Viewed through a scriptural lens, our prayers (or lack thereof) might be just as culpable for the troubled state of our nation as the actions and decisions of our leaders—if not more so.
By Christine McParland
While we can agree that America needs our prayers, many of us struggle to pray for politicians and other leaders who have often abused their power and betrayed our trust. It’s easier to say “God bless America!” than to pray for God’s blessing on those in public office (or those who voted for them). But to what extent is our apathy in prayer influenced by the growing hostility of our society towards political leaders? And what is a biblical response to this mindset and its effect on our own hearts and attitudes?
Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount show us a way above political tension and hostility: “You have heard that is was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44, NKJV).
Though it’s unlikely that many of us have been personally persecuted by an elected leader, we have probably felt ill-used when they have failed to keep their promises or protect our values. Yet if Jesus calls his followers to pray for their own persecutors—at whose hands they often suffered grievous physical harm and even death—how much more should we pray for those who merely oppose our values and political viewpoints?
Some would argue that the corruption pervading our government is not “merely” an opposition of values. While true, it is also true that we’re all sinners, and that includes those in public office. Leaders are especially vulnerable to falling into corruption and using their power for unjust and evil ends. They are sinners like we are but with the overwhelming temptations that come with power; what other course would they take if not influenced by our prayers?
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul raised the bar high for Christian conduct as citizens and residents of the Roman Empire (a political system notorious for its injustice and corruption):
“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4, NLT)
We can easily agree that those in authority need God’s help and our intercession, but giving thanks for them? Furthermore, Paul urges believers to “pray this way . . . so that” we can enjoy peaceful, quiet, and godly lives. Viewed through a scriptural lens, our prayers (or lack thereof) might be just as culpable for the troubled state of our nation as the actions and decisions of our leaders—if not more so.
The welfare of our nation is not, and never has been, wholly the responsibility of its leaders. We are all obligated to be respectful, neighbor-loving citizens, especially those of us who are also (and above all) citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. While it’s true that those in authority are held to a higher accountability and judgment for their actions (see James 3:1), as Christians we are charged with the responsibility of being the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world,” to preserve the culture from evil and permeate it with the truth of God’s Word (see Matthew 5:13-16).
Before we point another finger at the “speck” in a politician’s eye— no matter how corrupt— let us examine the “log” in our own (see Matthew 7:3-5). Instead of deriding ungodly leaders and contributing to the cultural undercurrent of anger, wouldn’t we rather see those leaders be convicted of their sin and come to repentance and faith in Christ? How much more is this God’s desire! Dare we go against the culture and develop a heart like God’s toward America’s leaders, seeing them through the eyes of the One who loves them and “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4, NIV)?
Though most of us do not hold public office, Christ has called us to be priests interceding on behalf of others (see 1 Peter 2:9), including—and especially—those in authority. From the county board trustee to the chief of police to the rookie senator to the seasoned congresswoman and yes, even to the President himself. Though we may not always be able to speak directly into public law and policy, who are we to not exercise our heavenly authority on earth by influencing the culture through our prayers?
I need to hear these words as much as anyone else. Too often I am tempted to give up on America and its leaders, but this resignation has only hindered and even halted my prayers. The recent coronavirus pandemic and race riots, along with the responses of our leaders, have awakened me to America’s urgent need for prayer. Like one of my favorite biblical heroines who also faced desperate political circumstances, who knows whether we have been placed in this nation “for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, NKJV)
As another election approaches and our country navigates increasingly hostile waters, may our prayers be like a rudder, the unseen force steering America towards a more just, righteous, and God-honoring future.
Pray for the pressing needs of the United States of America as you read through the whole Bible in just one year. The One Year Pray for America Bible provides the structure to help you read God’s life-changing Word in the clear and easy-to-read New Living Translation in just 15 minutes a day. It includes daily non-partisan prayer prompts and inspirational prayers from famous Americans that help you intercede for your neighbors and your nation. This special edition of The One Year Bible equips you to apply your daily Bible reading as short prayers for leaders in every sphere of civic life. The One Year Pray for America Bible will help you apply the principles of God’s unchanging Word to effective prayer for our rapidly changing society. Allow God to change you and our country as you spend a year in the Word and on your knees.