by Greg Massey
Can prayer affect a nation? If we believe and follow what Christ said, that we “Ask, and we will receive, that our joy may be full” (John 16:24), then our answer is a resounding yes! But how should we pray for our nation? And how should we pray for our nation in a presidential election year?
Prayers for our nation can be problematic, on at least two levels. These prayers are problematic when they’re worded in nationalistic terms. Too many Christians today have allowed love of their country co-opt their love and allegiance to the Lord’s Kingdom. Our first citizenship is in the Lord’s Kingdom. So our prayers should reflect Kingdom agendas, not necessarily nationalistic agendas. We need to remember that no nation is a “Christian Nation.” Richard Hughes, former professor at Pepperdine, puts it this way: “According to the Bible, the kingdom of God and the nations of the earth embody radically different values and reflect radically different orders of reality. The kingdom of God relies on the power of self-giving love while nations—even so-called “Christian” nations—rely on the power of coercion and the sword. For that reason, nations—even “Christian” nations—inevitably go to war with their enemies while the kingdom of God has no enemies at all.” While Hughes is correct in labeling the very idea of a Christian nation as an oxymoron, it is also true that all nations need Christians, citizens who strive to live holy lives, to glorify God, and to extend his reign among other citizens of their nation.
Our prayers for our nation are also problematic when we think too small. During the 2008 presidential election, I heard fear in prayers and read fear in statements on Facebook. Christians pray for a Godly leader or leaders who will lead the United States in a Godly direction, then express fear if a person with an agenda they oppose is elected. I doubt that this trend among Christians has changed in the last four years. To counteract these fears over election outcomes, we need to think bigger. Our God is awesome. He’s sovereign over this world. He’s bigger than President Barack Obama. He’s bigger than Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Should we pray for our leaders? Should we pray that God work his will through our leaders? Most definitely. Christians are to be subject to their governments, as Paul tells us in Romans 13:7: “Pay to all what is owed them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” If we’re respecting and honoring others, it follows that we would pray for them too. On the other hand, should we expect our leaders to be Godly men and women leading us in a Godly direction? No. Our nation’s leaders, regardless of the political party they represent, have agendas separate from God’s. Often they simply want to gain political position and power and then hold on to it. Their domestic agendas are shaped by the financial elites who provide money for political campaigns. Their foreign policy reflects nationalistic aims that foment a state of endless war.
We can learn something about proper attitudes toward nations and leaders from the Scriptures. The prophet Habbakuk learned that God uses ungodly people to achieve His purposes. Daniel served two different empires, the Babylonian and later the Persian. Neither empire was Godly, nor were its rulers. We learn from the book of Daniel that all rulers are ultimately subject to God. Daniel knew this truth, and practiced it when he prayed to Yahweh despite the edict of the ruler Darius. It didn’t matter if an ungodly king passed a law against the exercise of Daniel’s faith. He still prayed and trusted God to take care of the details. And God took care of the details: He saved Daniel from destruction. That was miraculous. What wasn’t miraculous was how God providentially used the Persians and their policy of tolerance toward subject peoples to get the exiled Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.
Paul, a Roman citizen, spread the gospel throughout the Mediterranean basin. The Roman peace that allowed him to travel freely was the same rule of law that executed his Lord. That same rule of law protected Paul’s life and allowed him to carry his message to Rome itself. In the case of these two empires, the Persian and the Roman, separated by a span of over six hundred years, the ruling authorities were instruments of God’s providence, unintentionally fulfilling His will. We can pray that God use our leaders today, and the leaders of other countries, in the same way. They can unintentionally be instruments of God’s providence. He ultimately is in control. He reigns in our lives regardless of who governs our country. And whether they know it or not, our leaders are subject to God’s will and His redemptive plan.