On Friday January 20, Donald John Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. Regardless of who we voted for, it is imperative for people of faith to pray for our new president and for other local, state, and national leaders.
From my perspective, our nation will be recovering for quite some time from one of the most negative and divisive election seasons in history. However, in addition to the negativity, there are other factors that make this election and forthcoming presidency unique and challenging: 1) Voters from both major parties “lacked enthusiasm” in their support of their party’s candidate. 2) Questions linger about hacking, tampering, or outside interference from a foreign government. 3) This election marked the largest disparity between the popular vote and the electoral vote. 4) There is at the minimum an uncomfortable relationship between the incoming president and key leaders within his own party.
These afore mentioned challenges underscore the reasons we need to pray for our newly elected president. Let me be quick to say that, for me, praying for a leader is not the same as affirming or agreeing with his or her policies or character. I believe this is true whether we are praying for the president, the governor, the mayor, or our pastor. To pray for a leader is to affirm the power of God in providing guidance and to intercede for that leader to be receptive to God’s direction, to grow in their moral and ethical conviction, and to govern or lead in the best interest of all people. That is why people of faith from a variety of political perspectives can unite around the common mission of praying for our president.
I believe that the Bible specifically teaches us to pray for those in leadership. I Timothy 2:1-2 may be the most direct instruction: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
As the inauguration approaches, I am especially concerned that we commit to pray for our new president. The president needs our prayers, as every leader does. From my observation, and unfortunately, campaigns are focused on rhetoric. Once a leader takes office, they are confronted with reality. I think every president who takes office must have a “sobering moment” when they suddenly feel the weight of responsibility that comes with their charge.
Here are five specific petitions I am including in my prayer for the incoming president:
- Pray for the president to become grounded in his faith. Across the years, I have made it a practice to pray for every president to be grounded in his spiritual convictions, primarily because I believe a president will make wiser decisions when guided by his or her faith. Interestingly, our newly elected president was endorsed by multiple religious groups who perceived his agenda to be more closely aligned with their own. However, I am not aware of any of these groups who espouse that our incoming president is a faithful practitioner of his faith, that he is significantly involved in a faith community, or that he regularly reads or understands scripture. In fact, many of these groups are also praying for the new president to solidify or deepen his personal faith. If our incoming president becomes grounded in his professed faith, I think it could revolutionize his leadership style and moral compass, and enable him to serve with greater effectiveness.
- Pray for the president’s family. Both during a campaign and during a president’s tenure of service, his or her family undergoes an unimaginable degree of scrutiny. The pressure is immense, even for those accustomed to the limelight. Pray for the president’s family members, and for the president’s family relationships to be fortified by patience, fidelity, and discernment.
- Pray for the president to be wise and discerning in making appointments. Every appointment the president makes will be significant, including appointees to his Cabinet and to the Supreme Court. Pray for the president to choose individuals of good reputation and moral courage. Many of these selections, especially those appointed to the supreme court, will serve for years to come.
- Pray for the president to be prepared for an unexpected crisis. Every president in my lifetime has not only carried the daily burden of responsibility of leading our great nation, but they have faced more than one abrupt and unanticipated crisis. President Carter dealt with the Iran hostage situation. President Reagan survived an attempted assassination. President George H. W. Bush oversaw Operation Desert Storm. President Bill Clinton addressed the ethnic wars of Bosnia and Kosovo. President George W. Bush presided during the terrorist attacks of September 11. President Obama served during the sequence of revolts and demonstrations called The Arab Spring. Pray that the new president will be prepared to deal with any unexpected crisis that arises during his tenure.
- Pray for the president to grow in his capacity to serve. Regardless of their campaign rhetoric, I am convinced that no candidate is adequately prepared to serve when they enter public office, especially the office of president. An effective president must become a student of the office, learning to listen to his advisers, learning the importance of bipartisan cooperation, learning to recover from his or her mistakes, learning when to speak and when to refrain from speaking, learning conflict negotiation and crisis management, and learning to balance confidence and humility. Obviously, our new president has honed and sharpened his skills in the field of business. I pray that he will likewise sharpen his skills of leadership and diplomacy as he serves as our president.
Almost every election cycle, constituents and candidates from each party make “change” a part of their platform and message. Regardless of one’s political slant, I propose that prayer is the ultimate catalyst for change. Although I am not an advocate of bumper-sticker religion, I remember an intriguing progression of slogans or bumper-stickers from a few years ago. The first simply read, “Prayer changes things.” The second advanced the idea by stating, “Prayer changes people. People change things.” I am committed to praying for God to change people, and to empower people to enact change…morally, ethically, socially, and politically… in all the right places.
Not all followers of Jesus will always agree on who we vote for, but we can agree to pray for “all those in authority.” As we approach the upcoming inauguration, join me in praying for our newly elected president, and all of those who are in a leadership role on a local, state, or national level.
(Barry Howard serves as the Senior Minister at the First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida.)