Praying for Powers

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My social media feeds and podcasts have, in recent months, included little more than the hottest political takes on the US election. As a South African, far removed from American political life, I have tried to avoid being too vocal in the debate, but it has been impossible to escape the often vitriolic debates in which professing Christians have engaged.

When it became clear that Joe Biden was headed for a likely victory, staunch Republicans began promulgating all sorts of conspiracy theories to explain how President Trump could possibly lose the election. Name-calling, mud-slinging, and character assassination have been the order of the day for months now. When one particular Christian woman whom I follow on Twitter posted that she would be praying for President Biden, a fellow professing Christian simply commented, “Go to hell.” Winsomeness (Proverbs 11:30) and reasonableness (Philippians 4:5) seem to have been sacrificed on the altar of political partisanship.

Psalm 72 confronts our sinful attitudes in this regard. This prayer, evidently written by Solomon as he prepared to take the throne from his father, David, instructs us on how we should respond to those whom God places in authority over us. It does so by means of highlighting the character and policies that God desires from leaders and instructing us to pray that our leaders will exhibit this kind of character and policy.

The overriding principle is that those in authority should strive for “justice” and “righteousness” as God defines it (vv. 1–2). Leaders should strive to display God’s justice and righteousness as they lead those over whom God has placed them. God’s justice, according to this psalm, includes things like protecting the poor, steering clear of partiality, caring for the vulnerable, and punishing wrongdoers. This is the character and policy that we should look for most in our rulers and we should pray for them that they will rule in a way that is consistent with these principles. Rulers who display this character and advocate for these policies will be called blessed (v. 17) and will bring God glory in the way they lead (v. 18).

As Christians, we are quick to criticise our leaders when they fail to display or advocate for biblical justice. There is certainly a place for that, both as Christians and as citizens of a particular country. But the Christian attitude toward leadership should go beyond criticism. It should include heartfelt prayer that those in positions of leadership will lead in such a way that justice and righteousness is exercised.

As you reflect on this psalm, ask yourself if your attitude toward authority is in keeping with these principles. Are you quick to criticise poor political governance but slow to pray for your leaders to pursue justice and righteousness? Are you eager to critique church leadership but hesitant to pray for the leaders? Are you critical of your parents or your employer but fail to pray for them?

Ultimately, we don’t pray for our leaders—political, church, or family—because we like them or because we agree with them. We pray for them because they are appointed as God’s rulers. We pray for them because, when they rule with justice and righteousness, “people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field” (v. 16). We pray for our leaders because righteous leadership benefits the people they lead.

Take a moment now to pray for your leaders. Pray that they will lead with justice and righteousness that will do good for those whom they lead. Pray that God’s glorious name will be blessed forever through wise and righteous leadership (v. 19).