I’ve always thought that making resolutions was much better suited to the beginning of the new school year than the beginning of the new calendar year. Our schedules—and thus, our habits—are much more likely to change now than in the middle of the winter. This whole year I have been pondering something important that I think is missing from my daily routine, and now is the time I want to remedy that.
I should introduce it by saying that I’m into politics. Not as much as some people, certainly, but I try to read the news each day and I enjoy discussing issues with my family and friends. I care about big picture ideas and I care about people, and politics brings those two together. Maybe you’re like me, and this stuff interests you. Maybe you couldn’t care less. For this post it doesn’t matter, because this habit is one that we should all embrace.
The one resolution I’m committing to this school year is this: to pray for our president every single day.
Actually, it would be great to pray for our whole government and America in general everyday. But that feels overwhelming to me. I’m no expert on habit formation, but from my experience the best way for a habit to stick is for it to be simple and specific. So I’m going to start with just our president.
The thing is, I’ve heard people talk about how we need to pray for our president before. And I’ve always nodded my head and agreed that that’s important, but somehow I never actually got around to doing it consistently. I don’t think I’m alone in this. We American Christians do not pray for our president (or pray at all, honestly) nearly as much as we should. Until this year, the gravity of that didn’t hit me.
This past year I’ve been praying more. I’ve had more free time on my hands than since I was ten, and pain (both physical and emotional) has a way of driving you to God like nothing else does. When it felt like I was unable to do anything of value, I took great comfort in the knowledge that I could always pray and that that is just as important and beautiful and powerful—maybe even more so—as any other kind of normal work. I guess that revelation made me think harder about prayer.
I don’t know how prayer works. I mean, obviously. Theologians for centuries have debated exactly what part God plays and what part man plays. All I know is that God is ultimately in control of everything, and in his wisdom and graciousness he has allowed humans to participate in his work in the world. I don’t understand exactly how that works and I have to be okay that. We are never commanded to figure that out.
We are commanded to pray.
James says the prayers of righteous man avail much. Throughout the entire Bible, God promises that when we pray he hears us. There are dozens of stories in the Bible of people praying and God answering them in amazing ways. Somehow, prayer does something. Somehow, prayer works.
Which begs the question: What about when, well, it doesn’t seem like prayer works? I mean, I know that although God hears when we pray he doesn’t always answer the way we want. Usually that’s because what we’re asking for isn’t actually a good thing for us. But what about this specific situation, when we’re following God’s explicit command to pray for our leaders? I’ve been pondering that lately and wondering:
Maybe one reason we feel like our prayers for our country aren’t doing anything is because there are too few of them.
I have to be really careful here, because it’s not about us causing the change. It’s about God graciously choosing to listen to us and move on our behalf. Often, he scorns human ways of viewing problems, liked the idea that you need a lot of people to do something big. Faith as small as a mustard seed can move the mountains, Jesus said.
But. Remember that God often (though not always, thankfully) gives people what they deserve. The Israelites want a king? Despite all God has done for them? Despite all that he warns a king will do to them? Okay, then. Give them a king. If we are not willing to obey God and pray for our leaders as he has commanded us, why on earth are we surprised when he does not give us faithful, godly leaders? If only a tiny fraction of his people are taking his commandment seriously, is he not simply giving us what we deserve?
Imagine if the entire body of believers in America prayed every day for our president. The thought gives me chills. I know God doesn’t need numbers. I know he can use just one faithful person to do mighty deeds. But I also know that the consistent, fervent prayers of a united, obedient Church is a powerful thing. And I know God rewards obedience.
The tough part about this resolution probably isn’t knowing why we should do it. It’s actually doing it. I often don’t feel like taking the time to do it. I don’t feel like mustering the mental energy to think of what I should pray for. Sometimes, I’m not particularly happy with the president in that moment. Other times, I frankly don’t care about him or where our country is going. (Please tell me I’m not alone in all this.)
Here are some practical tips for making this habit happen:
- Remember that it can be short. Something that often keeps me from praying is this feeling that it has to be really long, elaborate, articulate, thoughtful, passionate, etc. I get so exhausted and overwhelmed at the thought that I just don’t pray. A quick, one minute prayer each day is way better than doing it once every few months when you feel in the mood.
- Pray for just one thing. There are so many areas of life the president needs prayer for that I often don’t know where to begin. But you don’t have to cover them all. God isn’t holding a checklist making sure you covered every topic. Just pick one thing, like his family or his health, or one character attribute, like humility or wisdom. Pick a fruit of the Spirit or one issue in the news he’s dealing with.
- Pray every time you reach for your phone. You know those moments when you have a free minute and you grab your phone to scroll through Instagram or check your email? Before you do so, take a breath and pray. Again, it can be quick. But if you’re having trouble remembering to pray, linking it to an action you perform often may help. Looking at your phone specifically may be a good reminder because that’s often where we read about the president.
What about praying for someone spiritually when you’re not sure if they’re a Christian? Only God can know for sure whether someone else is saved. This is especially true for a hugely famous figure we don’t know personally. When I pray for the president spiritually, which is the most important area to cover, I pray that if he’s not a Christian, God will save him, and if he is, that God will draw him closer to Himself. Boom. You’ve covered all the bases.
So far this year, I haven’t been praying for our president daily, but I’ve been doing it a lot more than I used to. And you know what I’ve noticed? I feel a lot more love for Trump now. I haven’t said his name yet, because he’s so controversial and I wanted to focus more on the habit of praying and not the specific president. But obviously the president we’re all going to be praying for right now is Donald Trump. The incredible thing about prayer is that it doesn’t just change the person or event you’re praying about—it changes you. The things I pray for Trump may never happen, but I am already noticing that I am viewing him with more compassion than I did before.
I personally disagree with much of his behavior and character and even some of his policies, but I’m starting to see him as someone whom God made and loves dearly. Just as God made and loves me. That doesn’t mean I condone everything he does or stands for, at all. But it means I’m starting from a place of more humility and compassion. It means that even as I speak out about how I believe things should be handled, I have a more Christlike heart and perspective.
Maybe that’s the point.
Maybe when we all start praying for someone consistently like this, we will all become humbler and wiser and more loving and more like Jesus, and that will start to spread through society. Maybe that is how countries change—from the ground up. After all, this is a democracy. Whom we elect is a reflection of us. If we don’t like what we see in leadership, we need to look at ourselves first. And the first way for each of us to grow is to look to our God and pray.
Do you guys follow politics? Is prayer something that goes easily for you or is it harder? What are your thoughts about praying for our president?