Praying for Politicians (Without Calling Down Scorn)
The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked,
but the prayer of the upright pleases him.
History reveals that prayer and politics have always mixed, but not in the ways you’d always expect. Especially when it comes to the faith of the Bible, politics drives concerned citizens to pray. Scripture repeatedly brings up the need for prayer—for ourselves, for our church, and for our political leaders.
The Challenges of Prayer
A proper prayer begins as our Lord instructed: “Our Father, who is in Heaven,” recognizing God’s stunningly intimate and accessible relationship with his people. There is never a bad time or place to pray. You’re always invited in. But when you enter God’s presence, you should bear in mind his power to change not just others, but you, as well: Adam and Eve hid from God’s voice and search out of fear (Genesis 3). Moses could not look at the face of God without fear of being deeply changed (Exodus 33). Considering God’s throne drove the prophet Isaiah into obsession with his own sinfulness (Isaiah 6). And the apostle John found no comfort in the presence of the Son on the Island of Patmos and fell as one dead (Revelation 1).
Because you can pray whenever you please, you would think that prayer doesn’t require a lot of energy or thought, but anyone who spends real time in prayer will uncover the truth: Prayer is demanding and challenging, requiring effort and planning. You need to set time aside in a place where you won’t be disturbed and deliberately decide what to pray for and how. Will you praise God for his character? Thank him for what he has done? Deliver a grocery list of wants? Will you try to be still before him? None of these things usually come naturally. The good news is, all of them can be learned.
From childhood, we are taught the value and habits of autonomy. We celebrate small steps of independence from tying our shoes to getting our first job. Our culture reinforces self-sufficiency. But prayer teaches us to live our lives dependent on God. We belong to One who has a design for our lives and maintains dominion over his creation. He is God.
This is one of the primary obstacles many of us face as we consider and try to live in line with the gospel. It takes humility to surrender to Christ. The Gospel of Matthew reminds us of this truth.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
Your prayer life is the gauge of your dependence on God—whether you are an individual, a married couple or a community. Jesus warns those who depend upon themselves that they will lose their spiritual lives in the end.
Praying for Politics
Nine hundred years before the birth of Christ, Israel’s head of state made an important statement about prayer:
The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked
but the prayer of the upright pleases him.
God is not fooled by those who give him an outward nod—making personal and financial sacrifices, going to Sunday worship, praying in public—but fail to draw near to him with their hearts. As you pray for your political leaders, are you drawing close enough to God to, like Isaiah, be aware of your own brokenness? Do you pray for elected officials in light of the fact that you are dependent on God and want to see other recognize that fact, too? Or do your prayers come from a place of bravado, sure that your opinions are righteous and need to be instituted broadly in order for God’s kingdom to come?
The call to pray for our leaders is a call to depend on God, a call to respond to his grace. It is also a reminder that, in the political realm, we are not in charge. Neither are our elected officials. We pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” There is no better way to pray for God’s will than to have his Word guide our petitions.
To pray for our leaders as we have been taught, we need to first pray for ourselves, for our hearts and for godly wisdom.
How then shall we pray?
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. We pray today that your will be done on this earth as it is in heaven. We need your help to pray for our leaders. You have given us the invitation to prayer—a practical and accessible gift. Forgive us our sins of neglecting prayer and failing to appreciate all that you have done for your church.
In your Word you remind us about the importance of prayer. “The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him.” (Proverbs 15:8) May our hearts be right before you. In this we need the help of our Redeemer, Christ. We pray that you would increase our desire to pray for our leaders—republican, democrat and independent alike. Help us to be gracious, persistent and specific in our prayers. Help us to take before your throne of grace their personal needs and the needs that come along with their responsibilities to their constituents. May we be faithful in this calling that you have placed upon our lives. The peace, prosperity and integrity of every nation and tribe depend upon your goodness. We ask now for your help in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
Do you know who your elected officials are? Yesterday on Facebook, we shared a tool to help you identify your federal, state and local representatives. Please consider using that tool and setting aside some time each week to pray for some of the people listed there, using Ministry to State’s prayer as a guide.