One day a brash man ascended to the throne of a thriving nation. His life choices and actions were far from the Judeo/Christian ethic. Although he had a heart for the arts and theater, his authority was secured in violence. Especially towards the women of his life. There are many fables and falsehoods about him, but peeling away some of the layers reveals a popular yet insecure leader. His name was Nero Caesar.
Understanding a bit about Nero is essential because of something Paul wrote to Timothy. “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1–2, NLT)
Many of us, as Christians, pray for our leaders, presidents, and rulers. Often, in my observation, those prayers are based more on our feelings towards that leader than on Paul’s mandate. We’re thankful when the leader shares our political bent, not so much when they’re on the other side. Oh, we do pray for them, but our prays often change from thankfulness to “please let them do as little harm as possible.”
But consider this. Paul was saying to pray for all. Lifting them up to God. Prayers that God would help them to make wise decisions. That our prayers would stand in the gap and pray for things they don’t even know to pray for themselves. That kind of intercession is like the four men that carried the paralytic to Jesus. A type of intercession that begs for mercy instead of judgment, grace instead of retribution, and forgives instead of complaining. And thirdly, that our prayers are offered with thanksgiving for them. Yes, thankful that God answers our prayers, but more pointedly thankful for them, even if they are a Nero.
I think where we get tripped up is the assumption that thankfulness equals agreement. It is doubtful that Paul agreed with Nero’s actions. And yet, according to this instruction, Paul thanked God for him. There is a bigger picture than we often see. God uses scoundrel kings as well as faithful ones to advance His kingdom and purposes.
There is more power to these prayers than we often imagine. We don’t need loud voices, acts of rebellion or violence to bring about real change. Constant prayer is like a drip of water that will erode and shape stone. And in our age of divisiveness and silo media, these prayers also calm our fear and anger by reminding us of the bigger picture of God’s kingdom.
Here we must consider our ways. Say, for instance, do we pray for the president and then reshare a mocking meme. Did we really mean what we prayed, or did we simply follow a formula because it was the “Christian” thing to do? Are our prayers littered with the way we’d like things done and complaints, or are they filled with thankfulness, gracious intercession, and genuine compassion? Do we pray for our leaders at all times or just when they’ve violated our sense of right and justice?
Now, to stretch this a bit farther, what about other leaders? Not only praying for our direct leaders in national, state, local, and church venues but also others. Perhaps praying for the leaders of companies, organizations, and movements that we may agree or disagree with. Maybe even for social media leaders and influencers, governmental leaders of other countries, and media leaders. Or, as Paul put it, “pray for all people.”
In my mind, this is the opposite of the current wave of “cancel culture” and encourages Christ-followers to build bridges across the divides fracturing our world.
Finally, Paul does state a purpose in these prayers, “so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.” I don’t know about you, but right now, the news stokes the fires of fear, anger, and division. Tolerance is limited, and we are increasingly divided through a cold war of distrust and disdain. But praying with thankful intercession for our leaders calms us even if the world stays in turmoil, and the leader remains a scoundrel like Nero.