The world seems to be moving increasingly toward the kind of perilous conditions the Bible predicts for the last days (2 Timothy 3:1–5). Human responses vary. Some take a fatalistic attitude. Others complain, run to the desert, or threaten to start a revolution. What is an approach that could honor our God?
Paul believed God’s answers to prayer could shape governments as well as our own individual lives. So he wrote:
I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1–4).
Why should we pray for our leaders? Paul said that the goal of our praying should be that we may live “quiet and peaceable” lives. His words parallel the counsel given by the prophet Jeremiah to the Jews living in exile under the foreign and pagan government of Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4–7). Under the kind of government that Jewish people could have found so wrong, Jeremiah shared the very words of the Lord:
Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace (v.7).
Significantly, centuries apart in Babylon and in Rome, Jeremiah and Paul both urged God’s people to pray for those in positions of national authority so that they might have peace.
What kind of prayers should we offer for those in government? In 1 Timothy 2:1, Paul used four different ways to describe the kinds of prayers we should offer on behalf of our governments: supplications, prayers, intercessions, and the giving of thanks. Although the first three words have similar definitions, it is likely that Paul intended to emphasize the different ingredients that should be part of our prayer life.
Supplications are those requests that spring from a sense of need in a specific situation. When applied to our requests for government, supplications are appeals to God that those charged with the responsibility of making and enforcing the laws of the land would exercise fairness as they perform their tasks.
Prayers can be any sort of request made to God. In the New Testament, this term refers in a general sense to communion with God. Bible commentator William Hendriksen, however, suggests that in the context of 1 Timothy 2 this term refers to the ongoing general needs in government, like the need for wisdom and justice.
Intercessions are those prayers during which we come close to God and speak to Him on behalf of the best interests of other people. In regard to government, then, these could be prayers for specific leaders and the situations and challenges that confront them through their office or position.
Giving of thanks refers to expressing gratitude. In relation to government, we are to be thankful for the good that is happening in our country, our political system, and our leadership. Instead of always concentrating on what is wrong or in need of improvement, we can take time to thank God for all the good things that we have in our particular country.
Taken together, Paul’s call for such prayers reminds us that God wants us to use our prayers to express our confidence in the higher authority and power that are His alone. The activities of the governments of the world are a part of the spiritual battle that will end when Christ returns to set up His kingdom. In the meantime, God hears our prayers, and we have this great promise: “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14).