Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence… — 1 Timothy 2:1,2
Does this passage sound familiar? I think I’ve heard it quoted many times when people lead us in prayer for our president and other political leaders. What follows is typically a prayer that God would lead our leaders and give them wisdom for how to govern our nation, state or municipality.
Those are fine prayers. I encourage us all to pray that God would lead our politicians and give them wisdom. We should intercede and pray that God give them good ideas and success in addressing problems in our nation. But I think it’s important to note that these prayers have little to do with God’s command to Timothy. In fact, sometimes the way we should pray may be quite different than one might expect.
Paul wanted us to pray for them “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” How do our prayers or lack of prayers affect that ability? Are we concerned that our political leaders could pass laws that stop us from leading “a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence”? It’s true that they can persecute us. They can imprison us. They can make us social pariahs. They can take away our homes, our possessions and our jobs. They can make our circumstances uncertain, dangerous and even violent. But they cannot take away our godliness or our reverence for God. And though they can threaten it, they cannot take our peace. They cannot force us into the chaos of the apostles on the turbulent sea crying out, “Lord, do You not care that we are perishing?” Whether we remain quiet and peaceful or loud and clamorous depends on us, not on our circumstances. We can be godly in spite of how we are treated. And our reverence for God flows out of our relationship with Him, not our victimization by government.
In Philippians 4, the apostle Paul gives a magnificent treatise on how to experience peace. Near the beginning of that passage, he says:
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. — Philippians 4:5
If you work in a chaotic, stressful environment your coworkers may suffer extreme anxiety, panic and fear. But in the midst of that frustration and chaos, you can stand out as the one who remains gentle and calm for the simple reason that you are ever mindful that the Lord is at hand — so close you can touch Him. You have nothing to fear because He is there for you whether your company takes a real beating in these days of Covid restrictions or suffers complete shipwreck. I chose those analogies very intentionally because the Apostle Paul trusted God and look where it got him — he was beaten repeatedly, shipwrecked more than once, imprisoned repeatedly and eventually martyred — but the real story is that he was able to remain joyful and peaceful through it because he knew that God was going to bring him through it all according to plan.
Likewise, if the government clamps down in authoritarianism, totalitarianism and anti-Christian bigotry, we can still praise God, love our neighbor and be at peace through every hardship. Interestingly, the Church actually thrives best in the most persecuted times and nations!
So again, what do our prayers for the president have to do with this quiet, peaceful, godly, reverent lifestyle? It’s all about our hearts. Jesus repeatedly emphasized that He wanted us to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us. How many Republicans can you name whom you believe love President Biden? How many Democrats love Trump? Loving someone does not mean that you like them. You may despise their behavior, their character, their personality and yet still love them. To love someone is to care about them. It’s to desire the best for them rather than the worst, even though they deserve the worst. It was exemplified when Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they are doing” and when Stephen prayed a similar prayer as he was stoned to death. Jesus pointed out that it’s easy to love those who love you; even the worst people love their own. But we’re called to also love those who don’t love us.
In 1 Timothy, Paul was saying that we should pray specifically for the salvation of all people, but specifically for all in authority.
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle — I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying — a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. — Philippians 4:5
I can certainly see the need today for Paul to emphasize that he was speaking the truth. The animosity in politics today is so great that people on both sides are likely to say, “You’ve got to be kidding me??? There’s no way God wants ME to pray for HIM!” In the Book of Acts we read of an encounter like that just after God confronted Saul on the road to Damascus. Saul went into town and spent several days in prayer and fasting. Then God told a guy named Ananias to go minister to him.
Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.” Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” — Acts 9:10-15
Can’t you just hear Ananias replying to God, “Here I am, Lord!” No doubt he was excited to get a personal revelation, perhaps even an important assignment, from God! But then he heard God’ tell him to present himself to the most dangerous enemy he knew, a man who came to town specifically to hunt down and imprison him and his friends. Ananias must have thought he heard wrong or that God was somehow impossibly confused. Surely God doesn’t want ME to minister to HIM! But God made it clear and Ananias obeyed. Thus was reborn Saul, more commonly known as Paul the Apostle.
God desires ALL men to be saved. His heart yearns for sinners to come to the knowledge of the truth, to repent and to be born again. It doesn’t matter if they are in politics or entertainment or industry. It doesn’t matter if they are young or old, rookies on the job or well into their retirement years. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. His heart yearns for their salvation just as it yearned for yours and mine. How dare I hold a bitter heart toward Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi or Donald Trump or anyone else after God has forgiven me of my sins? Am I so self-righteous that I think I was never as sinful as them or that such a comparison makes any difference? It is righteous to have a righteous anger about the evil being done in this world. But bitterness and unforgiveness are ungodly and do more to destroy the one holding the grudge than the one it is against. So my first line of prayers for these men and women in politics is that God will lead them to the truth, lead them to repentance and save their souls. Unless I can do that, I cannot lead a life that God would call peaceful, godly and reverent.
But here’s where things can take an unexpected turn. Just because I pray for them and sincerely want them to be born again does not mean that I pray for their unbridled success. I may actually pray at times for their failure and that God confuses them. It’s a little trick I learned from David.
Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me! Let them be ashamed and brought to mutual confusion, who seek to destroy my life; Let them be driven backward and brought to dishonor who wish me evil. Let them be confounded because of their shame, who say to me, “Aha, aha!” — Psalm 40:13-15
Make haste, O God, to deliver me! Make haste to help me, O Lord! Let them be ashamed and confounded who seek my life; Let them be turned back and confused who desire my hurt. — Psalm 70:1,2
O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me! Let them be confounded and consumed who are adversaries of my life; Let them be covered with reproach and dishonor who seek my hurt. — Psalm 71:12,13
Then someone told David, saying, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O Lord, I pray, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness!” — 2 Samuel 15:31
In these passages we see David ask God to confuse his enemies. They plan to harm David so he wants the Lord to prevent them. And one way for God to do that is to confound their wisdom. In 2 Samuel 15 he also asks Hushai the Archite to do that intentionally by giving bad advice to Absalom. It’s worth noting that this is the same David whom God described as “a man after my own heart,” and the same David who would not kill his enemy King Saul when he easily could have. David certainly wasn’t perfect, but I believe that his prayers for God to confuse his enemies was a godly prayer at the time and is a godly prayer now. I even want my political enemies to be “ashamed” and “covered with reproach and dishonor” as David prayed, but not because I want vengeance. I want that shame and dishonor to both discourage others from doing evil and to also lead them to repentance and salvation.
I pray that those trying to advance abortion would fail. I pray that those trying to persecute Christianity would fail. I pray that those promoting sexual perversion of any sort would fail. I pray against every evil and foolish idea that I hear about in DC, and there are plenty. Yet I also pray that the politicians and bureaucrats would see the truth about those things they promote, their personal sins and the mercy God offers all who repent and bow before the King of kings. My deepest hope is to keep my heart pure before the God who loves sinners and calls them to repentance, to share His heart’s love for them. My heart is pure only because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Without Him I am unholy and without hope, as are you. But we do have hope because Jesus did give His life for us — and for the most despicable politicians. May God have mercy upon their souls and ours.
If you missed it, the last blog was on Honoring My President, a hard pill for many to swallow. Coming up next: Submitting to My President.