When we look at what is happening with Russia and Ukraine, and the events taking place in Canada and the US, we need to take a closer look at the Apostle Paul’s encouragement to pray for our leaders.
Because in this passage, he also explains how we are to pray for them:
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. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-3)
Remembering that Nero was the Roman emperor when Paul encouraged believers to:
- Pray that God will help our leaders;
- Intercede on their behalf (pray for them, not against them);
- Thank God for them; and
- Pray for their salvation.
In other words, we are not to pray God’s judgment on them when they become oppressive or abusive.
But it is such a temptation to pray that way.
Even the disciples wanted to call down judgment when a Samaritan village rejected Jesus’ request for help. Jesus rebuked them when the disciples angrily suggested calling fire down upon the village (Luke 9: 51-56).
I have to admit that when I see leaders abusing their power, it’s easy to get angry, and it becomes emotionally difficult to pray positively for them, but nevertheless, this is how God wants us to pray.
It is so counterintuitive, but that is Christianity. Even if we want God to remove our leaders, we need to sincerely pray ‘for’ them, not ‘against’ them (Luke 6:28).
When Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, recently encouraged believers to pray for Vladimir Putin, the Russian president who is threatening to invade Ukraine, he was simply following the Apostle Paul’s admonition:
“Pray for President Putin today. This may sound like a strange request, but we need to pray that God would work in his heart so that war – and the loss of thousands of lives – could be avoided at all cost.”
But the negative backlash was immediate. Some almost considered it treasonous.
Premier Christian News noted that Scott Huffman, a Democratic congressional candidate from North Carolina, responded:
“Franklin Graham asks his followers to pray for Putin. Guess he forgot about the Ukrainians and our NATO allies.
“It’s almost like he supports the enemy who is about to declare war and kill people.”
Similarly, Jon Cooper, who worked to elect US President Joe Biden, tweeted:
“Trump-loving evangelist Franklin Graham just told his followers: ‘Pray for President Putin today.’ Unreal.”
When it comes to praying for our leaders, pray counterintuitively. Don’t pray how you feel about them, pray how God feels about them.