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Praying for our leaders

Join with us as we pray for our leaders in these uncertain times

Join with us as we pray for our political leaders and civil servants as they navigate the course to our future relationship with the EU.

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 we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1 – 4

Pray as if they can hear you

We sometimes read 1 Timothy 2:1 – 4 as if the kings and all who are in high position” would never be interested in us. But this was not guaranteed for the first Christians, including Paul himself, who often appears before these rulers to answer questions about his faith. Later, the early Christian apologists described how they prayed as a way of showing their suspicious leaders what Christianity was like.

So if a politician walked in when your church was praying, what would they conclude about Christianity? Would your faith appear unconcerned with real life, or too enthralled to someone else’s political program? Would they be prompted to ask more, or to run away?

Pray for them to know Jesus

Paul reminds Timothy that such prayer pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4). So we should not just be praying for competence for our leaders, but that they would know Jesus Christ. And if they already claim to know Jesus, we should be praying that their faith would deepen and grow.

So Paul’s life gives us a number of principles that can guide our prayers for those in authority. However, there’s still a difficult question which we haven’t covered : how do we pray together for our politicians when we as Christians may disagree quite strongly on their policies? This question is an important one for Christian unity, and will get more acute as the Brexit debates enter a new stage. We will reflect on this in a future article, to give this question the space which it deserves. However, for now, let’s all recommit to praying for our political leaders, as Paul did for his.

Pray for them to obey Jesus

When we pray for people to know Jesus, we pray not only for a conversion experience, but for ongoing discipleship, in which people recognise that Jesus Christ is Lord, and seek to obey his commands. As Paul writes in Romans 12:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice … Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

It would be very odd indeed for us to make Christian political leaders an exception to this rule, or to believe that their profession of faith should have no bearing on how they lead.

But even if our leaders do not yet know Jesus – as they didn’t in Paul’s day – we can pray that they nurture Christian ideas about what we want society to become. As we write in What Kind of Society?, true freedom from persecution and addiction, justice for the poor and marginalised, love of neighbour and truth in speech are good for all and have Christian roots.

You can read What kind of society? and pray that our leaders pursue these things.

Pray and then speak up

We should not see our prayers as a substitute for action, any more than prayer for conversion is a substitute for evangelism. Again we see this in Paul’s life, as he urges us to be subject to the authorities (Romans 13:1), and to pray for our leaders. But for Paul, submitting to the authorities still allowed him to demand a public apology from the Philippian magistrates for ill-treatment at their hands – possibly for the benefit of other Christians in the city (Acts 16:37 – 40).

For Paul, prayer and speaking up against injustice were not contradictory. For us, just as praying for people to be saved does not replace evangelism, and praying for our enemies does not replace reconciliation, so praying for our leaders is not a substitute for speaking out where it is needed. Read more about letting your voice be heard by our political leaders.

So Paul’s life gives us a number of principles that should guide our prayers for those in authority. The question of how we pray together despite deep disagreements will get more acute with the year’s political debates. We will try to address this at another point, but for now, let’s all recommit to praying for our political leaders, as Paul did for his.

About the author

John began working at the Evangelical Alliance in 2016, focusing on issues of debate in parliament that are relevant to evangelical Christians in the UK. Before this he worked as a research assistant for the Church of England Bishop of Coventry, supporting his work in the House of Lords and his focus on freedom of religion or belief and global reconciliation. He holds a BA in Theology and an MPhil in Judaism and Christianity in the Graeco-Roman world, and he remains very interested in biblical studies and inter-religious dialogue. He also teaches English to speakers of other languages at a class run by his church.

See more from John Coleby

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