Before I moved to Tooele, I served a congregation in rural Nebraska. At that time, Barack Obama was President of the United States. A member asked me before the service one Sunday morning if we were going to pray for President Obama during the service. In the prayers I had planed, we were going to pray for our leaders in general but not specifically for anyone. She shot back, saying, “Good! He doesn’t deserve our prayers!” So what did we do? We prayed specifically for President Obama that Sunday.
Was she right in her assertion? Or did it matter? Are we to pray only for our elected leaders whose positions on the issues agree with ours? What are we to do with those whose positions differ from ours? Do we ignore them? Do we wish ill upon them? What should a Christian do regarding our leaders?
The Bible gives us quite the clear-cut answer. The apostle Paul, writing under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said to the young pastor Timothy, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:1-3 ESV). In other words, God wants us as Christians and citizens to pray for those elected or appointed to enact, enforce, and judge our laws. It is not for us to determine which leaders to pray for and which ones we don’t.
Praying for our secular leaders has long been part of the Church’s prayer life. In the classic Litany, the Church prays God “to give to all peoples concord and peace; to preserve our land from discord and strife; to give our country Your protection in every time of need; to direct and defend our President and all in authority; to bless and protect our magistrates and all our people.” We are to pray for our leaders, regardless of their ideologies. They need our prayers. We need to pray for them for the sake of peace in our land. The “D” or “R” or “I” (or any other letter) after their names is irrelevant. In addition to praying for peace in our land, we are to pray that those who govern us would do so in a manner pleasing to God, upholding what He has commanded.
We as a nation cherish our freedoms. We cherish the separation of church and state, a phrase found absolutely nowhere in our nation’s constitution, nor in any of its amendments, but in Thomas Jefferson’s private correspondence. We believe that the state shall not tell the Church what to believe, nor shall the Church collect taxes and govern the people. Yet both of these realms have one thing in common. Both of these have been given to us by our great and gracious giver God. For this reason, St. Paul encourages us to pray for, among other things, our secular rulers so that we would live in peace. The above passage applies to all Christians in all nations, for God has instituted government, regardless of its form, for the general welfare and protection of the entire nation, Christians and non-Christians alike.
We as Christians are obligated to give thanks to the Lord, not because the government says we must, but because we are moved by God’s goodness. We respond to all of God’s gifts to us through our prayers to Him, our praise of Him, and our giving Him thanks. As Christians, we live this liturgical life. Even as we, through the liturgy of the Church, respond to what our Lord has done for us, we in our daily lives respond to what our Lord has given us by giving thanks to Him. The life of the Christian is a liturgical life of response to God’s gifts. It is for this reason we come to the Lord’s house. It does not matter on which day we gather in the Lord’s house. Our lives are to be a daily thanksgiving to the Lord.
Martin Luther spoke well of what it means to give thanks. He said “This also pertains to Christians. Gratitude always merits the receipt of more; ingratitude drains the fountain of divine goodness. Gratitude consists of more than the expression ‘I thank You, Lord God.’ It also involves acknowledging first that it is a gift of God, that a person knows that peace, which today holds sway here in Germany [and here in America], a type of government, and the security that allows one to marry are pure gifts of God. It is a gift of God to have a king and a state and the pest without poison, etc. After all, Satan wants the air polluted, all the land burdened with pestilence and death. That this does not occur is a gift of God. We have so many kings and peoples, so much produce, food, and property, purely out of His goodness. This gratitude consists not only in our words alone but principally in our acknowledgement of the blessing we have received.”
Mark Schlamann is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Tooele.