"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." --1 Timothy 2:1-2
Mark Roberts, who writes the Daily Reflections blog for HighCalling.com, says that this verse is one of the least obeyed verses in the Bible. And I think he's right.
A few months ago I realized that my lay ministry was not going to grow and flourish unless I did two things:
- Ask forgiveness from those I've wronged;
- Pray for those who in authority over me or who have persecuted me.
No. 2 is right at hand -- like picking up a pencil when I'm ready to write. So I have been doing that more regularly, in fact, almost daily, in Morning Prayer. I cannot yet report that those "kings and all who are in authority" are better people or that we are living "peaceful and quiet lives" yet, but I do notice an inward change in myself.
I'm looking at our leaders in a more nuanced fashion than I did before. I used to think of political leaders as either hounds of the left or badgers of the right, and now I see that there is much error in such thinking. Anyone who has ever had to separate two toddlers from fighting over a toy realizes that all the shrieking and bawling is over the power of ownership, not over justice, or fairness, or principle. And the Kingdom of God is not built by toddlers.
Now Paul wrote that letter to Timothy when the Church was under harassment, not when there was a Christian king on the throne. So who do you think he was urging Timothy to pray for? Domitian? Trajan? Marcus Aurelius? Although historians think that the harassment of Christians during these times was rare and not to be compared to the Great Persecution two centuries later, we can assume that most first-century Christians did not look upon those emperors as their friends.
And notice that Paul does not urge Timothy to sort out righteous rulers from unrighteous ones -- he just exhorts him to pray for all of them. And to give thanks for them!
Can you give thanks for those in authority over you? Or are you too stubborn and "stiff-necked" to do so? Did you pray for this president today? Do you give thanks for this one and for the past one and the one before that? Are you already praying for the next one? Can you pray for God's blessings on them all?
Because God's hand is sovereign and he will bless whom he will bless, and yet he will also honor our prayers.
So my challenge to people of faith is the one that I myself am taking: Pray for our leaders. Lift them up by name daily. Then watch their actions closely, and make prayerful decisions (not political decisions) when voting time comes.