Authority and institutionalism have become less popular in recent years, but Scripture places emphasis on authority and organized religion is an irrevocable part of God’s plan for the world. We are commanded in Scripture to pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2) and this command should be taken seriously.
Paul writes, “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” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Part of what God’s people should do when they gather for worship is pray, and sometimes this means praying for those in authoritative leadership positions. To be sure, all kinds of prayers should be prayed for all kinds of reasons, but the text cited above is a key passage that teaches praying for those in authority should fit the agenda not only for pastors and ministry leaders but for all Christians.
This is clearly shown in the text. First, Paul says to pray for “kings.” Some countries do not have kings, but the use of “kings” can literally mean kings, but also broadly apply to those with governing authority in a country. So this principle applies to prime ministers, presidents, governors, and so on.
Second, Paul uses the expression “all who are in high positions.” This reveals we should pray for those who hold high-level leadership positions.
Sometimes we don’t particularly like our president, governor, or prime minister. Notice, Paul doesn’t say, “pray for those in authority who you like” or “only pray for those in authority if they are Christians” or “only pray for those leaders who you agree with.” No, whether you agree with their views or not, God’s people are called to pray for those who exercise distinguished leadership positions.
So pray for kings and leaders in high positions. But derivative of the passage is praying for anyone who has authority. When the fifth commandment teaches us to honor mother and father (Exodus 20:12), once again, we are not literally restricted to honoring mother and father, but also those in authority. The principle is broader than it looks at first glance.
For example, the WCF question 124 states:
Q. Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?
A. By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.
Seen this way, parents, pastors, and managers also hold authoritative positions and deserve our prayers. If we spent more time praying for leaders and less time critiquing them, maybe we would find fewer things to critique.
Where to Pray for Those in Authority: The Sunday Pastoral Prayer
Individual prayer is essential for personal Christian living, but as is shown in the Lord’s prayer, Jesus starts by saying “Our Father” to show the corporate nature of praying. The gist is that the people of God should spend time praying together. And one area to pray together is during the local church gathering on Sundays. I consider the pastoral prayer to be one of the most important aspects of Sunday worship, and the pastoral prayer naturally lends itself as an optimal time to practice praying for those in authority.
This is powerful for a number of reasons:
1. It demonstrates to guests that your church is about more than just your church.
2. By praying for wicked leaders, you demonstrate that, while you do not advocate their behavior, you treat them as one created in the image of God. You display that fallen leaders also need our prayers, and you practice Jesus’s admonition to pray for your enemies.
3. Praying for other pastors and churches in your area fosters a spirit of unity in your city and demonstrates that you desire not only to build your church but God’s Kingdom in your area. Praying for other churches also helps battle jealousy and envy.
4. Individualism is a major idol in our culture that is axed when we publicly pray for others.
5. Praying for those in authority, like principals and policemen, shows that your church cares for society.
6. You show that politics, for your church, will not be an idol.
And the list goes on and on.
Yes, pray for those politicians and other authority figures in private. But I propose that praying for them in public is even more powerful.
What to Pray
So what do you pray when you pray for those in authority?
Three quick items come to mind:
2. Wisdom and discernment.
2. Success in things that honor God, failure in things that don’t.
It’s always a blessing to pray for leaders.