I’ve noticed a trend for several years now. There is an ebb and flow to the excitement with which most Christians approach praying for leaders. I’m more guilty of this than I’d like to admit.
When my guy — or woman — is in a position of power, I’m quick to trot out the biblical admonitions to pray for and obey those in authority. If I’m not careful, though, I can find myself only praying for the repentance of those with whom I disagree — if I even pray for them at all. In light of the recent election, as well as the polarization of the current political landscape, I thought it would be a good idea to return to Scripture and remind ourselves of what it says about praying for those in authority.
Psalm 72 is basically a prayer for the king. Historically, many Christians have viewed this psalm through the lens of messianic promise — God’s future heavenly king coming to Earth. As a Christian, I think there is undoubtedly some validity to this angle, but to the original readers, it would have read very literally as a prayer for the specific man reigning as king at that particular moment in history. Looking at it this way can help us to better pray for those who are in authority over us.
» Give the King Your Justice
Psalm 72 starts with a prayer for the king’s state of mind to be characterized by justice and righteousness. These are the two most commonly cited character traits of a godly person in the Old Testament. While it makes sense to start like this, I must admit my prayers for my leaders don’t often look measure up to this standard. “Give the king my opinions on every issue,” I’m more likely to pray. The Psalmist, however, is more concerned with the right kind of king. Psalm 72 is a prayer for good to be done, progress to be made and for justice to prevail, regardless of who prevails in the political process.
» Dominion from Sea to Sea
At first glance, some of the language in this psalm seems more imperialistic than modern readers are comfortable with. “May he have dominion from sea to sea,” the author writes. “May the desert tribes bow down to him, and his enemies lick his dust.” Yeah, that last phrase does seem a bit over the top, doesn’t it?
Imperialism was a fact of life in the ancient world. You were either the conquerers, or you were the conquered — either others were licking your dust or you were the dust-licker. Against this backdrop, these kinds of phrases are merely saying, “May the king be good at his job.” In today’s world, this means I pray for those in authority to do their jobs well. May they have the wisdom to know what to do and the discipline to carry it out. May they be strong and compassionate, wise and humble, persuasive and honorable.
» May He Defend the Cause of the Poor
We like to think of “liberty and justice for all” as an American invention, and we have certainly made tremendous progress toward this lofty goal. The seeds of this thinking, however, can be traced all the way back to passages like Psalm 72.
In the ancient world, justice was often stacked against the poor, and it is against this backdrop that we recognize the radical nature of a prayer for justice to extend to the least and lowest. Even in 21st-century America, we must admit that not everyone has the resources to hire the best lawyers to help them navigate our court system. Centuries later, the Psalmist’s prayer for justice to extend to those on the fringes of society still challenges us to strive to do better.
This means I pray for my leaders to work for the good of all the people they serve. I pray for skillful leaders who bring about economic prosperity, but I also pray for them to govern with justice and righteousness, laying the groundwork for equity.
» A Prayer for the King
I have firm political convictions. In light of the seriousness of the issues facing our community and nation, I believe it would be irresponsible for me not to. One conviction is that rather than praying for my political heroes and causes to triumph over the heroes and causes of others, I ought to be praying for goodness, compassion and justice to reign. So for those who were elected Tuesday, regardless of whether I voted for you or not, may you be characterized by justice and righteousness. May you lead with wisdom and skill, working to extend liberty, equality and justice to all people. Amen.