By David Guretzki, EFC Executive Vice-President and Resident Theologian
Scripture tells us that we, the Church, are to pray for our political leaders and authorities. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2a, the Apostle Paul says, “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 command is clear enough that we should have no hesitation putting it into practice.
But once we’ve understood our responsibility as followers of Jesus to pray for our political leaders—whether they be federal, provincial, or civic—how can we pray intelligently and faithfully for them?
Here are seven principles of praying for political leaders that can guide us in our prayers.
1. Pray for all leaders, regardless of their party policy or stances they hold.
It can be tempting to extend our prayers only to those leaders we are most apt to agree with or for whom we voted. But Paul doesn’t seem to make any such distinctions. Indeed, when Paul wrote, the emperor was probably Nero. And for those who know a bit about Christian history, Nero wasn’t exactly known to be friendly to Christians. Yet Paul instructed his readers to pray for all kings and authorities, even though he knew full well the kind of king Nero was.
(Interesting historical sidenote: Although scholars haven’t been able to provide a definitive evidence, it does appear that Paul probably was executed around A.D. 68 by Nero himself, the same emperor for whom Paul directed the church to pray.)
Christians do not discriminate in their prayers for leaders because we know that God has, by His own authority, put these authorities into their place (see Romans 13:1). And if God has had His hand in appointing our leaders, we should know that God works His purposes through them, even when we can’t seem to understand how He does.
One more thing: When we pray for our leaders, especially as we pray for them in public settings, we are announcing publicly and to the unseen spiritual powers and principalities that we believe that all leaders are subject to the God to whom we pray. This is a powerful witness of the Church that we put our trust wholly in God’s sovereign providence.
2. Pray that leaders would make decisions that contribute to the peace of all those under their authority.
When Paul tells us to pray for kings and all those in authority, he follows it up by saying, “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:2b).
The Early Church certainly understood what it was like to live in an environment where peace and quietness was not something to be taken for granted. Most Christians lived under constant threat from the Roman military, never knowing when a military threat or insurrection could break out.
In Canada, however, we have perhaps taken for granted the peace that we enjoy. We should be aware that such peace is a gift of God that could quickly be taken away. Not only should we be grateful for the peace we experience on a daily basis (many in the world have never had such an experience), we need to be in a habit of asking God to grant us continued peace, just as we should be in the habit of always asking God to grant us our daily bread. Both may seem to be ever-present, but both are gifts from the hand of God.
3. Pray that political authorities who are brothers and sisters in Christ would be able to stand firm in their Christian beliefs and convictions.
There are many in political offices who are followers of Jesus. For those of us who have never been in such a position, it is difficult for us to understand the pressures under which they labour. The pressure to please their constituents, to align with a political party policy that may not be consistent with Christian principles, or even to gain favour with their peers are constant temptations. We can certainly empathize with how it can sometimes be easier to do what is popular, than to do what is right.
We need to be aware that Christian political leaders work not only for their fellow Christians, but for all citizens whom they are called to serve. Thus, we should pray that Christian political leaders maintain their Christian convictions, but do so in ways that make clear what their convictions are, without failing to serve the needs of those who may not share those convictions. This is a difficult balance to maintain. Christian leaders need the support of their churches and fellow believers to help them discern where compromises are permissible, and where compromise is not possible, all while maintaining their principles.
By the way, political leaders often only hear from their constituents when there is a problem or when people are angry. One way to support all leaders, whether Christian or not, is to write them a note or an email, thanking them for their service and telling them you are praying for them. We cannot overestimate how important such notes and letters can be for leaders who are used to hearing mostly only complaints and angry opposition. A few well chosen words of thankfulness, seasoned with grace, can be a great encouragement and even a witness to the Gospel.
4. Pray that those leaders who are not believers in Christ would come under the hearing of the gospel or the positive influence of other Christians in political power.
Everybody, regardless of position, needs to be reconciled to God in Jesus Christ and to hear the message of the gospel. We should never hesitate to pray that political leaders would come to know Christ and to experience the forgiveness of sin, the healing power of God and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. In that regard we should pray that political leaders are able to come into contact with godly believers whom they respect and listen to. It is also the reason why we can be grateful there are often Christians in virtually every political party in Canada.
5. Pray that all political leaders would do their jobs well, and that they would all come to a realization that they are God’s servants.
Whether a political leader is a believer or not, we should pray that they do their jobs well with the resources that they have been given and that they would do so with great integrity of character. Political leaders are stewards of a public trust, and we expect them to use that which has been entrusted to them—whether finances, resources, authority, or decision-making power—for the good of all people.
The Scriptures tell us that all political authorities, whether they know it or not, are God’s servants, and that they are giving their time to governing (see Romans 13:6). Therefore, we need to pray they would have the ability to govern well with the gifts and abilities that God has given them. We should also pray they see their service as something done not only for fame or influence, but as an outworking of their calling from God.
6. Pray that political leaders would be able to balance their time between their position and their families well.
Political service is an extremely demanding strain on an individual’s time and energy. They often find their time with family, friends and (when applicable) their own faith communities to be severely limited. Being a political leader often means a level of sacrifice which many of us are unable even to understand, let alone consider giving. Therefore, we should pray an individual’s marriage (if they are married) and family are protected, and that the leader would be able to find sufficient balance with their family, friends and churches. Pray also that their families would be able to allow the level of sacrifice often necessary to carry out their jobs, and that they would be blessed.
7. Pray that political leaders would make decisions that allow the gospel to be freely shared.
The conditions in which the gospel can be shared are the same conditions in which other religious communities are also allowed to flourish unhindered. If we want the gospel to be freely shared, we also need to allow those who are not part of the Church to be free to share their religious views as well. This kind of open religious environment can be difficult for Christians sometimes to accept, especially those who have a view that Canada may have once been a “Christian” nation (though there is some debate on whether this has ever been the case). However, it is an environment which is most likely to allow the gospel to flourish and to spread.
We do know that there are places in the world where, even though political authorities have placed limits on the gospel being shared, that Christianity has nevertheless grown. However, a broad view of world history reveals that it is more often the case that countries that place severe restrictions on the gospel being shared just as often see Christianity marginalized and die out. One must only think of places like Myanmar or former Eastern Bloc communist countries (such as Bulgaria) to see how the Church has been squeezed out and a people largely left without Christian witness.
This is why praying for the continuance of the freedom of religion and the exercise of free speech and of conscience (whether religious or non-religious) in Canada is so important to the future of the Church and of the gospel in Canada.
Let us pray that our political authorities and also our judicial authorities (judges, courts, etc.) will be attuned to the need to see these freedoms protected, not only for Christians, but for all people of faith and non-faith alike. It is only as we are all equally protected to exercise our religions, our faiths, and our speech, that the gospel is most likely able to flourish. Indeed, the Holy Spirit can cause the gospel to grow even in places where the Church is persecuted and limited. But we should also ask the Holy Spirit to keep these freedoms in place in Canada, a country where those freedoms have long been enjoyed.
Author: David Guretzki