July 4, 2018 • Life for Leaders
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
When I was pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I would pray regularly for our political leaders. On Sunday mornings in worship, I would specifically ask the Lord to guide “our President and his administration, the Congress and the courts, and those who lead us in state and local government.” This was my common practice and nobody seemed to mind.
Until one year. A new president of the United States came into office, one from a different party from the former president. All of a sudden, one of my church members, a man I considered a friend, became deeply upset. He despised the new president and couldn’t believe that we’d pray for him openly in our worship services. When I received his criticism but didn’t stop praying for the new president, my friend actually left our church in anger, never to return. It was a sad day for my congregation and me. I feel sad about it to this day, so many years later.
I remember this friend every time I read 1 Timothy 2:1-2. This passage from one of Paul’s letters instructs Timothy—and us as well—to pray for all people, including “kings and all those in authority.” Even though it doesn’t say explicitly, “pray for the American president,” the implications of the text are pretty clear. Among those for whom we pray, we should certainly include our political leaders, no matter whether we agree with them or not, no matter whether we like them or not.
It’s worth remembering that Paul and the first-century Christians lived in the Roman Empire, in a time when the Roman emperors were not known for their kind treatment of Christians. In fact, it’s most likely that when Paul wrote to Timothy, Nero was the Roman emperor. He was a cruel tyrant, one who is famous for his senseless killing of Christians in particular. So, when Paul instructs Timothy to pray for the king, it’s not because Paul was one of the king’s big fans. The opposite is surely true.
If you think about it for a while, it actually makes lots of sense to pray for the leaders with whom you disagree. From your point of view, doesn’t it seem that they, even more than others, need God’s help, guidance, and wisdom? I might neglect prayer for a president I approve of, but I really ought to pray for a president with whom I disagree.
I’m not claiming that I’m always right about how I pray for my leaders in private, by the way. In worship services, I prayed in a non-partisan way. “Guide our president” doesn’t reveal my hopes for where God’s guidance leads. But even when I pray more specifically in private, in the end, I don’t believe I always know what is best. God does, though. So when I pray, I’m offering to God my desires, trusting that God will do the right thing, whether I’ve asked for it or not.
Today is Independence Day in the United States. It’s a day for Americans to celebrate our independence and freedom. We do so with picnics, parades, fried chicken, and fireworks. That’s all well and good. But let me suggest that, on this day of all days, we take time to pray for “kings and all those in authority,” yes, including the President of the United States.
Something to Think About:
Do you pray for your political leaders? If so, why? If not, why not?
Does it sometimes seem to you like prayers for our leaders won’t make any difference? Why might you think so? How might you think otherwise?
Something to Do:
Pray for your political leaders today, no matter where you live.
Gracious God, today I pray for my political leaders. I ask that you guide them, that you lead them in your righteousness and justice. Where they have led us wrongly, help them to realize the error of their ways and turn us around. Give them clarity about what is right and the courage to stand up for it. Keep them from selfish motives or petty partisanship.
Today, I also pray for the leaders of the world, that in your sovereignty you would be working in and among them. Lord, sometimes it’s hard to believe that you’re involved in world affairs. But I am reminded by Scripture that you are, indeed, the one true King of the “kings” of this world. You are King of kings and Lord of lords.
May your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Prayer, Peace, and Order are Needed at Work as in Church (1 Timothy 2:1–15)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.