by Jeff Farnham
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”—1 Timothy 2:1-2
Spikes in the vast numbers of ultra-liberal politicians at the national, state, and local levels have prompted some good responses among believers. Among the best responses have been prayer meetings for revival, evangelistic efforts for salvation, and personal decisions for holiness in our land. With specific regard to praying, it is notable that saints gathered in small and large groups have often shaken Heaven and altered the course of history by praying for divine interventions.
Sadly, some seem to believe that the duty of the church in prayer is to pray against our leaders, even to the point of praying for liberals to die and burn in Hell. Such extremism is not only completely out of the character of Scripture, but it is also mean-spirited and malicious.
Reasons for Praying for Leaders
First in this text, Paul instructs the saints to pray for their leaders for the serenity of the church: “…that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” Interestingly, many groups huddle under the ever-enlarging umbrella with the word Christian woven into its fabric. Ironically, many of those groups never resort to prayer; instead, they rely on rallies that more often possess the spirit of riots. Marches, protests, and conventions have all but eliminated prayer meetings as the presence of God moves from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and from the threshold to the middle of the city, and from the middle of the city to the mountaintop outside of the city (Ezekiel 9-11). Unsaved and carnal men have taken it upon themselves to insist upon peace through unpeaceful measures. The quiet, peaceable life for which we yearn is a result of prayer.
Next, Paul states that the saints ought to pray for the salvation of those leaders: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved,…” (1 Timothy 2:3-4) The contextual placement of verses three and four immediately after the exhortation for prayer can mean nothing less than the fact that the church should pray for leaders to be saved. A heightened sensitivity to evangelism ought to accompany our increased awareness of liberal philosophy within the ranks of politics.
Finally, Paul writes to the saints to pray for the soundness of their leaders: “…and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) While it is a burning bush moment when a governor, judge, or senator trusts Christ, it is “Hallelujah ground” when said governor, judge, or senator begins walking in truth. John told his readers that he had great joy—indeed, no greater joy—than to hear that his children walked in truth (2 John 4; 3 John 4). Our nation’s halls of judicial, legislative, and executive power abound with evangelical sympathizers. In too many cases their influence stops with sympathy as they fail to walk in truth. How amazingly forceful it is when one of them lives and speaks and votes for Jesus Christ! What impact is felt when a leader is salt and light in the presidential porridge, in the senatorial stew, in the representative ragout, in the judicial jambalaya, and in the gubernatorial goulash. Christians nationwide should be praying for this!
Realities of Praying for Leaders.
As sanctified saints are motivated by the extremity of our times to return to prayer as the means of quiet, peaceable living, they need a reality check. That reality check includes the fact that some leaders may remain stubborn. History is punctuated with recalcitrant kings, queens, and high officials: Pharaoh, Bera King of Sodom, Ahab, Jezebel, Athaliah, Haman, Sanballat, Tobiah, Caiaphas, Herod, and Nero.
Again, that reality check is that other leaders will be sympathetic, but not truly supportive. Kings and governors such as Jehu, Belshazzar, Agrippa, and Pilate were passively supportive of the servants of God at different points of time. None of them pursued holiness or displayed sincere worship toward the one true God; however, they had moments of tolerating the holy and bold servants of Jesus Christ. Knowing that “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD,…” (Proverbs 21:1), one can only assume that many of the children of God were gathered for prayer to request that these leaders, though not believers themselves, might cooperate in a righteous cause. Jehu cooperated with God in the extermination of Ahab’s descendants. Belshazzar, though an evil idolater, did not execute Daniel but allowed Daniel to continue. Pilate and Agrippa both had opportunity to work much more evil but used their powers to stave off further sin. Pilate stopped short of altering the title over Jesus’ head on the cross. Agrippa permitted Paul to speak for himself as Paul made a classic defense that included a testimony of faith and salvation; clearly, Agrippa could have cut off Paul’s testimony.
Still other leaders were supportive, showing genuine interest in the prospering of the worship and work of Jehovah God. Consider Darius who supported Daniel by his command that Daniel’s accusers suffer the same fate they imposed upon Daniel. Consider Cyrus who decreed the rebuilding of the temple so that prayers could ascend to God and benefit the entire realm. Consider Artaxerxes I who financed the ventures of Ezra and Nehemiah. None of this support is surprising when we consider that it was a direct result of the prayers of the faithful at large, to say nothing of the urgent requests of the specific individuals involved in these trying events.
Last but not least, when the saints pray, some leaders are saved. Nebuchadnezzar, through the decades-long witness of Daniel, came to the day when he would “…praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment:…” (Daniel 4:37) Paul’s benediction to the church at Philippi included greeting from “…the saints…chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.” (Philippians 4:22) While not spoken in definitive terms, it seems likely that Josiah’s dramatic turning to God may have resulted in part from the tear-stained praying of Jeremiah the prophet. Just as surely, it seems consistent with Scripture that the resumption of the temple project under King Darius I of the Medes may well have come about through his embrace of Jehovah through the intercession of Haggai and Zechariah.
Rules of Praying for Leaders.
Humility must, by definition, accompany supplication, prayer, intercession and giving of thanks. 1 Timothy 2:1 uses four words to round out the holy exercise of our approach to God on behalf of leaders. None of these aspects of asking God for help avail anything at all without humility. Humility is rule number one in all of our prayers for leaders. The average citizen knows nothing of the temptations experienced by leaders or of the attacks of the devil against them. Humility helps the prayer warriors to go to God without predisposed disgust for the leaders for whom they are praying.
Compassion is also a rule of praying for leaders. Paul wrote that God “…will have all men to be saved,…” (1 Timothy 2:4) Doubtless, that phrase all men includes all leaders. Given that some leaders are ruthless, dishonest, or immoral, compassion may be difficult to muster. Jesus Christ died for them as He did for any and all.
Another rule of praying for leaders is kindness. The increasingly popular position that Christians ought to pray for evil leaders to die and go to Hell is not well-documented in the Bible. Abraham went to rescue Lot, but he did not pray for Bera to die and go to Hell. Joseph did not pray that way against Potiphar when he was imprisoned. Moses did not pray that way when Pharaoh refused to let the people go. Joshua did not pray that way against the kings he encountered in the conquest of Canaan. Elijah did not pray that way against Ahab and Jezebel. Elisha did not pray that way against Jehoram. Mordecai did not pray that way against Haman. John the Baptist did not pray that way against Herod. Peter and John did not pray that way against the Pharisees and Sadducees. John or the church did not pray that way against Herod. Stephen did not pray that way against his persecutors. Paul did not pray that way against Nero. John did not pray that way against later Roman emperors. Jesus Christ did not pray that way against His crucifying murderers. No. He prayed, “Father, forgive them.”