One of the few unambiguous political statements in the New Testament is that we should pray for our leaders (see 1 Timothy 2, Romans 13, at al). Paul doesn’t give a lot of political advice outside of this, other than being unfortunately clear about paying our taxes, also in Romans 13.
This puts me in an uncomfortable place, especially since I usually find myself praying in mixed company, with people who disagree ideologically, often quite strongly. The recent Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage, for example, finds Christians who I greatly respect both embracing and bemoaning the decision.
Should we sing a song of thanksgiving or one of lament? And if we avoid doing either, how can we pray together for our leaders?
I haven’t always done this perfectly, but here are three basic ways I’ve tried to pray for those in authority, both personally and corporately.
First, it is always appropriate to pray that Christ will be glorified through the actions of those in leadership over us. Part of Christ’s glorification in our politics is our leaders' relationship with him. A sincere concern for the spiritual life of our leaders must be part of our prayer for them. The political sphere poses unique challenges and temptations that often take the form of pride, dishonesty, and greed. We need to keep praying that our leaders can develop a healthy spiritual life to combat this.
Second, I pray for wisdom for leaders. Those in stressful positions of political leadership can easily focus on developing their own power to the exclusion of everything else. The Holy Spirit is needed for wisdom to lead politically as much as it is needed in the Church. Leaders need wisdom, especially considering our current political gridlock and the large, complex issues that our nation and world face.
God gives pragmatic wisdom to all types of people – it is a common grace like rain which falls on the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:45). Since politics and governance is an art, properly understood, it is perfectly appropriate to ask the Holy Spirit to give wisdom to leaders as she gave wisdom to Bezalel and Oholiab when they were building the tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-11). Building a nation is a far more complex task than even building a tabernacle for the Lord and requires this gifting of the Spirit.
Third, in settings where I am praying with other Christians who don’t necessarily hold the same views that I do, I find it valuable to pray for just outcomes rather than the means I think are necessary to achieve these ends.
Since we are explicitly commanded to pray for our leaders, we should think more carefully about how to do so, while at the same time maintaining the unity of the Spirit with fellow believers.
Even Christians who disagree with me strongly on issues like same sex marriage are my brothers and sisters in Christ and we should work to recognize our unity and continue to pray together, even over contentious issues. These three suggestions are certainly not comprehensive, but simply a loose sketch of how we might begin to pray for our leaders. Have you seen examples of this done faithfully, in ways that we ought to imitate?
-Greg Williams, a communications assistant at a Christian advocacy organization in DC, tweets @gwilliamsster and bakes entirely more bread than he can eat.