Friday, March 11, 2011

Who Is on Your Prayer List? – 1 Tim 2:1-2, 8

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. (NASB)

I have many people on my prayer list. I know some of them personally; they are friends, relatives, and acquaintances. This includes some missionaries, pastors, and church leaders. I have never met others and would only recognize those who are national leaders. I have lost track of a few on my list. I don’t even know if they are still alive. One is a co-worker that I invited to the 1976 Billy Graham crusade in Seattle. His mother came with him and we both prayed that he would go forward but he didn’t. I keep praying for his salvation.

As I look at the different kinds of prayers that Paul asked us to make, I see that I fall short on thanksgiving. When I’m asking my Lord to save someone, I forget that I also need to thank Him for this person. I also have to admit that I pray for some people to be saved because they are obnoxious or irritating people. I fall very short on the thanksgiving side when praying for them. I am thankful, however, that they are not enemies. Matt 5:44-45 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (NKJV) If I only pray for these people for their salvation, my pray fall very short of Jesus’ instructions. My prayer needs to be out of love not annoyance. I need to see these people the way Jesus does. He sees them through the cross. He loves them so much that He died for them. So who am I to pray for them simply so they will get along with me better?

Prayer often grows feet. As I pray for people, I should be aware of their needs. I should pray for those needs and this is how I start to bless them. Then, by asking God to bless them, if I have the opportunity, I can also do something for them. I’ve heard it said that you can’t pray for a person and continue to hate them. The reason is that as we pray for them, we become more like Jesus, sons of our Father in heaven. Since He provides for their needs, whether they are good or evil, then as we start to do the same thing, we show His love for them.

Praying for kings and those in authority has always been a problem for some. There is a great line in the movie Fiddler on the Roof. The people ask their Rabbi if there is a blessing for the Czar. He thinks for a moment then prays, “May the Lord bless and keep the Czar (dramatic pause) far away from us.” Persecution has been a problem for Jews and Christians alike. While it is very natural for us to want to be free from it, we have to also acknowledge God’s sovereignty in raising up kings and deposing them Dan 2:21a He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. (NLT)

When politics are involved, it seems that some can only pray for the leader of the nation to be voted out of office, overthrown, or something worse, depending on the part of the world they live in. The irony is that others who are also zealous in their faith would pray for the same leaders to continue in power. What should a Christian’s prayers for the government leaders look like?

I believe that at the heart of our prayers, we should consider the sovereignty of God. We may think we know what is best in the affairs of the world, but only God has the wisdom, knowledge, and ability to direct this world the way it should go. Isa 44:28 Who says of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be built,’ And to the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’” (NKJV) This passage was written somewhere around 712 B.C. Cyrus didn’t become the King of Persia until 536 B.C. (Ezra 1:1), some 176 years later. God’s sovereignty is beyond our comprehension. When Isaiah wrote this about Cyrus, Jerusalem and the temple were still standing. Persia wasn’t even a nation yet. In Isa 47, God predicted that He would use Babylon to humble Judah and that Babylon would go too far punishing Judah. Because of Babylon’s sin, God said He would overthrow the country in a single day (verse 9). This finally happened in Daniel 5 when Darius the Mede conquered Babylon in one night. Next came Persia and then Cyrus.

As I pray for our country or others that may be in turmoil, I can only guess what God is doing. I can’t be sure. In the eyes of Judah, Isaiah’s predictions didn’t make sense. They thought they knew exactly what God’s will was for Judah and it didn’t include exile and dominion by pagan nations or that a pagan king would allow restoration. When we get a leader that encourages godlessness, is this part of God’s plan?

Should I pray to have this person removed from office or should I pray that God’s chastening through the results of his administration bring about God’s glory? When I see things happening in our country or others that look like they will cause economic collapse, should I pray for reforms that I think are the correct way or should I pray for changes recommended by the administration, which I dislike because they will cost me more? When I pray for my country, am I concerned about the poor or just my own financial stability?

Paul says that instead of trying to figure out all the details and then telling God what we think He should do, we should pray for the leaders so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. We don’t have to come up with the solutions to the world’s problems. We need to pray that we can live quiet lives fulfilling godliness and holiness in the way we live.

When it comes to living quiet lives, Paul explained that we should be lifting up holy hands in prayer. That means we should not be participating in things that would stain us with sin. It means we should try to live in peace with everyone and overcome evil with good (Rom 12:17-21). Isn’t that what Jesus taught? Matt 5:39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (NIV) This is certainly not a popular teaching today. Today we are told to stand up for our rights. Usually, standing up for our rights ends up costing someone else.

Paul said we should pray without anger or disputing. I find this harder to do as I encounter those who do quarrel over the right way that our nation should change. They will argue this way or that and become angry when someone thinks differently.

I believe that only by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, will this or any other nation have the opportunity for change. Then, when more people become Christians and Christians start living the Gospel, seeking to serve others instead of themselves, things will change. They may not change the way people want it to change now, but it will change the way Jesus wants it.

Dear Lord Jesus, please affect the changes you want in our hearts and the hearts of our leaders so that we will accomplish your will and bring glory to you.

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