by Denise Gitsham
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
I’m not the best person to speak about praying for politicians we dislike, though by now, I should be. I’ve been a Christian for 30 years, and worked in politics for the past 25. One would assume that based on those descriptors, I’ve got the whole “praying for politicians” thing down. But truthfully, I still struggle with praying for those I dislike and disagree with. And sometimes, I confess I’m more likely to curse than bless the ones I wish were out of office.
Over the past decade, however, God has tenderized my heart. The callousness cultivated by years of fighting in vicious partisan trenches softened as I grew more aware of the political spirit raging within me. Jesus’ warning to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod,” struck at the religiosity and hyper-partisanship that fueled much of my political career, and led me further from the love and grace Jesus calls us toward (Mark 8:15).
So, after doing things the wrong way for a very long time, I sought the Lord’s forgiveness, as well as His wisdom in doing it better. As I prayed, He showed me how Christians should engage in the political realm. And it begins with praying God’s will for ourselves and our political leaders.
First, He reminded me that the hallmark of every believer is to love, above all. As Scripture says, we can pray up a storm, but without love, we’re just “clanging cymbals” who are nothing, and gain nothing (1 Cor 13:1-3). Our motivation for praying into the political realm—or any cultural sphere of influence—must always be rooted in God’s love for the world and His people. And as hard as it was to swallow, “His people” always includes even the most obnoxious of politicians. So asking the Lord to permeate our hearts with love – for our country and all of its leaders - is the starting point for praying for those God puts in positions of authority.
Second, He taught me that seeking His will, requires putting my will for my country second. No matter how convinced I am that my ideology and candidates are best for our nation, putting those aside and seeking God’s will should always be my priority. God isn’t wedded to our partisan preferences, so it behooves us to ask Him to put the right leaders in the right place at the right time. Doing so requires humility and a de-logging of our own eyes—as Jesus warned in Matthew 7:3-5— so that we can look past the specks in others’ eyes and see what God sees in them. It also keeps us aligned with God and out of the “us v. them” mentality that corrodes and divides communities, countries, and the Body of Christ.
Third, He tells us to pray for the welfare of cities, states, and nations for the sake of ourselves as well as our leaders. The Lord directed the Israelites who were exiled in Babylon to “seek the welfare of the city…and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). Similarly, we should pray for the leaders and places where God has planted us, since doing so reaps both spiritual and practical rewards, and renders us obedient to His will.
Finally, we should pray for our leaders with honor and respect, regardless of whether we think they’re worthy of it. We do so because Scripture tells us that “all authority comes from God,” (Romans 13:1), and to “honor the king” without caveats (1 Peter 2:16). While we can disagree and work to replace them through our democratic process (which I’m grateful we can do where I live!), we must treat those God puts in authority over us the way He tells us to. Doing so is admittedly challenging, especially in the current political environment. But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” which means that His instruction applies to all times and circumstances, including the ones we live in today (Hebrews 13:8).
None of how God has taught me to pray comes naturally, which isn’t that surprising since my human nature is so contrary to God’s. Thankfully, He never stops helping me grow into the person I’m meant to be in Christ, which means that there’s hope for even the most wayward of us when it comes to praying for our leaders. The more we put our faith into practice, the more effective we become at influencing not only our leaders, but those who elect them. And the end result is that our obedience yields fruit that is both tangible and spiritual; a win-win-win for ourselves, our leaders, and our country.
Denise Grace Gitsham is a recovering attorney, author, speaker, dog mom, and founder of Vitamin D Public Relations, a boutique strategic communications firm that operates at the intersection of law, policy, media and politics. She is the author of Politics for People Who Hate Politics: How to Engage without Losing your Friends or Selling your Soul.