For kings and all those in authority
A couple of weeks ago, I was conducting a worship service with students and colleagues. When collecting topics for the intercessory prayer, I invited them to pray for the political leaders of the world: not only the head of the state of the country where we were gathering, but also others such as Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdoğan. Nobody picked up my suggestion and so I did it myself, before closing the intercessions with the Lord’s Prayer.
Were they not familiar with praying for foreign political leaders? That may well be. This year I spent several months in other countries than my home country, The Netherlands. During Sunday worship services, I often heard prayers for the head of state of the country as well as its government and parliament. Of course, that felt a little bit strange for me who did not consider the king, queen or president of that country as my own head of state. Still, I was by no means the only person in that position in the church hall. Would it not be better also to pray for those ruling other countries?
In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 Paul urges Timothy to pray for kings and all those in authority. He does not write: ‘Pray for your own king’, but he uses the plural, ‘kings’. This does not necessarily mean that he thinks of all kings of the world. Paul may have thought of the Roman emperor and his regional vassal kings. Even so, the circle of people whom he recommends for prayer is really wide, as the preceding words ‘all people’ show. Praying for leaders and governments of other nations certainly corresponds to Paul’s intention.
There is nothing wrong with Christians who love their home country and give it a prominent place in prayer. What is wrong, however, is Christians pursuing the interest of their own nation to the detriment of others. Our God is the God of the whole world and all people. All are equally dear to him. Praying for foreign political leaders and other governments could remind us of that reality. Maybe, rulers who are hostile to our country or its values need our prayers even more than those in our own capital city.
Professor of Old Testament, Faculté Jean Calvin Aix-en-Provence and Theologische Universiteit Kampen
Member of the Executive Committee of the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians