Early this morning, my phone rang. With early morning raspiness in my throat, I pick it up, “Hello?”
“Mr. Borthwick, this is Donald Trump’s office calling. Please hold for the President-elect of the United States.”
“Is this a joke?” I ask (Republican presidents don’t often call people in Massachusetts, a historically Democratic state). Silence on the other end indicates I’m on hold.
The next voice I hear begins, “Paul, this is the Donald Trump. As you may know, I’m continuing this week with some huge decisions to make about my leadership team, both domestically and internationally. I’m wondering if you could stop and pray with me for wisdom so that my decisions foster the greatest long-term good in our country and across the world.”
I hang up, stunned at the call, but the phone rings again. This time it’s the Secretary General of the United Nations calling with a similar request. Then the President of China calls, followed by the Prime Minister of Israel, the Sultan of Oman, and the President of Venezuela.
Sound far-fetched? In one respect, it is. Neither President-elect Trump nor any of these other leaders has ever called me, and I’m pretty sure they never will. But they really don’t need to call me. God has already called. God calls all of us to pray for our government’s leaders and our world leaders. Paul exhorts us in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 to offer “requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving… for everyone” [and especially for] “kings and all those in authority.”
I’ll get to some of the details on how to pray shortly, but first, a question:
Why Do We Fail To Pray For Political Leaders?
Many of us may feel reticent to pray for these leaders because we feel inadequate or too small to make a difference at the national or international leadership level. Others of us, however, fail to pray because we simply don’t like some of the people who lead our nation and our world. Maybe the President-elect is not the choice we voted for. Or we might see a political leader as “too conservative” or “too liberal.” We may see their political positions as unbiblical. We may view other national leaders as enemies of the Gospel or as obstacles of our own national interests.
But the Bible doesn’t give us the option not to pray.
A few years ago, about the time that the man who was then our U.S. President was alienating a large portion of the Christian population because of his public stance on some volatile social issues and his private (though public) personal moral failures, I was urging a congregation to remember our political leaders in prayer. An audible snicker echoed across the audience, most of whom – I’m guessing – came from the other political party. It was as if they were responding, “You’ve got to be kidding! Pray for that guy?”
I paused and reminded my brothers and sisters that the commands concerning prayer for those in authority and submission to the authorities were written by New Testament writers who were living under the horrors of Roman emperors like Nero, leaders who would ultimately persecute, displace and kill many first century Christians.
In other words, the New Testament writers don’t give us license to stop praying for our political or our international leaders if we don’t like them or they are not from the political party we favor or they are not people that we wanted elected.
It’s obviously a greater challenge to pray for those who are unjust or not in keeping with our personal convictions. Christians around the world testify of the challenge to pray when the political rulers are despots, oppressors of Christianity, and advocates of un-Christian or even anti-Christian behavior, but the command is still clear – God calls us to pray for those who lead us politically. And the plural form in 1 Timothy 2:1 – “kings” – indicates that we must incorporate the leaders of other nations into our prayers.
Prayer for political leaders flows from a perspective built on the foundation of the sovereignty of God. We pray believing that the whole earth is under his sovereign control. He is the Lord of history – past, present, and future. The people in positions of leadership are incorporated into his sovereign plan.
According to Paul in Romans 13, “there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” The Scriptures repeatedly teach that every political leader rules at God’s command (2 Samuel 12:7-8; Isaiah 41:2-4; 45:1-7; Jeremiah 27:4-7; Daniel 2:21, 37-38; 4:17, 25; Proverbs 8:15-16; Job 12:18). It may seem unfathomable to us to consider the dictators and immoral and lying leaders of our world as under God’s sovereign plan, but the Scriptures affirm that these historical leaders and the events that follow them are part of God’s long-term design and directive. Even the “beast” of Revelation 13 is ultimately given his power by God (Revelation 13:5, 7, 14, 15). We may not comprehend God’s long-term plan, but the Bible clearly affirms it.
Nigeria is a country torn by Muslim-Christian tensions, especially in the northern part of the country. At a student mission conference sponsored by the Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students, I was impressed by their sense of God’s sovereign work in history expressed in the prayer guide that these students had created.
Expressing their belief that God is the Lord of the whole world, they urged prayer for their President, their Government officials, their judges and the local legislations – even the ones supporting the imposition of rigid Islamic Sharia Law, something very oppressive to Christians. They went on to encourage prayer for the sustaining of the democracy, the improvement of the economy, the defeat of corruption, and the spread of the Gospel.
I brought that prayer guide home to direct my prayers in my own region, state, and country, as well as for leaders in other nations of the world.
In part 2, we’ll examine how to pray for our political leaders.