“The Church’s Intercession for All in Authority”
At a time when our nation celebrates its Independence (July 4th), it is important for me to encourage you all to persevere in your daily ministry of intercession for our President, Donald Trump, as well as all who hold positions of authority in state and nation. The Scriptural imperative for this is found in 1 Timothy 2:1-4:
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of 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 Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
St. Paul encourages all Christians to pray for all people and to give thanks for them, and as part of that ministry to pray for kings and all who are in authority. The purpose of this prayer is that Christians may lead peaceful and quiet lives, marked by godliness and honesty, so that they may please God and contribute to the salvation of as many people as their witness touches.
Of course, freedom of speech allows everyone to express their opinions about a political party and a president, but so often Christians voice their disagreements with leaders without praying for them. As Christians we are called to pray for the President, whether we like him and agree with him, or not. The same holds for all our leaders.
Some may think that their prayers for those in authority don’t seem to have any effect on their actions. In preaching on the above passage during the fourth century Byzantine Empire when even Christian rulers sporadically persecuted some Christian leaders, St. John Chrysostom (A.D. 347 – 407) argues to the contrary:
No one can feel hatred towards those for whom he prays: and they again are made better by the prayers that are offered for them, and by losing their ferocious disposition towards us. For nothing is so apt to draw men under teaching, as to love, and be loved. Think what it was for those who persecuted, scourged, banished, and slaughtered the Christians, to hear that those whom they treated so barbarously offered fervent prayers to God for them.
(St. John Chrysostom: Homily 6 on 1 Timothy)
The point made here by St. Chrysostom about intercession for those in authority, is that intercession proceeds from Christian love, and as an expression of that love, has a powerful effect on the souls of even those government officials who are opposed to Christians. St. Paul’s reference to thanksgiving being offered for those in authority St. Chrysostom also interprets as a sign of how Christians are linked to their rulers in love, for thanksgiving cannot be offered for them except in a spirit of love. St. Chrysostom preached thus, though he himself as Bishop of Constantinople suffered opposition, persecution and exile at the hands of the Empress and his enemies in the Church. Yet in the same homily, he teaches the necessity of praying for rulers (even when they are not Christians), because without rulers, society would be confused, troubled and chaotic.
What we have to realize about prayer is that we are engaging in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:18) as we intercede for others, since all we are asking for them is that in all things they be conformed to the goal of God’s kingdom coming, and His will being done on earth, as it is in heaven (the Lord’s Prayer). If we are knowingly praying for others anything else but God’s will, or an aspect of his will, we are not interceding in a Christian way. When we intercede for our leaders, we have embarked on a ministry that is ongoing and difficult. We often do not know how to pray best for them, as for all for whom we intercede (Romans 8:26). Therefore we must ask the Holy Spirit to show us how to pray for them according to God’s will.
Part of our effective prayer for the President and for all in government is a prayerful and wise discernment of the true state of affairs in the world. We have to separate the chaff from the grain in the news reports we watch or read. We must bring to our perception of the truth, a biblical perspective informed by God’s written word, by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, and by the Church’s received tradition. We must not base our prayers on half-truths or falsehoods found in some news media! A reflective and prayerful approach to the news is necessary.
Just as the Armed Forces vigilantly keep watch for the safety of our Nation, so we as Christians are called to keep watch spiritually for our nation and to persevere in prayer for our President and all our leaders. This is a call and a ministry all of us must engage in, since the call is issued to all Christians. One of the purposes of our Sunday services is intercession and thanksgiving. In the prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church in the service of Holy Communion we pray for all Christian Rulers, “that they may truly and impartially administer justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of thy true religion, and virtue.” (p. 74, Book of Common Prayer, 1928). At St. Luke’s, we often mention the name of the President at this point. In our thoughts at this point we could also remember the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, and pray for him. In Evening Prayer, there is a prayer that specifically mentions both the President and the Governor of this State (p.32, Book of Common Prayer, 1928). In this prayer, all others in authority are included, and the Church asks that they all “knowing whose ministers they are, may above all things seek thy honour and glory; and that we, and all the People, duly considering whose authority they bear, may faithfully and obediently honour them….” In Morning Prayer, we pray for the President of the United States and all in authority, that God would grant them wisdom and strength to know and to do his will, and that they may be filled with the love of truth and righteousness, remembering to serve the people in His fear (p.18, Book of Common Prayer, 1928). All these prayers show how we ought to pray for the President and all our government leaders, publicly and privately persevering in intercession for them.
One phrase from the prayer on p. 74 rings very clearly: “the maintenance of thy true religion, and virtue.” In schools, colleges and universities, as well as in the workplace, people must be able to maintain and practice Christianity (what is meant by the phrase “thy true religion”). Their freedom to do so (this freedom is readily granted to people of other faiths) must not be eroded. We see and hear of enough violence in public places for us to know how urgent it is to pray that people be safe wherever they are, and that they be permitted even in public institutions to turn to God in prayer. The erosion of freedom of religion must move us all the more to intercede for all in authority, that they will not persecute Christians but allow the Christian faith to flourish.
This great call to pray for all in authority is paramount to the peace and well-being not only of the Church, but also of society. How we need that peace and well-being! But a more fundamental question arises, one which each of us must face honestly: are we, the people of God persevering in prayer and thanksgiving?