With the New Mexico State Legislature currently in session, I am revisiting a Scripture passage familiar to some readers. I am, frankly, excited to share this journey again. After a fresh pass through God's word, I have discovered and learned new truths. I have grown in my conviction about my personal behavior and in my passion for asking others to pray.
I am not describing 2 Chronicles 7:14, but 1st Timothy 2:1-3, instead. The two passages share some similarities. Both aim their call to prayer directly at God's people - saints or believers in the New Testament. Both passages call for a revival of sorts, a change in God's people. Last, both passages address a peculiar silence in the conversation between God and His people.
But, there, the similarities fade. The Old Testament passage struggles under the eyes of careful interpreters to escape its direct application. The preceding verse, 2 Chronicles 7:13, describes the woes 7:14 addresses: drought, pestilence or insects destroying crops, and disease among God's people. Each one is an act of God’s punishment, not a natural occurrence. That passage calls people to pray when God's people have fallen under His judgment corporately.
Society Changing Prayer
In 1 Timothy 2:1-3, Paul gives Timothy instructions for a church that is not under God's judgment. Instead, New Testament saints face a society and world that increasingly reacts hostilely to their presence and faith. Inside Paul's instructions lies his confidence that God always hears His faithful people and cares for them when they call out.
If one wants a passage that challenges Christians to pray for their worsening, wicked world, 1 Timothy 2:1-3 matches the need. Here is what the passage teaches. When a saint, whose attitude matches God's, engages in prayer for rulers and other civic authorities, God hears. Those prayers satisfy and please Him, and He answers their prayers.
When God unleashes his blessings upon those leaders, something happens. The way they lead changes, and those changes affect the people in their realm. The world becomes a calmer and safer place for saints. Ultimately, Paul says, saints experience tranquility and practice their godliness without resistance. In a real sense, Paul’s type of prayer changes the world and triggers religious freedom and liberty.
Here is a snapshot of the sequence.
- Saints adjust their attitude to match God.
- Saints engage with God in prayer for rulers and civic leaders.
- God is satisfied, hears and answers those prayers, working in the lives of rulers and leaders.
- The leaders benefit and change how they lead.
- Society changes. It calms down.
- Religious freedom spreads and flourishes.
- Saints practice godliness openly, experience dignity and enjoy tranquility.
Prayer Enabling Attitudes
A saint's attitude when praying either fuels or foils Paul's process. The attitude summoned by Paul's instructions has three parts: one's attitude toward the general populace, one's attitude toward rulers and government leaders, and one's attitude toward godliness. Saints need to develop these attitudes.
First, when Paul calls saints to pray on behalf of all men, he suggests that they must care for the people around them. Saints might utter prayers that appear to benefit the world, while a self-serving attitude hides in their soul. But, for Paul's instructions to work, saints must possess a genuine attitude of care for the people in their world.
Second, saints who pray for their rulers and government leaders must genuinely want them to experience God's divine blessings and help. In his list of how to pray, Paul mentions "entreaties." "Entreating" means to passionate plead to God for something like it matters much. Strong desires drive entreaties. For Paul's instructions to work, saints must strongly desire that their rulers and government officials experience God's blessings and help. Saints must want to plead for that.
Third, saints who pray like Paul teaches must want their godliness to increase. Believers with no drive to improve their piety, obedience and Gospel witness will short-circuit this kind of prayer. But, saints who want more opportunity to deepen their holiness and want more freedom to live their faith in public will receive that benefit. Praying saints need an attitude of spiritual desire.
What should a saint pray?
Next, once saints' attitudes match God's attitudes, what should they pray for rulers and government leaders? Paul lists entreaties, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings. Saints use "entreaties" and "prayers" to request actions from God. On their own, they decide the content of those requests for blessings and interventions. "Petitions" reflect requests that originate from the rulers and civic leaders. Believers should ask leaders, "How can we pray for you."
Paul also challenges saints to thank God for their leaders. For some saints, thanksgiving will be easy. Other believers will need to ponder how they can offer thanks for people they oppose or with whom they disagree. To include those four elements (entreaties, prayers, petitions and thanksgivings), saints will need to prepare to pray for their civic leaders.
Paul instructions prompt "indirect" praying. He realizes that some outcomes need a chain of events to occur. "Indirect" prayer seeks one thing so than another thing can happen. Liberty for saints to practice their faith freely and openly needs such a chain of events. Rulers and civic leaders must take specific steps. Like catalysts, their actions will alter their society - the people they rule. Those changes in society will spawn religious liberty.
If Christians want their freedoms to change, society must change. For society to change, a nation's leaders must change rules and laws. Christians must pray, Paul says.