When We Can’t Pray for Leaders We Don’t Like

pray-for-leaders-and-nations

When I wrote the other day on “Praying for a President You [Don’t] Like” I got as much feedback as I have gotten on about anything I’ve written, except when I’m talking about food with Youngstowners!

There were quite a number, perhaps a majority who felt this gave words to what they struggled to find words for. Some even wanted to reprint the post. I’m glad that my own process of giving voice to things I have deeply felt helped others.

Here is one comment that has had me thinking:

“I want to be at a place where I can pray for this President. I’m not there yet. I started to read Bob’s prayer and had to stop.”

There were others who had similar thoughts. I know many women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ persons, immigrants, (or Democrats!), and many others who are troubled by statements, things promised, or ideas put forth and how they were said in this campaign.

I’m grateful for that honesty. I thought this comment itself a great and honest prayer. To say, “God, I want to be at a place where I can pray for this President. I’m not there yet” seems to me to be enough and more than enough. A wise person said to me, “pray as you can, and not as you can’t.”

This brings me to a concern of whether it is right to pray for someone who commenters described as “evil”, “self-serving”, “narcissistic” and so forth. I sense some think that these qualities are irreversible. I find myself more reserved in such judgments, perhaps because I don’t have to look hard to find instances of these qualities in my own life. Even if there is a quantitative difference between me and another and a seemingly irredeemable character to the person, I think of Hebrews 10:31 that says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” The verse refers to those who hold the knowledge of the truth in contempt. I would not want any human being to face this, and if I think this a possibility for a person, I pray that God would extend mercy and transformation to spare them this “fearful thing.”

I do find myself pleading for this man (and any president) because both his and the nation’s destiny are at stake. I think of Luke 12:48 which says, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” I believe every leader will give account not only to their people, and in the case of presidents to the bar of history, but also to God. The apostle Paul, who calls upon us to pray for leaders said this during the reign of Emperor Nero, who wrought terrible havoc and even turned Christians into human torches to light Rome. Perhaps what helped Paul pray for even despicable leaders was the prayer of another martyr, Stephen, for those who stoned him while Paul (Saul) looked on. Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Some seemed to wonder if praying for a leader is tantamount to blessing, condoning, and submitting to what they do, particularly if it is evil or unjust. I have sometimes prayed that God would limit and thwart the evil particularly corrupt leaders have perpetrated. More than that, Christians have always believed that if the choice is obeying human authority or God, God wins hands down. Not only have Christians refused emperor worship, but they have sheltered fugitive slaves and disobeyed fugitive slave laws (in the US), they have sheltered Jews or others who are objects of genocide, often at the risk of their own lives, they have refused to participate in unjust wars, and more. They have marched, sat down, and boycotted. I can pray for liberty and justice, and my commitment to these inalienable rights may also require me to obey a higher law when human laws command idolatry or violate the rights to life and liberty of others.

I don’t know anyone but a fool or fanatic or lawless person who welcomes the chance to engage in civil disobedience. All the more reason, it seems to me to pray. Paul urges such prayer for leaders “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life.” We may not always be granted it, but it is never wrong to seek God’s shalom.

I’ll conclude with a friend’s comment that summed up well for me why we pray even for the leaders we don’t like:

“A true show of our character as people of faith is whether or not we can truly love our enemies, and one way of doing that is praying for them, regardless of how distasteful we find them to be. God is not incapable of changing and softening any of our hearts, including those of our leaders. Praying for the leaders that you despise requires the grace and maturity to put aside anger and hurt to appeal to God on their behalf (and the behalf of your nation, state, city, etc.).”

One thought on “When We Can’t Pray for Leaders We Don’t Like

  1. Pingback: Praying for a President You [Don’t] Like | Bob on Books

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