Praying for rulers.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 January

’Cause we should. Why? Well, let’s look at the bible.

After we elect a new president, governor, mayor, or whomever, we Christians tend to remind ourselves to pray for our rulers.

Sometimes enthusiastically, ’cause our candidate got elected. And if we’re the really partisan sort, we’ll even rub this fact in other people’s faces. “The patriotic thing to do is to close ranks and back our new leader for the good of the country. So bury that disappointment and pray for your new leader—that’s right, your new leader.” Every so often, the Christian preaching this attempts a sympathetic tone—“Hey, I know it’s rough; I’ve had to do this when your guy won”—but most of the time they’re too happy to care. Or about 12 seconds of the message is sympathy, and the rest is a victory lap. Hey, I’ve been on both sides of it.

And there’s mournfully, ’cause our candidate lost. The candidates have been demonizing one another throughout the election, so when partisans lose they’re convinced the End Times have arrived. Hence the prayers for our rulers aren’t for God to bless them. Not really. They’re for God to mitigate their evil. Keep ’em from ruining our land. Stop ’em from destroying lives. Maybe Jesus could make a Damascus-Road-style appearance and radically transform them into someone who’d vote our way. Wouldn’t that be great?

Sometimes sarcastically; they immediately dive for Psalm 109.

Psalm 109.6-13 KWL
6 Place a wicked person over him, with Satan standing at his right.
7 May those judging him return an evil verdict, and his prayers be offensive.
8 May his days be few, and another ruler supervise him.
9 May his children become fatherless, and his woman a widow.
10 May his children wander, wander, begging, digging through people’s trash.
11 May debt seize everything he owns, and strangers steal his labor.
12 May he never find love; his fatherless children never be given grace.
13 May his generation be the last one, and his family name be wiped out.

Yeah, King David wished some hateful stuff on his enemies. And when people start praying these curses over their rulers, most of the time they’ll stop mid-psalm and say, “Nah; I’m just kidding.” But nah, in their heart of hearts, they aren’t really. Y’ain’t fooling God.

Okay, so where do the scriptures instruct us to pray for our rulers? Well, most of the time we point to Paul’s instructions to Timothy: Paul wanted Timothy and his church to pray for everybody—plus kings and rulers.

1 Timothy 2.1-4 KWL
1 So I encourage everyone to first make thankful, intercessory prayer requests for all the people.
2 Like for kings, and everyone who holds authority.
This way we can go through life in peace and quiet,
applying religion and dignity to all.
3 This is good and pleasing to God our savior,
4 who wants all people to be saved, and come to a knowledge of truth.

Note why: So we Christians can follow Jesus in peace and quiet. And not persecution.

’Cause that’s what Christians had to deal with for the next three centuries in the Roman Empire: Some proconsul, procurator, or puppet king might get it into his head, “These Christians might be asking their God to bless Caesar, but they’re not asking Caesar’s favorite gods to bless him, so I need to rectify that,” and next thing you know Christians are getting crucified again.

Nope, this wasn’t just a first-century problem. Our culture still has multiple gods. If you’ve got a president who’s pagan but thinks they’re Christian, they’re gonna interpret Christian behavior, intentions, and support quite a bit differently than an authentic Christian. They’ll shut out—or, worst case, hassle—the Christians who won’t get on board with the program. (Some Christians are pretty sure the real worst case is to round up the ATF and invade their church compounds, but if your church has a no-fooling compound, you might be in a cult. There’s likely good reason the ATF should check you out. But I digress.)

Or if you’ve got a Congress who worships Mammon. (Hey, when have they not?) In this case they’re definitely gonna care more about the budget than the people of our country. And if the people get in their way… well, they can move us out of their way. It’s what defense spending is all about.

So why’re we instructed to pray for rulers? So they’ll leave us be.

And with them off our backs, we can quietly work on the kingdom which will eventually replace them.

What else should we pray?

One of my bishops pointed out while Paul said we oughta pray for rulers, and why, he didn’t state what we should pray. I’d point him to Paul’s instruction for “thankful, intercessory prayer requests” 1Ti 4.1 —which includes rulers. Thank God for our rulers when they do right. Intercede for them when they need help. And if they start oppressing us, David has a load more imprecatory psalms for us to take examples from.

The bishop borrowed some ideas from Psalm 72, something David wrote for Solomon to bless him. Some interpreters think li-Šelomó/“to Solomon” should mean by Solomon, but the last verse indicates this psalm was by David. Ps 72.20 The bishop did point out the president is hardly an ancient Israeli king; he’s not sworn to uphold the Law of Moses, but the Constitution. He doesn’t have the same relationship to God a king would; he’s no messiah. Frankly if he started acting like he thought he was a messiah, we’d have a problem.

Despite this, we can pull a few general ideas out of this psalm.

Psalm 72.1-4 KWL
1 God, give your judgment to the king; your rightness to the king’s son.
2 He can judge your people rightly, your poor justly.
3 The mountains carry peace to the people; the hills, rightness.
4 He can judge poor people. He can save the needy’s children.
He can crush the oppressor!

Like David said in verse 1, primarily we want our rulers to have God’s judgment and God’s rightness. They shouldn’t presume they already have these things; that the reason God let ’em succeed to office is because God’s already dumped blessing upon them, and already given them “a really good brain,” to quote a certain candidate. We gotta pray God redirects our rulers to think like him. Not us; we’re wrong. Think like him. Look at the people through God’s eyes.

We also want our rulers to particularly look out for the needy and the poor. Those who have money and resources can usually look out for themselves just fine. Too often this means they manage to get—and occupy—our rulers’ attention. Gets even worse when our rulers are social Darwinists who believe if you’re needy it’s your own fault. (Or worse: It’s God’s punishment.) God instructed his people to not treat the rich and poor any different—and in practice this almost always means to not overlook the poor. Because, unless you make a conscious attempt to do so, you just will.

So we should pray, as David did, for God to focus our rulers’ attention on justice, rightness, and the needy. And crushing their oppressors—and not becoming their oppressors themselves.

’Cause that bit in verse 3 about the mountains and hills carrying peace and rightness: That’s a metaphor for God. Remember, when David was writing psalms, the temple hadn’t yet been built. So ancient practice was to go to the highest point you could find, put an altar to the LORD there, and worship him there. 1Ki 3.2 It was still a practice for years thereafter, even though the authors of the bible figured the practice oughta be consolidated in the temple. 1Ki 15.14, 22.43, 2Ki 12.3, 14.4, 15.4, 35, 17.32 Anyway, the idea was you want peace, you go to God. You want rightness, you learn from the LORD.

We already have him as our source of peace and rightness. Or should. Now we pray our rulers to turn to him as well.

And if they do, may they be blessed, reign a long time, and be otherwise prosperous and famous. And if not… well, David never got into that, ’cause he never expected Solomon to go wrong. Pity he did. 1Ki 11.4-9 So let’s pray that not happen.

Psalm 72 aside, let’s also pray for the individual in the office. Pray for their salvation. Pray for their relationship with Jesus. Pray that power, money, and lust don’t turn their heads, as they do for so many. God wants everybody saved and to know the truth, as Paul said, 1Ti 2.4 and we pray for everybody, rulers included, for just that reason.