The latest (and last) New York Times/CBS polls ahead of next week’s election show that a majority of voters are sick of the state of U.S. politics. During such a difficult, divisive and seemingly endless presidential election, it’s hard to resist the temptation to just tune out or write the whole thing off and withdraw. But the task we are given by God is pretty clear: We are called to pray for our leaders and government officials, even when it’s hard. We are called to seek the good of the city where we live in every dimension of its life, including seeking the good of the men and women who shoulder the responsibilities of government. And we are called to pray together with those in our Christian community, whether those brothers or sisters vote the same way we do or not.
But how can we do that? How can we pray about the public square with people who have very different ideas about how it should be run? How can we pray for politicians we disagree with without just praying for their political conversion? And how can we pray for a political process we’re sick of without just calling down scorn upon it?
In a series of national conference calls, my colleagues and I have been working through these questions. Thankfully, we can look to scripture for some answers:
Friendship for Politicians
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reminds us that “two are better than one.” Experiencing friendship restores weary hearts and without it we can become cold, or hard, or selfish, or bitter. Friendship is also essential for spiritual health: Our souls crave friendship because it is a dimension of who God is and what he wants for us and from us.
Our Lord, three in one, who sent his son so that we could be not servants but friends,
Give politicians the simple but profound dignity of good friends—friends who aren’t afraid of them, who don’t want anything from them and who want the best for them. Give them people each day who humble them and bring them joy and spark humanity and generosity in them all at the same time—and help them see these friendships as a foretaste of the relationship you want to have with us.
Humility for Politicians
Paul challenged the Philippians to act humbly, each of them counting others more significant than himself or herself. Running for office ― any office ― can give a person an inflated sense of their own importance. Many candidates spend hours every day with people who treat them as our last best hope, as heroes, even as saviors. But the love of power can poison our hearts and drag people further away from who God mean for us to be. Jesus provided the counter example by letting power pass from his hands and instead made himself into a servant.
To the Suffering Servant,
Shore up their hearts of those seeking public office against the temptation to power. Fill their hearts with a sense of awe as they see and understand the responsibilities of the jobs they are applying for. Humility is important for the spiritual health of candidates who win and even moreso for candidates who lose. So, we ask you to lead our candidates to it, like a shepherd leads his sheep to water. You are the God who turns stone hearts into flesh. You are the God who bends the stiff necks of the proud. Don’t let pride or lust for power keep these candidates from experiencing the fullness of a humble heart.
For humility within our congregations
In Luke 9, we read about the disciples asking who is the greatest among them. Jesus’ response was to say that whoever received and served the children among them served him: “For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” God’s people are to be one with one another as members of one body. God wants the members of the Church to honor one another, defer to one another, and build one another up in ways that were foreign to the first apostles. So we can pray for opportunities to celebrate the brothers and sisters around us.
To whom we call Lord of All,
Make us quick to listen and forgive, and slow to speak and condemn—especially when we are dealing with the brothers and sisters whose politics frighten or frustrate us most. Our country has raised up high barriers between liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat. But your kingdom transcends the politics of the last couple centuries. Don’t let our hearts forget to seek first your kingdom, and don’t let your people use the politics of our time to divide your timeless kingdom. Make our churches into places where cultural enemies love one another, celebrate one another sacrificially. Make them into places that can amaze and astound our friends and neighbors.
For all of us to use words wisely
James 3 reminds us that the words we speak (or in the modern day, share online) are small yet powerful. We may intend to just leave a quick “burn,” but James cautions us that our words can set a forest ablaze. Because we are made in God’s image, we should use his Word to speak truth and healing. There is something in all of us that craves the opportunity to take part in the shalom flourishing and tikkun healing of the world around us. So we can pray that God would influence the way we speak with each other.
To the Lord who died for us,
By the power of your spirit and the example of your son, convict our hearts and change our minds. Fill the ranks of our media and our neighborhoods with men and women who understand the awesome power of words, and revere that power enough to use it in careful and life-giving ways.
Remembering that we already have a good King
Isaiah 9 reminds us that those who sit under the name of Christ are ruled by a King whose government and peace will increase without end. While the world around us tries to hold up one candidate or another as our last best hope for human flourishing, we can thank God for the assurance that we already have the King we want and need.
We’re sorry for the times when we get caught up in the urgency of electoral politics and, like Israel before us, start wishing for a king or a ruler like the other nations around us. You’ve given us a greater, wiser and more powerful King than we could reasonably expect. Even as our major political parties try tempt us to outsized fear of who might get elected or outsized hope in what might happen after the election, help us to cling fast to the assurance that nothing the president can’t do anything to stop your Son from coming back, or to bring him back sooner than you want.
We pray these things in the name that is emblazoned on our faith, the name of your son, Christ Jesus, amen.
For more opportunities and models for praying about politics, join us for our Election Day Prayer Call.
Rick Barry is co-founder and executive director of Center for Christian Civics, a DC-based non-profit equipping Christians to engage the public square in ways that are productive, collaborative and rooted in their faith.