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Praying for Your Elected Officials: A Subversive Idea

Did you pray for President Barack Obama during his presidency? Will you pray for President Donald Trump during his?

If not, then you have become derelict in one of the most significant and strategic of our Christian duties. Scripture seems to indicate that for the community of faith the issue is not debatable.

The Apostle Paul was a gospel visionary, even to the point of praying subversively.

In a letter to Timothy, Paul expresses his concern for an atmosphere conducive to the church accomplishing its mission – that the greater missiological benefit of the church might be realized.

For this to be accomplished, the apostle addresses of first importance how they should pray in 1 Timothy 2:1-4.

“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgiving, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity,” he writes. “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Yes, Paul seems to have ulterior motives in this prayer directive. Praying all kinds of prayers, for all kinds of people, in all kinds of places is of mutual benefit for all concerned.

That Paul would instruct the people of God to pray even for pagan rulers is not without precedent, dating back to Israel’s exile experiences. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

The admonition given us is to pray for “kings,” whoever they might be.

It is not a discriminating prayer – this one but not the next. Nor is it a preferential prayer – who you do or do not like.

Neither is it a partisan prayer dependent upon whether the bearer of the crown is a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or independent.

Kings come and go. To whomever has been given the place of authority, it is this one for whom we are to pray.

That the prayers to be offered are not based upon the worthiness of the given king is evident in the fact that Nero was emperor at the very time Paul penned these words.

According to the writings of Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio, Nero persecuted Christians with a zealous enthusiasm.

They record in horrific detail the heinous acts of Nero against Christians, throwing them to wild animals or covering them in oil and setting them afire so as to provide lighting for his gardens in the evening.

It was during Nero’s reign of terror against Christians that, according to tradition, Paul and Peter were put to death. Yet, it is in this context Paul issues the admonition to pray for all kings and all who are in authority.

Even so, I can’t help but suspect that among the first audience to hear Paul’s words were those conspiracy theorists who pushed back against the notion of praying for the emperor because they had heard he didn’t have an “authentic Roman birth certificate,” negating his right to be emperor.

Perhaps others could not bring themselves to pray for Nero because his appointments to office were not “Christian” enough to their liking.

Some, maybe, resisted the idea of praying for Nero because he “never paid his own taxes,” or they knew his reputation of being “a boorish, bullying womanizer.”

Paul’s exhortation, however, offers no latitude for such discernment and judgments. His is a declarative statement to pray “for kings and all who are in authority.”

Imagine the tone that could be reset and the difference it could make if we, who confess Christ, actually prayed for our president and government leaders.

Instead of being like everyone else – joining in, fueling and perpetuating the pejorative, negative, malicious rhetoric of mainstream and social media – what if we were to actually be the church – a unique, distinctive and prayerful people?

Do not confuse Paul’s charge to pray faithfully with some pre-election rally that offers endorsement to a candidate. He’s not asking us to sell our soul for an earthly kingdom but, rather, he is directing us to pray strategically that another kind of Kingdom might flourish.

I hope you will join me in praying for our new president and congressional leadership.

Bobby C. Dagnel is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about the inauguration of President-elect Trump, focused on the importance of praying for the new president (and all elected officials), honoring their election and engaging respectfully with our representatives.