Meditations in 1 Timothy: 11: Pray for leaders
1 Tim 2:1,2 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
I must confess that I struggle with verse 2. I was all right with verse 1 where Paul encouraged us to pray for everyone, and we said it had to be as the Spirit led, but when he makes it very specific and then gives a reason, I can’t help but think that the early church didn’t do very well in this realm in view of the persecutions that swept many Christians prematurely into heaven. This is going to be an unusual meditation in that we are going to seek to think through some difficult issues about free will and the workings of God and about prayer in general. If you don’t like thinking, this is not a meditation for you; nevertheless I hope there will be things of value here. But let’s simply note first of all what he actually says.
He wants us to pray in these various degrees of prayer, “for kings and all those in authority.” Well today, of course, kings and queens have very little power in reality for, in much of the Western world at least, government comprises elected members of Parliament. At lower levels in this country with have County Councils, District Councils and Parish Councils (and variants of those). We have a lot of people “in authority” who make decisions that affect the rest of us. Now here I find another small problem: having been a news watcher for many years, I have watched consecutive governments making decisions that are often ungodly and, I believe, contrary to the will of God – but I am sure there are Christians praying as Paul suggests here and we might therefore suggest that their prayers are not being answered. When we see particular governments bringing out policies and then changing them again and again, we have to suggest a government lacking the authority that God speaks about in His word.
So here is my next dilemma: if I believe, as I do, that we are under the judgment of God as a 95% godless nation, the form of judgment seen in Romans 1, where God “gave them over to…”. This is the form of judgment where God steps back, lifts off His hand of restraint and lets the nation do as it will in a downward moral spiral until it gets so bad it comes to its senses and cries out for help and is ripe for revival. If I believe in this, then to pray for blessing on the ungodly government to alleviate the difficulties, seems to fly in the face of His ‘judgment will’. Perhaps one can say that, although that may be the overall intent of the Lord in bringing the nation to its senses, that does not stop Him showing grace and bringing blessings the nation from time to time, perhaps to catch people’s hearts, or at least the hearts of some who are being changed by the general events.
So what am I left with? Well first, we have to go back to my starting comments about prayer, that so often prayer is a mystery. Ultimately, praying is an act of faith and obedience. When we are full of faith we are naturally obedient and obedience doesn’t feature in our thinking, we just do it because we have an inner sense or an understanding that it is right. But there are occasions, which I think are supposed to be fairly rare, when we do something without understanding but just simply because we are told to, and so it is purely a matter of obedience. In such times understanding follows on later. So when ever I struggle with the matter of prayer, the first motivational point is that I do it because Scripture says so.
The second point to be made is that when we pray, hopefully we see clear and specific answers to prayer, especially when we have first of all caught the Spirit’s guidance of how to pray and what to pray, but sometimes answers to prayer are difficult to discern, even though there are answers. Sometimes we just have to leave the matter in God’s hands and trust that He is doing what He is doing and it will become clear one day.
Now third, remember why Paul says to pray like this: “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Paul wants the rule of godly (and ungodly?) governments to result in peace and quiet so that, as a result, you and I can live our lives being godly and holy. For the bulk of the time – at present at least – most of us Christians in the West at least, can do that. We might suppose that if people did not pray, we might not have the measure of peace and quiet that we do experience.
Fourth, although Paul speaks in these general terms he has not so far been specific, until he goes on, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (v.3,4) There the clear inference is that when we pray for leaders our prayers ought to be that they turn to Christ, for that is God’s desire for all people. Now here’s a question: when you pray for a friend or family member to come to Christ, do you just pray once and then give up? The answer is surely, no, we will pray and pray again. When it comes to leaders – central government, local government or leaders in any other capacity, do we pray that they will find Christ, and do we ask how perhaps we may be part of the process that will bring them to him?
The focus thus becomes on crying to the Lord for the salvation of our leaders, and the enabling force is the Holy Spirit. In terms of understanding, we may not understand the why’s and wherefore’s of this praying and we may not see the full answers, but the call is nevertheless to pray and go on praying, and leave the outcome to the Lord.