Many are the complaints which issue forth, not only from the mouths of the ungodly citizens of this world but also from the mouths of children of God, concerning the leaders of our countries. We complain about the ever-rising costs of living. We readily criticize many of their policies, such as Salt II, the Soviets in Cuba, governmental regulation of prices. We become rather upset and irritated over what goes on in our courts of law—and sometimes rightfully so. We raise our eyebrows and justifiably question their attitude toward abortion or toward minority groups such as the homosexuals. The liberal tendencies of politicians today have gone to the extreme. They have reached the point where we hardly feel safe voting any more.
But did you realize that we as children of God who stand in the midst of this world are called to pray for our politicians? This brings all our complaints to a screeching halt. We sit back a little stunned. To pray for our government, for our president, and for the politicians who rule our country is rather foreign to us. Seldom, if ever, do we hear from our pulpits in our congregational prayers even a passing reference to our government and its politicians. To pray for our politicians seems strange and perhaps even repelling to us. And though we might hear it every so often from the pulpit in congregational prayer, to make mention of it in our own private prayers is considered unnecessary.
That, however, is incorrect reasoning. To pray for our politicians is an exhortation, a command to us as children of God who, although we are not of this world, nevertheless stand in the midst of this world. We too are governed by politicians. We too are members of the societies of this world. And as we stand in the world we receive the admonition of Christ to pray for our politicians.
Our Belgic Confession speaks of that calling in its article concerning the magistrates, Article 36. “It is the bounden duty of every one, of what state, quality, or condition soever he may be, to subject himself to the magistrates; to pay tribute, to show due honor and respect to them, and to obey them in all things which are not repugnant to the Word of God; to supplicate for them in their prayers, that God may rule and guide them in all their ways and that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” In whatever circumstance of life we find ourselves, under whatever government we are subjected, we must supplicate for our rulers, making mention of them in our prayers.
Likewise we find the same command in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XIII, Art. 4. “It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute and other due, to obey their lawful commands and to be subject to their authority, for conscience sake.”
These two confessions, as far as our praying for magistrates is concerned, are based upon that Word of God to us in I Timothy 2:1-4. “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving thanks be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty, For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” Another passage that is frequently overlooked but which is also pertinent to this topic is the Word of God in Jeremiah. In chapter 29 the words of a letter sent by this prophet to the captive saints in Babylon are infallibly recorded for us. In verses 4-7 he writes, “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon . . . seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” Scripture can be no clearer. Lest we place ourselves in the camp of those who claim that the Scripture is culturally conditioned (that is, that it applies to the saints of one age and not to those of another) we must maintain that these passages speak to us also. We must pray for politicians.
Why don’t we then? Perhaps our failure to do so is a reaction to those who believe that the Church must be subject to the State. Such a reaction would not be surprising in light of the past history of the churches in Holland and their struggle to free themselves from the State. Others feel that we do not have to pray for our rulers because there are plenty of other, more personal things, for which to pray, Still others feel rather uneasy praying for ungodly men seeing that we must remain separate from this wicked world. These excuses are, however, a far cry from being legitimate reasons to refrain from praying for the civil authorities. And over against them stands the Word of God.
Why must we pray for our politicians?
In the first place let us understand what is meant by the term politician. According to Webster a politician is “one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government.” We are called to pray for the rulers of our countries whether that be a king, a dictator, or a president. It does not stop there either. We must pray for all those in authority, all those involved in the governing of a country.
The one fundamental-reason that is determinative for us in praying for our leaders is that God Himself has given them their rule and authority. Romans 13:1 tells us, “There is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.” We pray for them, therefore, because God-is God and because, having created all things, He now also controls and governs them absolutely unto His own good pleasure. He uses the politicians of this world as instrumental to achieve His own eternal plan. Every action, every decision, every law which is legislated works toward the accomplishment of that plan.
It is not, as some would say, that God created all things and is now transcendent above His creation, having nothing much to do with it, allowing the affairs of this world to run their own course. These would contend that God left the world with certain laws of nature which, if heeded, would promote an easy way of life. Man, having learned these laws, rules himself in an orderly way. According to this view the politicians of this world are those who merely are able to convince the people of this world that they can maneuver these laws of nature in the best way for the good of man. And that leaves God completely out of the picture. If we were to follow this line of reasoning, then there would be no need to pray for our government officials, for we would then pray that the will of man be done.
On the contrary, we pray for them because we know that God according to His sovereign power and providence controls the affairs of history. The Heidelberg catechism instructs us in Question and Answer 27 thus: “What do you mean by the providence of God? The almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were by his hand, he still upholds heaven, earth, and creatures (including politicians too, WB) and so governs them, that . . . all things come not by chance but by his Fatherly hand.” Surely this harmonizes with the Word of God to us inProverbs 21:1 which says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” Just think of what that means! Every move that President Carter and government officials make is guided by the almighty hand of God! Every event that takes place, whether that be in the local city governments, in the state legislatures, in the federal government, in the United Nations, or in any government of this world does so in order that God’s purpose might be accomplished. He is God; all things work unto the achievement of His glory! That is why we pray for the magistrates of this world! We pray that God’s will may be done, that He might glorify His name in every decision which politicians make. Whatever state or condition in which we find ourselves on account of the government, whether that be in peace and prosperity or in persecution and poverty, whether our politicians promote our faith or attempt to suppress it, we are called of God to pray for them. And we do, too, because we know that in all of these things God is glorifying His name. And as children of God that is what we want. So we pray fervently that Go accomplish His will through the politicians of this land.
Another reason we pray for our politicians, which is closely related to this, is that it is our desire too that their decisions will work together for our advantage (specifically, the accomplishment of our salvation and our final redemption). Again, the Catechism instructs us concerning this. In Question and Answer 28 we learn the following. “What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by his providence doth still uphold things? That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity; and that in all things which may hereafter befall us, (that includes. the policies of our governments, WB) we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from his love; since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move.” No complaints, no shaking of the head, no grumbling at our politicians should escape from our lips. Just a prayer. Placing our firm trust in our faithful Father we pray that their decisions work together for our good. At the same time we are comforted because, although it might not always seem to us as if God controls those powers which He has ordained to work together for our good, yet we are assured that He does. So we pray, knowing that God hears our prayers through Christ and that He will use all the actions of politicians, no matter how corrupt, to accomplish our final redemption.
No, this does not mean we ask God to prosper them in their efforts, which already are, and will be increasingly more, directed against the Church. But we pray that they will be made to see the justice of God in order that they might be honest and godly in their endeavors in order that the gospel might go forth and we might pray uninhibited and unharassed by the ungodly. And when we observe that our politicians become more and more antagonistic towards us as children of God we pray that the Lord’s will might be performed by them, trusting, firmly trusting, that if God is for us nothing can be against us.