In part 1, we looked at why we often fail to pray for leaders – especially if we disagree with them or they are not the leaders for whom we voted. Then we examined what the Bible teaches about leaders that God allows to come to power. In part 2, we’ll look at the specifics of how to pray.
As we pray, we first of all can pray confidently. Proverbs 21:1 reminds us that “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” The president or king or prime minister might not be calling us and asking for direction, but the King of kings and the Ruler of all rulers invites us into his presence to intercede on behalf of these leaders. As mysterious as it sounds, God invites us to turn his hand as he directs the hearts of rulers.
In the summer of 1989, a fifth-grade teacher from a Christian school visited what was then known as East Berlin. The sight of the Berlin Wall and all that it symbolized concerning human and religious oppression overwhelmed her. She returned to school that September and urged her fifth graders to start praying every day for the Berlin Wall to come down. In October/ November 1989, that Wall came down, beginning a process that eventually dismantled Soviet Communism.
I’m sure that those fifth graders were not the only people praying for that Wall to come down, but because they prayed, they gained a confident understanding of God at work in the world through the prayers of his people.
Our confidence in God’s global sovereignty encourages us to pray for leaders around the world as well as our own national leaders. For this reason, I try to choose at least one leader from another country to pray for every day. The newspaper or CNN might provoke my prayers through a breaking story, but I turn it into an opportunity to influence global events at the throne of God in prayer.
Secondly, we can pray humbly and repentantly. Our leaders can be a reflection of our nation. When Isaiah caught a vision of the Lord, he confessed not only his own sin but the sins of his people – “I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).
We too must look at our leaders and realize – especially in locations where the leaders are elected
through democratic process – that these political leaders often reflect the best and worst of our nation. A materialistic leader often reflects the materialism of his culture. A racist leader might reflect a spirit of racism rooted in our nation. Leaders who get to positions of power through deception often come from a culture built on lies.
During the time in the USA when President Clinton was lying publicly about his adulterous affair in the White House, a humble, repentant pastor led his congregation in prayer. He prayed for our President to repent and to experience God’s forgiveness, but he went a step beyond the President. He also invited the congregation to repent on behalf of the nation for our sins of immorality and deception as a culture. He saw our president’s sins as a reflection of the spiritual state of our nation.
We pray humbly and repentantly as well because there are times when the people in power are put there as part of God’s judgment. Jeremiah quotes God as referring to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar as “my servant” (Jeremiah 25:9; 27:6; 43:10). Isaiah reminds those facing exile that God considers the Medo-Persian King Cyrus as “my anointed” (Isaiah 45:1) and he affirms to the people of Israel that “Cyrus will perform all my desire” (Isaiah 44:28).
When the invasion of the Ottoman Empire threatened at the gates of Europe, Martin Luther referred to the threat as God’s judgment on the church for its unfaithfulness: “The Turk is the rod of God’s anger against the apostate church so opposition to it must begin with repentance, prayer, and preaching God’s word.”
When a political leader’s stance on issues contradicts ours and what we believe the Bible teaches, we need to step back humbly and ask, “What is God teaching us about the spiritual state of ourselves and our nation?”
Third, we should pray biblically and strategically. We can be sure that God wants our leaders to exercise biblical ideals like righteousness and justice for all peoples. We also pray for them in the administration of societal peace. In the early days of the Christian church, Tertullian urged Christians to pray for the Emperor to have “long life, secure dominion, a safe home, a faithful senate, a righteous people, and a world at peace.”
Romans 13:1-7 instructs us to pray that our leaders will do good, defend good, and punish evil. Peter echoes the same idea when he writes that the emperor is “God’s supreme authority” and that governors are “sent by [God] to punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-17).
The instructions of 1 Timothy 2:1-2 mandates that we pray for political conditions which will seek to advance the Gospel. Our prayer for “kings and all those in authority” is so that “we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” But this is not the end in itself. We pray this way because “This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Strategic prayer provokes me to pray for our President and Supreme Court Justices and other political leaders that they will enact laws which protect the needs of the poor and defenseless. It challenges me to pray that governmental leaders protect a culture that allows for the preaching of the Gospel. And it reminds me to pray that leaders in oppressive countries to change their positions and allow greater human and religious rights – especially the freedom to choose Jesus Christ.
Fourth, when we pray for our political leaders, we should pray historically, remembering that God is in control. Praying historically, though, requires patience. God seldom works in history and in political leaders as quickly as we’d like.
Commenting on Paul’s and Peter’s perspective on submission to the horrific regime of Nero and other dictators, William Barclay writes, “Emperors might be persecutors and those in authority might be determined to stamp out Christianity. But the Christian Church can never, even in the times of bitterest persecution, cease to pray for them.” Barclay then goes on to trace this sense of submission and support throughout the earliest days of Christianity. By 311 AD, he observes, the emperor was asking for the prayers of Christians.
In the day of Paul the apostle, the Roman government did indeed torture and kill many Christians, but persecution actually provoked the spread of Christianity (see Acts 8:1). Historians also note that it was the Pax Romana, the Roman peace, which gave the Christian missionary the chance to do his work. Without the communication, travel, and social systems established by the Roman Empire, the spread of Christianity might have been much slower.
When former U.S. President Ronald Reagan died, I remembered the significance of keeping a historical perspective as we pray. In the early 1980’s, one of the greatest fears of our culture was that President Reagan’s actions against the USSR would provoke nuclear holocaust. When he died more than 20 years later, Mr. Reagan and his counterpart, Mr. Gorbachev of the USSR, were given credit for changing world history by the dismantling of Soviet Communism. These leaders reminded me of Who is the ultimate Lord of history.
Finally, we should pray faithfully. Our prayers should not just surge at election time, nor in the midst of national crises, nor in response to political leaders we either love or detest. The passage in I Timothy reminds us to incorporate our political leaders into all sorts of prayers. As we make our requests and prayers, we should remember our governmental leaders. As we offer up intercession, we come to the throne of God as advisers to the President or King or Prime Minister. When we list our thanksgivings, we remember to thank God for the rulers we do have, and we remember to thank God that He is the ultimate power behind them all.
To encourage faithful prayer, I try to pray for leaders in my own nation daily – starting with the President, then the Senate, then Governors, etc. In addition, I match a continent (or sub-continent) with each day of the week. On Monday, I pray for countries and leaders in Europe. On Tuesday, I go to Latin America and the Caribbean. Wednesday’s prayers focus on North Africa and the Muslim world. Thursday I’m praying around the rest of Africa. Fridays take me to Central and South Asia, and Saturday’s prayer journey finds me in East Asia. Sunday leaves opportunity to pray for global leaders who influence many nations – people like the leaders of the European Union, the Secretary General of the United Nations or the Pope.
Confident, humble, strategic, historic, faithful prayer. The President-elect or other political leaders in our country or internationally most likely won’t be calling us to request prayer. But don’t let that stop you. God has already given the mandate!