As the nation gathers to watch Joe Biden take the oath of office as the 46th president of the United States of America, Christians know that we’re commanded to pray for those in positions of authority:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:2–4)
But how should we do this—especially in a time like this?
After all, this inauguration will be quite different from any previous ones. Some of those differences are expected—a series of “firsts.” We’ve never seen a woman, elected on a national ticket, sworn into executive office. We’ve never seen an African American or Asian American sworn in as vice president. We’ve never seen a man as old as Joe Biden sworn in as president. And we’ve only seen one other Roman Catholic take that oath. But we knew that all of these pioneering achievements would happen one day.
It’s other aspects of Inauguration Day that remind us just how hard these times are.
First of all, the crowds will be much smaller, and people will be wearing masks that would’ve confused you if you’d seen them just a year ago. This is a visual reminder that we’re in a time of global pandemic—fighting a virus that has taken, so far, nearly 400,000 of our fellow Americans. Moreover, as you look out over the city you’ll see a military presence far more conspicuous than ever before—since this inauguration comes just over two weeks after domestic terrorists attacked our Capitol as part of a violent insurrection against our constitutional process.
What’s also quite different is that there will be no outgoing president of the United States there to congratulate his successor, as Donald Trump refuses to participate or even to meet with his successor. We’ve never seen that in the modern era. The vice president will be there—itself an act of courage and grace in doing what would’ve been considered pro forma in any other time. If we look off to the side of where Vice President Pence stands, we can see the empty space where just weeks ago gallows were built by mobs intent on murdering him. All of this is new to us.
So, how should we pray in a time like this?
How to Pray
We should pray for President Biden and Vice President Harris just as we should pray for any leader of our country—that they would have the wisdom of humility, a sense of justice, and a mind for peace.
We should pray for President Biden and Vice President Harris just as we should pray for any leader of our country—that they would have wisdom, discernment, competence, and a sense of justice.
The first step to this sort of wisdom is exactly where the Scripture reveals it to be: in humility. Upon taking his father’s throne, Solomon identified himself as “a little child” who didn’t know “how to go out or come in” in the face of a multitude of people with a multitude of problems. So he asked God for “an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (1 Kings 3:7–9).
Joe Biden will not be king of Israel in a covenant relationship with God, but he will need wisdom. And wisdom always starts here—with knowing that one doesn’t know everything. Let’s pray that for our president and vice president.
Let’s pray also for justice. Some things President Biden has committed to do should please Christians—to protect refugees fleeing for their lives; to stop the separation of children from their mothers at the border; to speed along a national response to this deadly plague that has killed far too many of us. And some of the things he has committed to do should grieve us—promising a continuation of legalized abortion, for instance. How then should we pray?
Some things that President Biden has committed to do should please Christians. . . . And some of the things he has committed to do should grieve us.
We can pray for President Biden the same way we should pray for ourselves—for success in every good thing that accords with justice, and for lack of success in every bad thing that doesn’t. This is actually more complicated than it seems in a hyper-politicized America.
If you’re a supporter of Joe Biden, you might feel tempted to never criticize or dissent from anything he does. After all, you might reason, his enemies do enough of that. But surely we’ve had enough of the idea that the president is a King David or a King Cyrus or some other “anointed” figure who can’t be questioned. And if you’re an opponent of Joe Biden—either as a supporter of President Trump or as a third-party or write-in voter, or even a non-voter altogether, you might resent his successes, even in things you agree with him on, since that might detract from your “side.” This too is nonsense. If President Biden succeeds in ending this pandemic and in reviving this economy—and in any other good thing—this is a blessing to everyone, whether they ever voted for him or not.
Indeed, for the sake of our souls in a time of political idolatry, it might be wise for Christians to watch our own souls by means of the emphases in our prayers. Christians who support President Biden should emphasize in their prayers God changing his mind on unjust or imprudent matters—and those who oppose President Biden should emphasize God granting blessing and success to every just and wise initiative of his. God will hear all of those prayers, but the way we pray them might help us.
And we can also pray for peace. Paul writes that good governance can result in the church leading a life of quietness and dignity, able to carry out our mission in love of God and neighbor. That peace is obviously needed. At home, white nationalist insurrectionists must be brought to justice, their murderous plots frustrated. Overseas, China and North Korea and Russia and Iran continue to both persecute their own people—including our brothers and sisters in Christ—and threaten the world with potential war. We should pray for a just peace.
Is there any extended-family dinner table or Sunday school class or even friendship group that hasn’t been sundered over various opinions on the outgoing president?
But even beyond the constitutional and geopolitical aspects of peace, we need peace in our own homes and churches and neighborhoods. Is there any extended-family dinner table or Sunday school class or even friendship group that hasn’t been sundered over various opinions on the outgoing president? Perhaps one of the most needed prayers we could offer is not only that President Biden would be wise and humble and just, but also that he would be boring enough that we could get back to arguing about the existence of God, the way of salvation, the meaning of life, or even which team will dominate March Madness this year—the things that really matter instead of fighting over the Twitter feed or rallies of a politician.
We can pray for a time of stability and prudence that our country badly needs, and for the church to rebuild its witness for its own sake, and for the sake of the life of the world.
Maybe by next Inauguration Day we’ll have to remind ourselves to pray because times seem so uneventful that we forget that it’s necessary. We can hope so. But that’s a prayer for another time.