Praying For Leaders
First of all, then, I urge that petitions (specific requests), prayers, intercessions (prayers for others) and thanksgivings be offered on behalf of all people, for kings and all who are in [positions of] high authority, so that we may live a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This [kind of praying] is good and acceptable and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who wishes all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge and recognition of the [divine] truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4
It’s easy to complain about national politicians, corporate managers, bureaucrats at every level of government, and church leaders, but instead, Paul tells us to pray for them- and even to thank God for them! Certainly God wants to work in these leaders’ lives so they come to know and follow Him, but Paul has an even broader view in mind. Good governance provides peace and stability so that the gospel can be spread unhindered to people next door as well as to the remotest parts of the earth. When our attention and resources aren’t absorbed by wars, bickering, and conflicts of all kinds, we can invest our energies into things that really matter: Christ and His Kingdom.
Paul didn’t suggest we agree with all politicians. After all, the top leader in the world was a Roman emperor who had no sympathies for Christians. But that didn’t matter to Paul. His eyes were fixed on an invisible Kingdom where God reigns and where grace and forgiveness are the highest virtues. The reality of life in this world is that we can get caught up completely in things that are seen but neglect the things that are unseen. Political power(and any other kind of authority) can serve the Kingdom by providing peace and stability. Then we can focus on what matters most.
When you think of our political, corporate, and religious leaders, pray for them, for the peace they can provide, and for the gospel to spread under the umbrella of their authority.
It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.
Today we celebrate Independence Day, our 246th one to be exact. Throughout our history, we have had numerous leaders who led us as a nation. Some did great jobs and brought about great benefits for the citizens. Others, not so well and some ended with sham end disgrace. Different political parties have held the majority and that has shifted frequently. It’s easy to pray for those we feel are leading our nation in the right way and bringing about wholesome changes but what about when they are moving in a different way than we would desire or when they are leading us in the wrong way?
Paul lived under a very oppressive ruler who often made decisions on a whim. Most of the emperors of Rome were despots and their appointees were only seeking power and prestige. The citizens were nothing more that instruments to serve them and provide them with goods and services that made their desires satisfied. Christians in Paul’s day were often targeted by those leaders who saw their allegiance to Christ as a threat to their rule. But it wasn’t just political leaders that Paul instructed believers to pray for. He also included religious rulers as well. Again many of the Jewish religious rulers were corrupt and power hungry. We read that they opposed Christ and this new sect of Christians- seeing Him and them as heretics and blasphemers. Many of those leaders had treated Paul himself very badly. We must view Paul’s instructions in light of his own sufferings at the hand of these very same leaders.
When we read Luke’s account of the early church it’s interesting to notice that they refused to become involved with or tried to influence those in leadership, either political or religious. Instead they were focused on the mission of Christ and giving the message of the gospel. Paul as he writes telling Timothy and the church leaders to pray for those in leadership, he gives the reason for them to do so. His purpose is to work at creating the best possible environment for spreading the gospel. He wasn’t interested in replacing them or usurping their power. He was focused solely on the mission of Christ. Paul knew that to change the world, men’s hearts would need a transformation and only Christ could bring about such change. Rather than trying to create governments that were “Christian,” he focused on individual redemption. Having experienced the radical transformation through his encounter with Christ, he knew that such was needed by every human being. He had been one of those leaders who were instrumental in persecuting Christians and after his encounter with Christ had become one of Christianity’s greatest defenders and promoters. Paul understood that when there was turmoil, persecution, or unrest, the spreading of the gospel would be limited.
So how do these instructions apply to us? We are fortunate that we live under a system that elects leaders. While the system isn’t perfect, it works pretty well. We hold dual citizenships- heaven and the USA. We must remember that they aren’t equal nor the same. As Christians we ought to use our vote for candidates that best reflect our Christian values, but we ought not think that if we can somehow elect the “right leaders” we can somehow legislate righteousness. Righteousness doesn’t come from rules. It comes from hearts that have been captured by Christ. Yes, social issues ought to concern us and as citizens, especially Christian citizens, we ought to voice our views. We should be actively in helping the hurting and needy. We should be supporting of those with life challenges. We ought to work for social change that cares for the children and the elderly and those who are “weak.” But we dare not let ourselves become so involved in political, social, or justice issues that they replace our missional and intentional work of bringing people to Christ.
Paul doesn’t ask us to just pray for leaders with whom we agree. We are called to pray for every leader.
I appeal to us to pray especially for church leaders, pastors, and those tasked with leadership roles of any sort in the church. At all times church leaders are faced with challenges of making decisions and leading the church in its mission, but these last few years have been intensely challenging. The interruption of Covid and its ensuing effects on society as a whole have been indeed challenging. Trying to balance the social life of the church, staying focused on mission, keeping connections and providing care, while at the same time considering the safety of the congregation and the multitude of preferences have at times been almost overwhelming. Many church leaders including pastors have become so disillusioned and frustrated that they have given up and left the ministry. Everyone actively engaged in the ministry of Christ becomes a target of the devil at the best of times. There seems, however, to be an intensified, increased frequency of attacks now.
Every political, corporate, and church leader is nothing more than a mere human being with flaws and struggles and they need our prayers to give them courage, wisdom and strength to keep facing the giants. Those leaders who appear to be failing need our prayers more than our criticism and the more they seem to fail, the more we ought to pray for them.
I urge us as Christians today to make a list of leaders and that every day we pray over each leader. Perhaps if we do so, we just might be surprised how God would work through them.
Dr. John Thompson