How do national, state, and local leaders bear up under the enormous pressures they face every day? How does the President of the United States continue to perform his appointed tasks, as best as he is able, without being crippled by weariness? How do our government leaders maintain composure when they become dartboards for honest critics as well as false accusers? One answer is found in our ministry of prayer. When we commit to praying for our leaders (whether or not we like them or agree with them), God is pleased with our obedience and is pleased to work in hearts according to His will.
In relation to this divinely given duty, one passage in particular contains fundamental principles every believer needs to understand: First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:1–4). In these verses, we hear the apostle’s plea to us to be obedient to God by praying for our leaders.
Paul begins his exhortation with a phrase that calls attention to the primacy of prayer in the life of the believer and the local church. “First of all” is a plea to keep first things first. It is an appeal not only to individual Christians, but, since the book was originally written to instruct Timothy concerning local church life (3:15), it is a call to churches and their members to place utmost importance on prayer. As a pastor, Timothy needed to guard against prayer being abandoned by members of his flock or subtly replaced by self-reliance.
“I urge” is a strong plea carrying the meaning of “coming alongside in order to exhort.” The same word is used in Romans 12:1: “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Even though Paul possessed apostolic authority to command Timothy, he chose instead to make a strong appeal to him to recognize the irreplaceable priority of prayer. Paul used four different words to paint a balanced picture of prayer. “Entreaties” refers to prayers prompted by the awareness of needs. “Prayers” is a general term referring to approaching God with reverence. “Petitions” are compassionate prayers generated from empathy with others. “Thanksgivings” are specific praises to God for the works that he has done. The apostolic appeal is general at first and then gets specific. With these words, Paul provides a sampling of prayers that should be made on behalf of “all men,” but especially “for kings and all who are in authority” (vv. 1–2).
“[S]o that” is a clear statement of purpose, which reveals 3 reasons God commands us to pray for our government leaders.
- REASON #1 – Pray for our leaders so that “we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” This refers to an external as well as an inner peace. How does praying for our leaders promote peace? Praying for God to give our leaders wisdom in world affairs may promote peaceful living, as will praying for the writing of good laws which honor biblical principles. According to Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” If we really believe this truth then we will get down on our knees in order to lift our government leaders before God in prayer.
- REASON #2 – Pray for our government leaders because it is “good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” It pleases God. It’s that simple. Matthew 6:33 calls us to this motive for life: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things will be added to you.” When we have this overarching philosophy of life, all peripheral matters fall into their proper place in their proper time. “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). One clear way to please God and set our mind on things above is by faithfully praying for our government leaders.
- REASON #3 – Pray for our government leaders because God “desires all men to be saved.” Conversion takes place when sinners “come to the knowledge of the truth.” Therefore, we must pray for the souls of our civil leaders, that they will come to know Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We should pray for the Holy Spirit’s convicting work (John 16:8), for faithful witnesses to be heard (Rom. 10:14), and for the faith-giving power of the Word of God (Rom. 10:17).
Our government leaders need us; they need us to pray for them with all diligence. This obedient habit pleases God, but is also a powerful means to making a difference for the sake of righteousness in our world and for the sake of the gospel for all eternity.