“This is the most important election of your life.”
Or so they keep telling us. During each election cycle, a myriad of op-eds insist the fate of the nation—even the world—hinges on the outcome. Politics has taken on an outsize role in our collective mindset.
As religion wanes in the public consciousness, people have turned elsewhere to find purpose, morality, and hope. Politics is a terrible substitute, but because many have eliminated God from the equation, it can seem the best option available. Once we strip away the sovereign God “who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11), how can we be sure the long arc of history will bend toward justice? How can we lift the poor, protect our freedoms, or uphold the rights of the oppressed? Absent God, getting the best people elected to the best seats of power does seem like our only hope.
The cultural mindset that removes God and elevates politics dominates both the media and casual interactions. It can infect the thoughts and actions of Christians too. Political obsession is the water we swim in, and we’d be fools to think we won’t get wet.
In a politically obsessed world, Christians must elevate praying politics above playing politics. Paul’s exhortation to young Timothy is as timely as ever: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:1–2, NIV).
Prayer for those serving in government accomplishes many goods, but one important blessing is the health of our hearts.
Prayer for those serving in government accomplishes many goods, but one important blessing is the health of our hearts. The act of prayer changes the one praying. It disciplines the mind, reorienting us toward truth. Prayer functions as a bulwark against the rising tide of political idolatry in at least these five ways.
1. In a culture of cynicism, prayer promotes gratitude.
Paul explicitly commands Christians to thank God for their political leaders. Practicing intentional gratitude will soften our hearts and counteract the low opinion many of us have of those in government.
Even where we disagree or question the competence, character, and convictions of our political leaders, we can find reasons for gratitude—even if it’s just that the leader is willing to take on an often thankless job. God calls us to love our enemies, and practicing gratitude for political leaders with whom we disagree will help shape cruciform hearts. Just as God loved us while we were still sinners, we love those we consider wrong or even wicked. (Lest we think a politician is unworthy of our gratitude, remember Paul wrote these words during evil Nero’s reign.)
2. In a culture of obsession, prayer orders priorities.
For many today, politics takes up far too much of our spiritual hard drive. It’s become an obsession. Praying to the King of kings (on behalf of our president, senators, and other government officials) helps to reorder our hearts.
We shouldn’t fear political outcomes, for nothing happens outside God’s control. No election can thwart God’s purposed ends; every election’s result is in his capable hands (Rom. 13:1). We needn’t obsess over the merely temporal, because our hearts are set on the eternal. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church that Christ builds.
Even in difficult political environments, followers of the Way wait, labor, and hope for his coming kingdom, just as the persecuted church has modeled for us across centuries and continents. As we participate in politics (e.g., voting, working on a campaign, running for elected office), we aim to do so with our priorities rightly ordered.
3. In a culture of conflict, prayer seeks conversion.
Many today see political opponents as literal enemies. Some do actively promote wickedness, evil, and injustice. Nevertheless, as Christians, we know who our ultimate Enemy is and how he has blinded and deceived many (2 Cor. 4:4). God opened our eyes despite our manifest unworthiness, so we long to see as many as possible rescued from that blindness. If God can rescue a man like Paul, a murderous enemy of the church (1 Tim. 1:15), God can rescue a politician. We pray for our leaders to convert not first and foremost to our political side but to Jesus.
4. In a culture of wickedness, prayer brings justice.
Let’s never forget that God ordains prayer as a necessary means to his desired ends. What we ask according to his will, he’ll unfailingly bring about (1 John 5:14–15). God desires leaders to promote justice in the land (1 Tim. 2:2), so we pray with confidence, knowing he hears and answers. Will we experience perfect justice before the King of kings establishes his forever kingdom here on earth? No. But that doesn’t mean our prayers won’t make a genuine difference in the world between Christ’s first coming and his return to establish his kingdom.
5. In a culture of victimhood, prayer remembers victory.
Os Guinness argued that “prominent parts of the Western church today, in pursuit of public influence, have abandoned Christ’s response to injury and shamelessly promoted a contemporary secular strategy—redress through blaming or playing the victim.” Instead of serving as a powerful prophetic presence in the public sphere, we act like defenseless victims doomed to defeat—to our shame, Guinness says. God may call his people to suffer at the hands of an ungodly government. But we’re “more than conquerors” even amid persecution (Rom. 8:37).
Even in difficult political environments, followers of the Way wait, labor, and hope for his coming kingdom.
We know God will hold oppressive governments accountable for their sin. Our future victory is certain, and we can play our part in God’s unfolding story with confidence and boldness because we know how the story ends. Our current responsibilities include loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, and remaining joyful, hopeful, and faithful no matter the current regime.
These days, it feels like it’s always election season. We’re always talking about what just happened or what’s coming next politically. Amid a politically obsessed culture, let’s commit to praying for all those in authority, trusting that through our prayers, God will change our leaders, our country, and our hearts.
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