The substantial majority of readers of this article, I would assume, do not care for the presidencies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
Yet Christians are not given the option of letting their disagreement with their political leaders prevent them from praying for such leaders. The apostle Paul encouraged us: “First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, requests and thanksgivings be offered to God for all people; for kings and all others who are in authority, that we may live a quiet and peaceful life with all reverence toward God and with proper conduct. This is good, and it pleases God our Saviour” (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
Syria’s Christian community is one of the oldest in the world; many can still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. The apostle Paul is said to have been converted on the road to Damascus in Syria. Yet today, hundreds of thousands of Syrian Christians have been displaced by fighting, or have left the country. In 2015, more than 1,000 Christians had been killed, entire villages cleared, and dozens of churches and Christian centres damaged or destroyed by Islamist rebels.
It is ironic that the brutal Russian policy involves supporting a ruthless dictatorship but, if it can bring an end to the war, and destroy ISIS and other militant groups, then Russia might just save Syria’s Christians.
When Paul wrote the letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 2:1-3), one of the most notorious political leaders, who murdered his mother and both of his wives – Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus – was the Roman leader at the time. Thankfully, none of the United Kingdom’s political leaders, local or national, can claim such disrepute. We should pray for their health and safety. As recorded in Ezra 6:10, the pagan king, Darius, asked God’s faithful people in Jerusalem to pray for his life and the lives of his sons. In light of the relatively recent intrusion into Buckingham Palace, we certainly can pray that the Queen and family and all those in power, whether in Westminster, the local council or anywhere in between, be protected and upheld in good health.
We should pray that they would follow the Lord’s ways, and repent if they don’t. The horrific reign of Manasseh over Judah and his later repentance (2 Chronicles 33:1-20) should remind Christians that, for those in government leadership, personal character and political actions are entangled. Yet Manasseh should also remind us that even evil men, when they repent sincerely, can be used by God to restore what they have ruined.
Pray that they would govern with wisdom for the ‘welfare of the city’ (Jeremiah 29:7), not for personal gain or for the advantage of a favoured few. Their concern must be for the wellbeing of all. Pray that God would accomplish His purposes through them, regardless of their willingness to be used by Him. Proverbs 21:1 tells us that ‘the king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will’. We can petition the Most High God to work through even those who are resisting Him to fulfil His purposes.
It’s noteworthy that God is unimpressed by political power, including those who think they can defy Him. Consider some passages of Scripture about how the Sovereign Lord of all views such persons: ‘The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His anointed, saying, “Let us tear off their bonds and cast away their ropes from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord ridicules them’ (Psalm 2:2-4).
When we pray for people in authority, we must remember that a battle is under way in the air for political rule in each region of every country. If the powers of darkness are allowed to work unchallenged and influence people, they will get control over governments and people in positions of authority. The consequences will be disastrous. Apart from the fact that the Evil One wants to control and manipulate people in the political field, he wants to control people in any other position of authority.
Let’s not forget God can work with people, in spite of who or what they are. We should hold onto the fact that God is sovereign and omnipotent, and that He appoints and takes away leaders (Proverbs 21:1): ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases.’