the way Jesus taught us to pray, there will be divine, world-changing results.

Everywhere you go, there is an opportunity for you to pray for the kingdom of God to come and the will of God to be done there just as it is in heaven.