Here in the United States our news is dominated by the Presidential election cycle and as a result, we are inundated with up to the minute analysis of debates, rallies, interviews, editorials, and tweets. Many have observed that this is a particularly important election. I happen to agree with them while also noting that the same thing is said every four years. It is always important.
Without minimizing the importance of the election or impugning anyone who is a political junkie, I want to offer a gentile reminder for Christians who might be getting a little too wrapped up in the election. Call it a gentle calibration.
Who to Pray for
The first place we as Christians should turn is prayer when we consider the functioning of our government and its relationship to the church. This is modeled by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy. Giving instruction to Timothy he says that we as believers must pray for all people, “for kings and all who are in high positions…” (1 Tim. 2.2).
This seems pretty straightforward and simple until we consider the context. John Stott observes,
“when Paul told Timothy to pray for kings, the reigning emperor was Nero, whose vanity, cruelty and hostility to the Christian faith were widely known. The persecution of the church, spasmodic at first, was soon to become systematic, and Christians were understandably apprehensive. Yet they had recourse to prayer. Indeed, prayer for pagan countries and their leaders already had a precedent in the Old Testament. For Jeremiah told the exiles to pray for Babylon’s peace and prosperity, and the edict of Cyrus, which ordered the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple, included a request to the Jews to ‘pray for the well-being of the king and his sons.’”
The government was far from sympathetic to Christianity, yet Paul (like Peter 1 Pet. 2.17) urges submission and honor to and prayer for the government.
I understand that the skid marks from the moral revolution are fresh. That car is racing ahead with little regard for Christ and his church. America and the rest of the world are changing very quickly. However, let’s not think for a second that Paul is living in the midst of nice little Bible belt in the Roman Empire. It was progressive, pagan, and decidedly anti-Christian. The decades that follows Paul’s writing to Timothy are dark. In other words, if the priority was prayer then it most certainly is today.
What to Pray for
But notice what to pray for. Paul goes on:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:1–2,)
Pray for the leaders. Pray for the good ones and the bad. Pray for the Republicans, the Democrats, and the Independents.
Why Paul? So that we (Christians) may lead a peaceful, quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
We as Christians desire to live peaceable and quiet lives. This just means that we pray for our government to prevent and deter war and fighting between citizens. Luther said,
“In time of war there is no peace. One cannot go in or out. Not a hair of one’s head is safe. In this case no one considers that these outstanding benefits are preserved by a good civil authority which ought to be keeping watch so that peace might endure. It is a great gift to live in peace and quiet.”
I wonder if we have forgotten this. It has become a custom of our day to take to social media to vent our concerns and attack politicians. How much quieter would Facebook and Twitter be if Christians were truly praying for and personally pursuing peaceable and quiet lives?
Furthermore there is a desire for a godly and dignified life. This is what we want after all. “The ultimate object of our prayers for national leaders, then, is that in the context of the peace they preserve, religion and morality can flourish, and evangelism go forward without interruption.” (Stott)
I don’t doubt that this election is important. Relatively speaking they all are important. However, I’m suggesting that we align our expectations with how the Bible teaches us to pray. We have been greatly blessed in the United States for many, many years. Evangelicals have enjoyed tremendous influence in society. Now, however, things appear to be changing. Is this a cause for concern? Sure. But is it a cause for panic? No. In fact, we find ourselves providentially backing into the parking stall of 1 Timothy 2. We have our our prayers and our pursuits recalibrated by the Scriptures. Even if our guy doesn’t get elected (or even if we don’t have “a guy”) we can still pray and rejoice in God’s kindness to us.
You might think my expectations are too low. Perhaps they are. But perhaps your expectations are too high and your foundation a bit more American than biblical. It is easy to get stirred up from the news stations but it is hard to pray and be content in God. Faithfully pray for your leaders, pursue peace, advance the gospel, and rejoice in God’s kindness to you—even through unbelieving men and women.