In the middle of the fourth century lived a young man by the name of Augustine. His mother, Monica was a devout Christian; his father a pagan until his conversion to Christianity just prior his death. Augustine received a Christian education but was never baptised. It seemed Augustine was a bright lad and when he was 16 his father sent him to the city to study and become a lawyer. This was a bad mistake. Augustine became involved in a lifestyle of idleness, sex, and alcohol. When he was 18 he had to admit to his mother that he was the father of a son. He became involved in heretical sectarian groups.
You can imagine how upsetting all this was to his mother, but she never gave up hope. She prayed and prayed for her wayward son. She prayed that he would give up the wild life and the false teachings and once again come to know Jesus Christ. Finally when he was 32 years of age Augustine returned to the Christian faith and was baptised. Not long after, having completed her work of guiding and praying for her wayward son, Monica died. Augustine went on to become a leader, a bishop, a teacher and a great defender of the Christian Church until his death at 76 years of age.
This story about Augustine underlines just how important intercessory prayer is – that is prayer for others. Over the years I’m sure Monica must have wondered as she prayed, “When will God act?” but she never gave up. At baptism I urge parents and godparents to be like Monica – to daily pray for their child. Satan and the evil in our world are too eager to harm those whom God loves and to lead them away from their heavenly Father.
This past week we have witnessed evil at work killing so many innocent people. We have prayed for those who have waited to hear from a husband or wife, son or daughter. We have prayed for those who are grieving. And closer to home we have prayed for those who, without warning, have found themselves jobless because of the collapse of Ansett Airlines. We have prayed to God on behalf of those who are at the centre of all this grief and trouble.
And to day we hear from Paul’s first letter to Timothy. He starts by saying, “I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men”.
Did you hear what Paul just said? He wants us to pray for all people, for everyone. That sounds good but not very easy to carry out. It might be truer to say that we offer petitions, prayers, requests and thanksgiving for nearly all people. It’s pretty hard to pray for all people. We might be happy to pray for most people, but there are those people for whom we find it extremely hard to pray. Just as an example, I wonder how many people have prayed for the terrorist leaders who were behind last week’s atrocities.
How many have prayed for their families, especially their children who are being brought up with such bitterness, hatred and loathing of everything western? One would suppose that Paul’s encouragement to pray for everyone includes those people as well.
I wonder how many of those Ansett employees have prayed for those whom they believe to be the cause of their present situation?
How easy is it to pray for those for whom you don’t like – perhaps a person with whom you have had a falling out; maybe the person who has caused you no end of pain and sleepless nights? I’m sure Paul included those people when he says that we should pray for all people. It’s easy to pray for parents, sons and daughters, friends, fellow Christians, but how hard it is to pray for all people.
And then Paul makes his advice to Timothy really hard to carry out. He says we are to pray for “kings and all who are in high places.”
• Mayors and shire council members,
• Members of Parliament, premiers, prime ministers, opposition parties,
• Public servants, judges, barristers, the police, union leaders.
This includes even those people with whom we don’t agree;
• Those whose particular kind of politics we dislike;
• Those whom we believe to be dishonest and abuse their position;
• Those whom we think aren’t doing their job.
With some of the things that happen in high places, we don’t feel like praying for our politicians. We say we pay too much in tax; we disapprove of the government wasting money.
When politicians are more concerned in tearing each other to bits than in the welfare of the nation, who feels like praying for them.
It seems that Paul is being a bit unrealistic when he calls us to pray for all those in authority; not just those whose policies we like, but all those who rule our nation. This is especially hard for us Australians because we have developed this thing we call “the tall poppy syndrome”. We take delight in unfairly knocking down those who are in positions of leadership in our country.
Maybe Timothy wasn’t finding it easy to pray for the ruler of his time and who can blame him. Timothy and Paul lived in a time when the government was opposed to Christianity and deliberately went out of its way to treat them badly. It wasn’t a Christian government by any means, and yet Paul says here and in other places, that Christians are to obey the rulers, pay taxes, and pray for politicians. He makes the point that “there is no authority except from God, and those who exist are ordained by God. Therefore he who resists the authority, withstands the ordinance of God” (Romans 13:1-2).
We can be very cynical about our politicians and community leaders.
“Oh those guys need more than our prayers!”
“If he isn’t a crook before he’s elected, he will be soon after!”
“Politicians are just a bunch of thieves and crooks!”
Our distrust of politicians has so hindered us that we don’t even want to pray for them. I mean pray for all politicians, those in the party you support and those whose politics we don’t like. They are all involved in the government. They are all people whom Paul says “are ordained by God”.
It would have been much easier if Paul had said that we should pray for most people, or for those in authority whom we believe to be doing the right thing. Instead he says that “petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men: for kings and all who are in high places” (vv. 1-2).
I think Paul realized that the job of a politician is never an easy one. Being a leader involves making decisions and it doesn’t matter what course of action is decided upon, there will always be those who will disagree and criticize loudly that the politician is incompetent. Add to that the constant pressure of public office, appointments, meetings, business deals, conferences, press releases, contracts, media attention, lobby groups, and so on. With the public office there are always the temptations – self-glorification, bribery, corruption, and greed.
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At this time we all aware of just how hard it must be to be the leader of a country. In the wake of last week’s terrorist activities and the collapse of big business, we just can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to be the leader of a country. So much responsibility rests on their shoulders – how will they respond, what kind of force will be used to bring the terrorists to justice, what countries will oppose any such attempt, what measures need to be taken to ensure that this will not lead to an all out war, will we commit our military forces to help, in what way are we jeopardizing peace on this earth and so on. I don’t think that there would be anyone in this church who would want to be a world leader at this time.
No wonder Paul encourages us to “pray for those in high places”. Don’t sit back and criticize them. Don’t rubbish their policies or decisions. Pray for them. We may not always agree with them, but we can still take them to God in our prayers. We can go to God and ask him to give our leaders wisdom and understanding to act in a way that will bring peace. We can ask God to guide them, strengthen them, and give them the resolve to do what is best for their country and for the world.
As the children of God, daily we experience the love of Jesus in our lives. We are glad that he has not decided to pick and choose amongst us who should receive his grace and mercy. None of us are worthy of his love and he gives it to us without any qualifications on our part. He doesn’t love us because he likes something we have done. Freely and generously and graciously he cares for us. Even though he does not agree with what we do in our lives, in fact he hates our sin, yet he still gives us his love and assures us of his help and forgiveness, making us members of his family.
And so likewise, as God’s children, even though we may disapprove of the decisions people in high office are making, nevertheless our love for them causes us to pray for them. Just as Jesus loves each one of us and intercedes for us at the throne of God even though we don’t deserve it, so too we will pray for those who have taken up the burden of high office and take their needs before the throne of God.
Because the love of Jesus permeates you and me and because our eyes have been opened to the needs of our neighbour in every corner of our community; the need for education, social welfare, crime prevention and detection, export and import, and especially at this time, the need to respond to the terrorism in our world, then politics is laid on our consciences. Politicians need our support and the guidance of the Lord as they seek to find the right path of action.
As God’s people in a world where there is so much violence, suffering, and pain, God grant that we may see the unique role he has given us here in this world. May God’s Spirit urge us to take all those who are suffering, all those who carry a heavy load of responsibility to almighty God in prayer.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2001, Vince Gerhardy. Used by permission.