God-imaging humans are social creatures; “persons-in-relation” is the prescribed human condition. The triune God, in His wisdom, set up specific structural communities that act as scaffolding on which these relationships would hang. These structural communities are called institutions. Family, Church and School are institutions that are close to the heart of most. Industry (enterprise) and State are equally important institutions but generally fail to garner the same attention. The State, in particular, seems to get the least respect, and the attention it does receive is typically derisive. Christians, on many occasions, are even more critical than others, strangely feeling justified in heaping dishonor upon the State, especially government officials.
I say it’s strange because it seems clear that God likes government – having ordained its service for our benefit. Government is good because justice is godly. In fact, it is likely that governments would have existed even if man had not fallen. While the use of the sword may have not been necessary, there may still have been need for impartial judicial arbitration – even if just to decide between two good possibilities. Governments, even bad ones, are used of God and are worthy of honor.
Still, Christians, for the most part, don’t like government. Consider one theologian’s apt indictment:
With all our devotion to the Bible, we evangelicals have not been biblical enough to resist the pressures around us. We are zealous for bringing people to Christ. But we have neglected essential parts of Scripture…Our fault has been, and still is, an unbiblical selectivity in the preaching, reading and application of the Word of God. Frank E. Gaebelien, 1980
Nowhere are we more selective in our application of Scripture than in our respecting and honoring (or lack thereof) of government officials. Most believe the state was set up by man and is ultimately accountable to man to serve his private interests. This is a common misunderstanding leading to a wide failure in our discipleship.
It seems a simple step from due respect and honor to prayer. If what we understand from Scripture is true – that government is good, that Christians are to be subject to and not resist governments and that officials are due respect and honor – then we must pray to that end.
We pray because: (1) Government officials are people: All people have value as the crown jewel of God’s creation. (2) Government officials are you: Christians are called to live Christianly in all domains. Many believers, following the Spirit’s leading, will enter into vocational politics. Berating governments, even large governments, leaves Christian brothers and sisters wounded from friendly fire. (3) Government officials are appointed by God: We honor public officials when we acknowledge their station and their appointment. When we resist, whether in word or deed (Paul assumes we will want to resist in Romans 13:2), we defame the role and the person God appointed.
How we pray is also important. Certainly, regular petitions for individuals read off a list are significant, but prayer is so much more. Henri Nouwen identifies unceasing prayer with unceasing thinking – a continual dialogue:
To be continually in communion with God does not mean thinking about God in contrast to thinking about other things…As soon as we begin to divide off our thoughts in thoughts about God and thoughts about other things…we separate God from our daily life…our prayer can only become unceasing communion when all our thoughts…can be thought in the presence of the One who dwells in us…our unceasing thinking [then] is converted into unceasing prayer moving us from a self-centered monologue to a God-centered dialogue. Nouwen, 1978
This is the kind of prayer needed regarding governments and institutions. It means thinking about politics. It means considering the issues.
Pray unceasingly as all thoughts are taken captive and made obedient to Christ. Respect, honor and pray for government officials; they are people, they are you, they are God’s delegates.