“First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
I’ll be the first to admit it.
I’m not a big fan of many politicians. In fact, there are a few I truly don’t like as people or as leaders (and boy, am I holding back).
Some take their job as custodians of the public trust very seriously. They do an excellent job governing with an eye toward all of their constituent. They should be highly commended for their service and governmental leadership.
However, those gems seem to be few and far between today. Many other politicians make it obvious they’re in it for the money or the power or both.
All you have to do is read any of Peter Schweizer’s last six books (Extortion, Throw Them All Out, Clinton Cash, Secret Empires, Profiles in Corruption, and Red-Handed) or even just the daily headlines to understand what a cesspool of brazen political greed and abuse of power is at work in our national, state, and local governments.
That’s why I find Paul’s direction to Timothy so annoying and frustrating.
“But I don’t want to pray for my leader, Paul. I want to criticize, rebuke, and complain about that corrupt-o-crat.”
Am I alone in my thinking here?
But that’s not what Paul tells us to do. The Holy Spirit has inspired him to do the opposite.
We’re encouraged (nay, commanded?) to pray for our leaders, especially those at the highest echelons of government. Why? Because leaders have a huge impact on how our society functions. The old saying is, “As the father goes, so goes the house,” or “As the pastor goes, so goes the church.” The same is so true with nations, “As the leaders go, so goes the nation.”
All you have to do is step back to see what blessings or damages our recent leaders have brought to our nation. Under some Presidents, Congresspeople, and Supreme Court justices, we have experienced wonderful times of prosperity due to their decisions. At other times, great injustices and immoral stands have been codified into law, such as legalizing abortion and same-sex “marriages.”
Like it or not, elections do have consequences.
And once the populous has spoken via voting, then we need to start the primary phase of our Christian civic duty – to pray for those in office.
And no, we’re not to pray as the rabbi advised Tevye and the townspeople in the movie Fiddler On The Roof,
“May the Lord bless and keep the Tsar… far away from us!”
Paul gives us good guidelines and reasons to pray for our leaders. First and foremost, we’re to make all sorts of prayers to the Lord on their behalf.
· Petition emphasizes personal needs. Do we pray for what our leaders need? Are they saved and enjoying a living relationship with the Lord? How is their family doing? What are the concerns they face in life? Asking about their needs and offering to pray for them is a great way to show love to your elected officials. Call their office and ask them what needs they have that you can lift to the Lord. This shows you care and aren’t just another whiner in their district. I know Christians who have built strong and lasting relationships with their elected leaders by taking up the challenge to regularly and confidentially pray for them personally and for their families. The adage “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” applies here.
· Prayer is the general word for prayer. According to Nelson’s New King James Bible “The term is always directed toward God with reverence or worship.” Rather than excoriate your leader to their face or talk to others about him or her, talk to God about them. Tell your thoughts and feelings to Him and let Him share His thoughts and feelings about them with you. Getting the Lord’s perspective as we pray is crucial for turning our hearts toward a leader we don’t particularly like.
· Intercession means “a falling in with, meeting with.” In a sense, you are standing with that person and God in a conference. Your leader may not know it, but when you intercede for them, you’re standing alongside them in God’s presence, appealing to Him on their behalf. To get a sense of what true intercession is for those who do or don’t deserve God’s help or mercy, check out Moses’ intercession before God when the Israelites blew it with the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:7-14). Intercession is putting yourself in another person’s place and making an appeal to God for them. Think of the politician you feel most unfavorably toward (and that’s putting it diplomatically). Now pray and ask God to forgive, cleanse, bless them, or work on their behalf. This is how Moses interceded for an extremely stubborn nation, “Now if you would only forgive their sin. But if not, please erase me from the book you have written” (32:31-32). Are we willing to “go to the mat” for a despised leader and say what Moses said on their behalf? Yes, I know it’s tough and I’ll address that in a bit.
· Finally, Thanksgivings suggests an attitude, the act of praising God for what He has done for us. As good or as faulty as they can be, are we grateful for those who will do the very tough job of leadership? Yes, some political leaders abuse their office and some use it to enrich themselves (or both), but I don’t see the personal merit of a leader as the qualification for whether or not we pray for them. In fact, when Paul wrote this, the debauched and despised Nero was Rome’s emperor. Think of that as you read 1 Timothy 2:1-2 again, right now. Yes, Paul wanted Timothy and his congregation to pray for Nero and all Roman leadership whether in Rome or Ephesus.
All these types of prayer are expected to be part of a Christian’s life of talking with God.
Why should we pray for our leaders? Because political leaders are an important part of our lives. Therefore, all these types of prayers should be made for them. Leaders are important because they help set the tone of our society. In just the recent past, we can see how our government leaders have either promoted peace or stirred up conflict in the United States. Paul says we must pray, “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” By the way, that “godliness and dignity” thing is our part. That’s on us. So let’s behave even if we’re not so keen on the person who is the focus of our prayers at the time.
The ultimate reason we should pray for our leaders is found in verse 3, “This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” According to Mounce’s Greek Dictionary, the idea behind “good” here is “possessing moral excellence, worthy, upright, and virtuous.” Yes, praying for your leaders is a worthy, upright, and virtuous thing to do and “acceptable to God,” and by that, it means “pleasing to Him.”
You may not be pleased with your leader, but it pleases God when you pray for him or her!
Why? Because this is ultimately about our Heavenly Father’s desire for all people to come home to His arms. He wants everybody to be saved from the danger of eternal separation from Him and for the light of His truth to snap on in their lives. Wouldn’t that include our leaders? Of course.
“But Dr. Jay,” I hear you say, “I don’t like them because I’m at odds with them. They’ve ignored, attacked, and hurt us.” Yes, that makes it tough. But it doesn’t release us from the Lord’s encouragement to pray for our leaders.
On the other hand, why would we deny gifts so great as salvation and God’s grace from a person whom He deeply loves by not praying for them? With this in mind, it makes it easier to pray for our leaders if our goal is for them to receive God’s very best. We should only pray according to the Lord’s heart and will, not ours.
And this applies to more than just political leaders. It can apply to any leader – pastors and other congregational leaders, parents, school superintendents and board members, Home Owner Association board members. Heck, anybody in authority is a target for temptations, difficulties, and attacks by malcontents. How much more of a blessing would it be for every leader to know they have someone “(approaching) the throne of grace with boldness, so that (they) may receive mercy and find grace to help (them) in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16)?
Paul’s directive to Timothy was to make praying for leaders of primary importance in the life of the Ephesian congregation. So it should be with us.
Pray for their salvation. Pray for steadfastness in their faith if they’re believers. Pray for their needs. Talk to God about them. Stand with them in prayer and contend for God’s best for them, especially for His help according to their struggles. And finally, say a prayer of thanks for those who serve, because it ain’t easy! Ask your local, state, or federal politician.
I bet you’ll get an earful!
Then let’s take what we hear from them and place it before our Heavenly Father.
Let’s be a blessing to our leaders.
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts