The Church of Jesus Christ is exhorted by Sts. Peter and Paul, and even commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, to pray at all times and without ceasing, in good times and in bad (Luke 18:1, 21:36; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18; etc.).
But, for what sorts of things, persons and circumstances are we to pray? St. Paul answers that question squarely in his First Epistle to the young pastor Timothy: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Notice that Paul begins by saying that we should pray for all people, and especially those who have authority over us, regardless of what we may think or feel about them. Did Paul agree with Felix, Festus, Agrippa or Caesar any more than you agree with your mayor, governor or president? No, and whether you agree with them or not is simply not the point.
It is the Church’s vocation to pray for, to intercede and to give thanks for those in authority over us, for their authority is given them by God for our good (John 19:11; 1 Peter 2:13-14). Additionally, the Church’s prayers are necessary if there is to be hope for more people to come to a knowledge of the Lord and be saved as Paul continues, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:3-6).”
At St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, we pray a lengthy prayer each Sunday as part of the Divine Service known as the Prayer of the Church. Each week, in that prayer, we pray for the Church, for Her Pastors and people, for our nation and its leaders, for the military, police officers and others who serve and protect us, for the sick, the sorrowing and the dying, for our families, marriages and children, for our schools, and for numerous other people, offices and vocations whom God has given us and has placed in authority over us for our good, regardless of whether we agree with everything they say and do or not.
Admittedly, that can sometimes be hard to do, and particularly so in times of political rancor, strife and divide, racial disharmony, pandemic and the subsequent stress and depression that are the result of isolation and financial distress, etc. What are we to do as Christians? First of all, we should pray. We should simply pray, as St. Paul exhorts us to do. Here is an example of such a prayer:
“Almighty, everlasting God, King of kings, from whom all rank and power proceed, who instituted temporal authority and committed to it the sword for the punishment of the wicked and the protection of the good: lead all temporal lords and rulers in Your way, that they may keep the common peace, turn away from us war and sedition, and nurture whatever makes for peace, honor, and justice. To that end, O Lord of hosts, give them Your divine blessing, the righteousness of Moses, the meekness of David, the zeal of Phinehas, the strength of Samson, and the wisdom of Solomon. Make and keep them steadfast in good, courageous in adversity, confident in affliction, joyful in sorrow, reliable in distress, victorious in temptation, unmoved in prosperity, and wise, strong, and prosperous in all their endeavors. Let their government serve for the suppression of all tyrants, peace in this present time, and the protection of Christians, to the praise and eternal worship of Your holy name; through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen (Lutheran Prayer Companion, p. 152).”
At the same time, it is entirely appropriate for us to pray for peace in accordance with God’s good and gracious will:
“Heavenly Father, God of all concord, it is Your gracious will that Your children on earth live together in harmony and peace. Defeat the plans of all those who would stir up violence and strife, destroy the weapons of those who delight in war and bloodshed, and, according to Your will, end all conflicts in the world. Teach us to examine our hearts that we may recognize our own inclination toward envy, malice, hatred, and enmity. Help us, by Your Word and Spirit, to search our hearts and to root out the evil that would lead to strife and discord, so that in our lives we may be at peace with all people. Fill us with zeal for the work of Your Church and the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which alone can bring that peace which is beyond all understanding; through Jesus Christ, our Lord (Lutheran Service Book, p. 314).”
We can even sing our prayer as in this hymn:
“Grant peace, we pray, in mercy, Lord;
“Peace in our time, O send us!
“For there is none on earth but You,
“None other to defend us.
“You only, Lord, can fight for us.
“Amen (Lutheran Service Book 777).”
What else are we to do? We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, go about the work which God has given us, and be His light and leaven in a world that seems to be descending into chaos.
Where? How? When? That will all be revealed in God’s good time. But be at peace. Christ has overcome the world.
Please continue to pray for our nation and its people who are so divided right now. God will be merciful in His own time and way. May it be soon!