I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority.1 Timothy 2:1
When the apostle Paul wrote the above words to his protégé Timothy, he was a living as a citizen in the Roman Empire. In fact, he had been arrested, beaten, and tried by Roman authorities and eventually would be put to death by the Emperor Nero.
He had no illusions about the kind of government that ruled his first-century world. Roman rule was efficient and sophisticated, but it was also brutal and pagan. Yet he still urged Timothy, and through him other believers, to pray for those who held the reins of power.
Paul exhorted Timothy in this way because he wanted believers to thrive as much as possible in an environment largely hostile to the nascent Christian faith. The more freedom Christians had to live their faith freely — that is, publicly — the more they could give witness to the sovereignty of God revealed through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. So, pray. Because prayer is, in part, to ask God to be God here and now.
This is also one of the reasons we should pray for our government, for our political leaders, no matter how far away they are from sharing our Christian convictions. We should pray that the Lord would open their eyes to the truth of who he is and that they would govern in such a way that people of faith can live out their beliefs.
Though it’s not always easy.
Because in case you haven’t noticed, our government leaders often fail to act in ways that inspire trust, much less admiration.
Case in point: the government of my country of Canada has been on the defensive for weeks because of serious allegations that they have done little to nothing about potential Chinese interference in Canadian elections and politics. Most recently, a recent Globe and Mail story alleges that a Chinese diplomat in Canada was collecting intel on one of our MPs for the purposes of threatening and/or influencing his family here and in China. According to news reports, CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service) sent this information to the relevant level of government. And did so two years ago.
Yet the story broke and the MP in question became aware of this only a couple of weeks ago. Our Prime Minister also claims that he never heard about this until the media reported on it. So either he’s lying and did know but chose to do nothing or, no more encouraging, didn’t know, thereby revealing alarming incompetence or dysfunction in his government and its communications with CSIS. And then once the story was out, it took more than a week for the government to take definitive action by expelling the Chinese diplomat in question.
When our governing leaders do things that are questionable or downright problematic (unethical, immoral, illegal), it’s not always clear whether we should attribute such things to malice or stupidity. Either way, it’s frustrating that often the truth rarely comes to the surface and actual justice has its day. Prime Minister Trudeau, for instance, has had numerous ethical violations and faced several scandals. Yet he is an expert in deflection and obfuscation. He’s the teflon PM. Having once been a drama teacher, he’s had ample opportunity over his time as PM to use his acting chops. To that end, he is a politician par excellence. In case it’s not clear, I don’t intend that as a compliment.
Of course, political corruption and scandal are hardly exclusive to Canada. US President Joe Biden, despite the media-portrayal of him as a folksy, grandfatherly figure, is no stranger to accusations and allegations of corruption. Much of this currently stems from the troubling shenanigans of his son, Hunter Biden. If the allegations have even a modicum of veracity, it means Biden is not a leader deserving of public admiration or trust. And even if I share next to nothing in common with his ideology and political values, I would at least rather he be someone who has clear and verifiable personal integrity.
I could spend a long time outlining or summarizing all the other ways I find the politics of even these two world leaders troubling. I am not a fan of either Trudeau or Biden. I think in both cases their approach to politics and governance lacks wisdom and integrity. I do not consider either one of them trustworthy as leaders. On a more personal level, I also simply do not like them. How is that for honest?
And yet I am called to pray to the Lord on their behalf. Which means I am actually called to love them, as I would any of my neighbors. Paul tells Timothy to pray for the Roman emperor, a political figure hardly disposed to treat justly the Christians that fall under his rule. Obviously, Paul and other followers of Jesus at the time were well-aware of their public standing. But pray they did. And we must follow likewise.
But pray how? Pray, first and foremost, that the Lord Jesus would see fit to bring our leaders to their knees before him, that he would bring them to faith, and transform their hearts and lives. Pray that even if this doesn’t happen that they would make decisions that respect religious beliefs and allow for differences of belief and opinion in the public square. Pray that they would seek to live with personal integrity and that they would take responsibility for their actions and decisions. Even if that means facing the difficult consequences of losing face and losing their positions of power. Pray that political leaders on both sides of the ideological divide would somehow learn to work together in a genuine and humble way. Pray, pray, pray. Because they need it.
And, lastly, pray that those of us who are Christians would see our leaders and politician as actual human beings. Since so much of what we know of them is filtered through a biased media (on both the left and the right), it can be easy to have a two-dimensional view that lacks nuance and depth. Even Prime Minister Trudeau is a Dad. We should not only pray for him as a political leader but as a husband and father, that he would fulfill these roles in an admirable way. We should pray that we resist the temptation to dehumanize those who govern us and reduce them to their public functions.
These days holding political office hardly seems desirable. Our cultural milieu makes it a very inhospitable calling. Thanks to the omnipresence of media, virtually everything gets politicized and turned into a partisan issue. Even the wildfires in Alberta. What person in their right mind would seek public office in this environment? Perhaps those who crave power and influence? Those convinced of the near-absolute righteousness of their cause and their political values? We should also pray, therefore, for those who should seek political office, because they are already precisely the sort of people who have integrity, who have earned the respect and trust of those who know them, and who have the resilience to resist the temptation to use political office to further their own personal interests.
Because in the end of the day, politics is in part the art of managing community, the relationships between citizens, and the infrastructure and institutions that help facilitate life in a given community. And those of us who are Christians live in larger communities with all kinds of people, some who share our faith and many who do not. We all want to live in a neighborhood, province, and country that is governed well, with integrity and wisdom and competence, that serves its citizens fairly and humbly. Certainly doing this has only gotten more challenging. And that is why we pray.