Sunday, July 2, 2017
Pray For Our Leaders (July 4th weekend 2017)
As we set aside time this week to celebrate our freedoms within the United States, we can express many forms of celebration – none of which is any nobler or righter than the exercise of our freedom to worship God as we see fit to do. And it is most expressive of our worship of the one true God by petitioning him for his guidance of those whom he has seen just to place in authority over our nation and therefore over us as its citizens. The apostle Paul’s instructions in his letter to Timothy that our “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people--for kings and all those in authority,” so that “we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1,2) justifies this call to prayer so that we may continue in our place of blessing, peace, and freedom.
In such a land of freedom, in a nation of choice, there may be among us some who oppose the position of current leadership and stand firmly against their rule. To these brothers and sisters, fellow believers, and fellow citizens, I challenge us all in times of disagreement with human governments to obey the commands of the LORD given by the Holy Spirit to Paul when he wrote: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1,2) If still you find it difficult to pray for those in power, and see those who hold positions of power as enemies, opposite of your own values, then consider the very words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who told is disciples to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
Whether in genuine love or in obedience to God, how then should we pray?
We begin by praying that leaders will be men and women who serve with humility. Individuals who serve as leaders in our country are citizens the same as you and I. They have been elected or appointed to positions higher than we currently hold, but positions that we too, given the desire and opportunity, may hold ourselves. It is after all a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” (Abraham Lincoln) Leaders today should head the commission of Paul to the church of Philippi when he wrote: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3,4) Pray also that our leaders will follow the words and example of Jesus so that “whoever wants to become great among you must be a servant.” (Matthew 20:26)
Next, let us pray that our leaders find and use wisdom. Ben Franklin once stated that “Life’s tragedy is that we get old too fast and wise too late.” Passionately pray that God will give wisdom to our leaders and with equal passion, let us pray they receive it. Pray that our decision makers are listening to wisdom and that their actions are protected from error and consequences. The book of Proverbs tells us “Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.” (Proverbs 4:6). Wisdom is a gift that God desires for all to have. Our act of petition and prayer activates it. His word tells us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5) This wisdom is different than the collected thoughts of man - “the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17) Great leaders of the past valued wisdom. Abraham Lincoln once remarked that he does “not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”
Pray that our leaders who find wisdom will be men and women of peace. Thomas Jefferson was a bit pessimistic about this quality in man. He is quoted as saying “An association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which has never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting.” Despite the late president’s reservations, the bible tells us that we should “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14:19) We should seek goodness and happiness for our leaders as they carry out their burden of leadership and Proverbs 12:20 promises “those who promote peace have joy.” So let us pray for our leaders to be people of peace.
Pray that our leaders never grow weary of doing good. (Galatians 6:9) Our first president, George Washington, appealed to this notion when he wrote “Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distress of everyone, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse.” We need to pray that our leaders will “always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15). Pray that they are good in deed and word, guiding their speech following the profound yet simple rule that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
Only God is all knowing, and the issues and situations presented to our leadership is complex and challenging always. Pray then that our leaders will be open to advice and instruction, and that their advisors be true and pure in their intent. I believe Ben Franklin comments on the failure to heed instruction when he wrote “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.” The author of Proverbs warns about the outcome of a country whose leadership does not seek advice when he wrote: “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” (Proverbs 11:14) Pray that our leaders’ pride will not limit them, and that they will avoid conflict, for it is written “Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.” (Proverbs 13:10).
It takes humility and wisdom to accept the advice of others, but the gain of information and knowledge is immeasurable. Again, we turn to the insight of Ben Franklin who stated: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Pray that our leaders gain from the knowledge of others surrounding them.
Abraham Lincoln once told a story that a man who “watched his pear tree day after day, impatient for the ripening of the fruit. Any attempt to force the process and he would spoil both the fruit and the tree. But he waited patiently and the ripe pear at the right time fell into his lap.” Patience is a virtue whose only teacher is time. So, let us petition God Almighty, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, to give our leaders patience and perseverance. Pray that our leaders become “completely humble and gentle; patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2) We seek leaders who display wisdom and knowledge, and the Bible tells us that “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.” (Proverbs 14:29) Thus we pray for leaders to display wisdom and understanding through patience rather than the folly of impatient and impulsive words. Proverbs warns us “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,” but it gives hope that “the one who is patient calms a quarrel.” (Proverbs 15:18) When issues and passions collide, there are sure to be times of friction, so let us pray that our leaders hear and submit to the teachings of Solomon who states: “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8) At times the tasks at hand seem too much, but pray that our current leadership takes the advice of former president, John Quincy Adams – “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties and obstacles vanish.”
What right have we, the general masses, the vagabond sinner, to petition the Creator and Sustainer of the universe on behalf of men and women whom many hold to higher esteem than common man? We who have Christ are able to stand and make such petitions because we are made righteous in him alone, and once being made righteous, are promised that the “prayers of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16) At the 1984 National Day of Prayer, then president Ronald Reagan, commented on this effective tool: “We all in this room, I know, and we know millions more everywhere, turn to God in prayer, believing in the power and spirit of prayer. So often we direct our prayers to those problems that are immediate to us, knowing that He has promised his help to us when we turn to him. And yet in a world today that is so torn with strife… I wonder if we have ever thought about the greatest tool that we have – the power of prayer and God’s help.”
President Reagan was not wrong to challenge the American people to invoke the privilege of prayer. James wrote some two thousand years ago that “You desire but do not have... You covet but you cannot get what you want... You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives.” (James 4:2,3)
We seek and ask God for intervention on behalf of our leaders.
We seek and ask God with right motives, pure in heart and intention.
We pray for leadership so that “we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
We pray for leadership because we are commanded “be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
We pray and petition, not because we have authority, but because we are joined with the one who does! We are made righteous by him, the Savior, the Messiah, the truth, the life, and the way – Jesus the Christ! And by that gifted righteousness we pray and ask to intervene for leaders in this nation.
In closing, I want to encourage us all to never stop praying. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not with the next change in administration. Rather though, keep praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and we should “be sober-minded; be watchful. [Our] adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) It would give the devil no small joy to devour our leaders, to mislead our leaders, and destroy them. We who are believers, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23) Take hold of the command by Paul to “be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13) President Kennedy at the 1963 National Day of Prayer breakfast stated it this way: “This morning we pray together; this evening apart. But each morning and each evening, let us remember the advice of my fellow Bostonian, the Reverend Phillip Brooks: ‘Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.’”
Praise God, we know the one from whom all answers flow! Let us all pray!