How’s your prayer life? Most honest Christians that I talk to say of themselves, “I definitely don’t pray enough!” I feel the same way about my own prayer life. Add to that the concept of praying for our national leaders, many of whom are secular, pagan or anti-Bible. When was the last time you prayed for any of them by name? They are easy to criticize; but to pray for them?
To compound things even more, how often do you pray for people you don’t like, respect or politicians you don’t agree with? Christians have a hard enough time praying for their own Christian spouse after a routine spat. As a result, many Christians go months, years or maybe even a lifetime without fulfilling this most basic command given by God to His people in 1 Timothy 2: to pray for your political leaders, and pray for them regularly. Let’s consider several principles from this verse in its context so that we can be regular practitioners of praying for those in authority over us. For our purposes here, we will consider the Who? What? and When? of prayer on this matter.
There has never been a time in America when the secular government has had so much control in every person’s life as it does today, right now, during the Covid pandemic. For many months, local, state and federal government officials have made recommendations and decrees basically confining every person in the nation to their home. It is only recently that these restrictions have lessened in many places throughout the U.S. Such comprehensive restricting ordinances have only been binding on slaves at certain times in history.
But these restrictions go beyond our nation. I have pastor friends in the UK, South Africa, Honduras, India and Spain. They tell me that for many months they were not allowed to even leave the house for a walk without being questioned, or even arrested by police. In Cupertino, where our church is, I know people who, during the summer, were fined $200-$600 for being too close (less than 6 feet) to another person in public. As a result, we are all becoming very familiar with our political leaders like never before, realizing that every decision they make has an immediate and very personal impact in our daily living. And they have the authority to make such decisions. As such, they need more than human wisdom during these unprecedented times. Hence the wisdom of God’s command to us as Christians in 1 Timothy 2—pray for your leaders.
To heed this command we first need to consider the who. Paul says to pray for “kings” and for “all who are in authority.” Do you even know your political leaders? You can’t pray for them unless you know who they are. Some Christians, for varying reasons, are completely ignorant of the secular authorities who rule over them. That was not true of Jesus, the twelve Apostles or Paul. They knew their leaders; they knew the chain of command (Matt 22:21). They knew that God established all authority structures (Rom 13; 1 Pet 2:13-15). They knew where the boundaries were between church and state (Acts 5:29).
Paul respected his local authorities, even the ones who mistreated him as they abused their delegated authority (Acts 23:5). Paul knew who the Roman Emperor was whom he was subject to, and from this passage it is clear that Paul prayed for the Emperor. Paul ministered during the reigns of Claudius and Nero. Paul wrote 1 Timothy 2 not long before Nero would murder Paul by beheading him for being a Christian. So get to know your authorities. In America we have many: the President; 100 senators; 435 people in the House; a state governor; a city mayor; and a city council. Do your homework; get to know them by name; and pray for them.
Second, we need to know what, or how, to pray for our political leaders. Paul does not leave us guessing here. He tells us what to pray for and how to pray for our leaders. God does not want misguided, hapless, or ill-informed prayers. He commands us to pray in keeping with His will, which means we should pray consistent with what the Bible teaches (1 John 5:13-15). Here he does not expect us to pray, “Dear God, save every evil ruler in the world and cause them to repent.” God has already told us that we are living under “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24) until the return of Christ; and we are living in a cursed world (Gen 5:29; Rom 8:20) where things, and people, will go from bad to worse (2 Tim 3:13). We cannot usher in John Lennon’s fictitious utopia through endless mantras or imagination.
With this imperative to pray Paul tells us what to pray for regarding our political officials; we are to pray that our leaders will make decisions, laws and ordinances that will allow us as believers to “lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Basically, we are asking God to give secular leaders wisdom to rule with justice and integrity, with the goal of preserving safety and order in general society. After all, that is really the only job expected of government. Part of our prayers for them is to ask God to keep them from abusing their delegated authority. These kinds of prayers are particularly important during times of social and global crisis. Christians need to have the freedom to practice their faith uninhibited at the most basic levels. When they can, all of society benefits as we can be salt and light to a lost, hopeless and hurting world.
Third, we need to know when to pray for those in authority. This is easily understood from the passage but a challenge to carry out in practice. The command is given in the present tense, so Paul expects Christians to always be praying for the governing authorities. Pray for your leaders often—daily, weekly, routinely. Some Christians pray the ACTS method: adoration; confession; thanksgiving and supplication. Praying for ruling authorities needs to be a regular part of that S category, as we supplicate for them. Or when there is a particularly rare, exemplary and just ruler, we can pray for them under the T category. Or maybe we all need to pray some C category prayers for all the times we have maligned a certain politician in violation of Titus 3:1-2, which says to “malign no one”—even conniving, compromised, corrupt politicians.
Praying for our government and civic leaders would be especially helpful during volatile political times, such as during election season when the emotions run high. That has been true this election cycle, so much so that even high-profile evangelical church leaders are speaking out more than usual, drawing lines in the sand for their preferred political party and campaign platform. Ongoing prayer to the Father, through Christ, in the Spirit, in keeping with the Word keeps the plumb line where it needs to be—helping to always remind us that God is the ultimate Sovereign; He’s in complete control. He is the King of kings. He does as He pleases (Ps 115:5). He raises and removes all rulers at His discretion (Dan 2:21).
So let’s add praying for our leaders as a regular item in our prayer lives. After all, Paul says such a practice “is good and acceptable in the sight of God” (1 Tim 2:3).