I remember learning my evening prayers as a little boy as my parents knelt each evening. We always included praying for then United States President Eisenhower. Since then, I have prayed for successive Presidents: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, and now President Trump. As I learned more about political parties and their positions, and my own views have developed, I learned that I often prayed for presidents whose policies, and sometimes personal actions, I did not support.
But I prayed for them anyway.
“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” 1 Timothy 2:1, 2 (NKJV)
“Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.” 1 Peter 2:13, 14 (NKJV)
Both Apostles Paul and Peter basically affirmed the same reality regarding the presence of followers of Jesus in the world. They both knew that Rome’s leaders were not followers of Jesus, nor lived godly lives, and often fostered policies of abuse, war, and violence. Yet, they counseled prayer and, as much as possible without violating God’s clear moral law, obedience to government.
I’ve come to recognize that such prayers are more than formalities or habits of reverence. Such prayers actually affirm the deeper truth of God’s sovereignty over nations. The Persian King Cyrus, mentioned 23 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, is identified as someone whose spirit was “stirred” by God (2 Chronicles 36:22; Ezra 1:1). He was identified as “anointed” by God (Isaiah 45:1) and as the Lord’s “shepherd” (Isaiah 44:28).
Such prayers for presidential wisdom, discernment, health and protection are rooted in hope of God’s righteous direction over the affairs of humanity. Such prayers reflect the spiritual power of speaking to “principalities and powers in the heavenly realm” (Ephesians 3:10). Such prayers reflect the invasion of the kingdom of God into the midst of the kingdoms of men and women. Such prayers are not prayers of political preference but of kingdom of God righteousness. Such prayers recognize the frail weaknesses and limitations of leaders and pray for heaven’s grace to be manifested even among those who do not acknowledge grace. Such prayers are ultimately rooted in Jesus’ instructions to us that we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
So, over the next years, as I pray for President Trump and Vice President Pence, I will be praying for wisdom, discernment, health and protection upon our national leaders. I will be praying for their advisors. I will be praying that the three branches of our government can cooperate and govern wisely. I will be praying for our deeply divided nation. I will be praying for us, as followers of Jesus in this nation, that we will know how to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
In the 1992 Presidential election, I was pastoring the Franklin Springs IPHC, the campus church for Emmanuel College, in Franklin Springs, Georgia. As we approached the weeks just prior to the election in early November, I asked the congregation to join me in a special prayer service on the Sunday night before the Tuesday election. In advance, I asked three spiritually mature people in the congregation to lead in public prayers for the candidates.
In that election, there were three candidates: President George H.W. Bush was the Republican nominee for a second term; former Governor Bill Clinton was the Democratic Party nominee, and Mr. Ross Perot was a third-party candidate.
Knowing that much of the congregation was more conservative in terms of social and fiscal policies, I pondered who to ask to pray for the more liberal Democratic candidate. I finally decided to ask the former president of Emmanuel College, Dr. C.Y. Melton. Each person prayed heartfelt, thoughtful and grace-filled prayers as they stood behind the pulpit and led the congregation.
But I will never forget what Dr. Melton said as he prefaced his prayer. He was deeply moved as he said something like this:
“When the pastor asked me to pray for Mr. Clinton, I was initially troubled as to how I should pray. There were aspects of Mr. Clinton’s life and policies that bothered me. However, as I began to pray and seek the Lord, I discovered that I could not seriously pray for someone and hold unrighteous thoughts and feelings in my heart about that person.”
After the service, Dr. Melton thanked me for asking him to pray. He said that he learned something about God’s grace and purposes as he prepared for that Sunday night service. It didn’t change his political views but it did change his personal perspective of how God might be at work and how God’s children should engage the world.
So, as President Trump and Vice President Pence assume their solemn responsibilities today, I ask you to join me in praying for them daily. We have prayed for President Obama. We pray for President Bush in these elderly years of weakening health. Let us pray for President Trump, not afraid to support righteous decisions, and not afraid to speak out against unrighteous decisions. But let us pray with God’s love in our hearts.
By Doug Beacham