I was at a Wednesday night bible study the day after Bill Clinton was first elected president, and people were bummed. Our large, conservative, suburban church had lots of folks who were politically active. Some had won their races or been involved in winning campaigns, others had lost. But local and state elections were overshadowed by this unknown if charismatic Democrat who was about to lead the nation. “What are we to do about it?” many people were asking.
“We are going to pray for him,” answered one wizened old gent. “Right now.” And we gathered around him and did.
Sure, it helped us feel better. Sure, it might have even changed our attitudes toward Clinton*. But most importantly, we were doing what God told us to.
When Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy around 59ad, the Roman Empire had bigger problems than Bill Clinton could ever give the United States. The young emperor’s descent into madness had begun. That year, he ordered the execution of his own mother. Five years later, he would be burning Christians to light his gardens. It was a dangerous time to be a member of a weird little Judean cult that refused to worship Julio-Claudians, the family in authority over them all.
Still, Paul urged Timothy to pray for them:
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered on behalf of all men, for kings and all those in authority, so that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.
— 1Tim 2:1-3
That is the attitude we are commanded to take as well, regardless of who is in office. If we are happy with them, then we pray naturally from thankfulness. If we are unhappy or if they are unworthy, then Christ commanded us to pray for them anyway (Matt 5:44).
But who should we pray for? It’s not just the President, but all in authority. Your mayor and your county commission could use your prayers. We have churches here who pray each week for a different member of our Sheriff’s department. Even your children’s teachers and principals** qualify. Anyone who has authority over you or yours should be on your prayer list. Pray for your pastor. Pray for your priest, pope, or patriarch. Christians should never be at a loss for those to pray for.
What should we pray for on their behalf? Well, what do they need but lack? Obviously, there are plenty in authority who lack wisdom. There are plenty who lack perspective. There are many who lack knowledge of Christ and others who hate Him and hate His followers. Pray that God will soften their hearts. Pray that He will grant them wisdom. Ask God to provide them with godly counselors and influences. God can change hearts, minds, and times – we’ve all seen that. Prayer changes things, that’s why God has granted us the privilege.
We are not praying only because Paul commands us to. We may also expect to receive a real benefit: the ability to lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. Our prayers on behalf of leaders can give us the ability to live as we ought with a minimum of interference. We might live without harassment from busybody government officials and wannabe dictators. Praying for those in authority can go a long way toward giving us room to live godly lives.
Then it is up to us to live them.
* It is very hard to wish ill for a person you are earnestly praying for. Some can manage that level of cognitive dissonance, I suppose, but it’s surely rare.
** Assuming you don’t homeschool, which you should.