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'An Elderly Man in Prayer' (1660s or later), attributed to a follower of Rembrandt, oil on canvas, 34 x 28 in., Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH.
Paul exhorts us,
"I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made ... 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)
But how are we to pray for these kings and presidents and prime ministers that are over us? How did Paul pray for Claudius and Nero, the emperors during his ministry?
I'm sure there are better, more complete ways to pray for our leaders than what I'm suggesting here. But this is where I currently am in my praying. It's a start. My prayer is simple.
I pray for humility for my president. This may sound strange, since presidents and kings uniformly need a strong ego to get where they are and do what they do. I'm impressed with Jesus' teaching after the Rich Young Ruler walked away from Jesus' invitation to sell all he had, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow him. He said to his disciples:
"'How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.' Those who heard this asked, 'Who then can be saved?' Jesus replied, 'What is impossible with men is possible with God.'" (Luke 18:24-27)
In our day, most heads of state would be considered "rich" or at least well off. And they are at the pinnacle of power in their country. But riches tend to make us less dependent upon God, since money can buy nearly anything. Riches make it nearly impossible to humble oneself before God to repent -- to even ask for help. That's what Jesus tells us. And great power feeds the pride that makes it nearly impossible for a top leader to humble herself.
Men and women at the pinnacle of power and wealth find true humility nearly impossible. That's the point of Jesus' saying about the camel and the eye of the needle. Impossibility.
So my first prayer for my president is that God will do the impossible and enable him to humble himself before God, and thus "enter the kingdom." I want my leaders to be able to truly hear from God. Humility is essential to that.
I pray for wisdom for my president. When God asked Solomon in a dream to state what God should grant him, Solomon asked for wisdom and God was extremely pleased (1 Kings 3:5-14). When I read Proverbs I see a constant contrast between the "wise" and the "fool." We're exhorted to seek wisdom with the same intensity that we would hunt gold or precious jewels (Proverbs 3). We need our kings and presidents govern with great wisdom so that we, the citizens, might "lead a peaceful and quiet life" (1 Timothy 2:2).
Of course, humility and wisdom go hand in hand. The proud leader thinks his ideas are better than any of his counselors. The wise leader listens humbly to her counselors as together they seek out the best course for the nation. Of course, the president makes the final decision, but pride prevents a leader from listening.
Not a Political Statement
I pray every day for my president for humility and wisdom. Though some of my hyper-sensitive friends have been startled by this, it is not a political statement of any kind. Just a realization that our leaders at the highest level -- as well as leaders of congregations and families -- need both humility and wisdom to hear from God and care well for the people God has put in their charge.
We don't show favoritism in prayer. We don't withhold our prayers from leaders we don't like, leaders who are doing things that we believe hurt the nation. Rather, like Paul praying for Nero, we pray all the more for them for wisdom and humility.
I call on God daily to grant my president humility and wisdom. I encourage you to pray for your nation's leaders too. Start with prayers for humility and wisdom, and God will lead you how to pray even better.
Father, teach us how to pray for our leaders and help us to do so diligently. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
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